2006 San Francisco International Arts Festival

Robert Avila May 25, 2006

In southern Mexico’s Veracruz they say choto, in Espinal it’s dello, and over in Salina Cruz they say maricon, or mariposon (editor’s note: I apologize that the accents won’t translate in this text). But muxe (pronounced moosheh) is the preferred term for a male homosexual in Juchitan, the predominantly Zapotec town in sweltering, colorful Oaxaca with a reputation for embracing its queer citizens.

The Zapotec word muxe, originally adapted from the colonial Spanish word for woman, designates a third gender halfway between male and female, and natives tend to consider such committed homosexuality an innate quality rather than a personal choice. Muxes wear the term with pride, as much as some of them do the traditional and modern dress of their female counterparts, in the open for all to see and enjoy.

The subject of Alejandra Islas Caro’s 2005 documentary “Muxes: Autenticas, Intrepidas y Buscadoras de Peligro” (Muxes: Authentic, Fearless Seekers of Danger), the muxes of Juchitan occupy a unique and well-defined place in the social matrix of the town, one that defies many of the usual assumptions about the Mexico of machismo and Roman Catholicism.

Overturning stereotypes and superficial assumptions is, of course, intrinsic to the mission of the International Latino Film Festival, which screens “Muxes” as part of a six-film series joining the music, dance, theater, and visual art components of the third San Francisco International Arts Festival. SFIAF’s theme this year, “Perspectivas: Beyond Borders,” focuses exclusively on Latino culture across North and South America, and “Muxes’” introduction to the queer culture flourishing among the indigenous population of southern Mexico comes flanked by five more documentary films boasting further surprises from across Latin America.

The emphasis on indigenous life and culture continues with three short films screening together at Galeria de la Raza under the heading “Amazon: Kaapor & Maya, Belize to Peru.” The first, “Hands and Claws,” is a 2006 doc by director (and the evening’s special guest) Bernard Peyton. Set among the glorious scenery of the Andes Mountains, the film follows a Peruvian peasant woman’s attempt to rescue an orphaned bear cub. “Sastun: My Apprenticeship with a Maya Healer” (Belize, 2002), by Guido Verweyen, is based on the book by American herbologist Rosita Arvigo and Nadine Epstein, and traces Arvigo’s relationship with one of the last Maya shamans, Don Elijio Panti. Bridging modern Western science and indigenous medicine, Arvigo races to preserve Don Elijio’s vast knowledge of traditional healing and curative plants amid the rapidly vanishing rain forest. Lastly, “Forest Fast Food” (Brazil, 2002), by director Bill Day, takes a fascinating and rare look at the Kaapor people of the Amazon as they battle the destruction of their environment, food supply, and way of life at the hands of commercial loggers.

Meanwhile, two docs explore the border-crossing power of music. Director Lisandro Perez-Rey’s 2004 film about a leading Cuban hip-hop group, “La Fabri-K: The Cuban Hip-Hop Factory,” gets behind the music, into the recording studio, and onto New York’s famed Apollo Theater stage for an unprecedented performance. At the screening will be Cubano rapper Julio Cardenas of the group RCA (Raperos Crazy Alamar). Finally, the world premiere of Jesse Acevedo’s “Musica Brasil: Tudo azul” (Everything Blue) digs deep into the soul of Brazilian samba, unearthing the moving history of social and political struggle energizing the mood-altering strains of masterful artists like Caetano Veloso, or the famed Samba School of Portela.

In addition to the ILFF lineup, the Cuban Film Festival at Gallery One is also partnering with SFIAF this year to present several short films in conjunction with the opening of its exhibition, Cuba Collaborations — Beyond the Embargo, including Terracota 2004, by Joel Bennett, about Cuba’s annual Encuentro Internacional Terracota, a ceramics residency drawing artists worldwide for an intense cross-fertilization of ideas and techniques; and Arte Cubano: Contemporary Art and Culture in Cuba, by Bob Freimark, a survey of the innovations in Cuban art and music over the last five decades of the US embargo.