Cine Las Americas 22 Review: CARLOS ALMARAZ: PLAYING WITH FIRE

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

The 22nd annual Cine Las Americas International Film Festival began with a wondrous, beautiful and heartbreaking documentary which details the life and career of Chicano artist and activist Carlos Almaraz. During the early nineteen sixties, Almaraz left his home in Los Angeles to study art and pursue a career in New York City. The young artist would eventually return to his beloved home town where he would continue to further develop his art, fight for equal rights for Mexican-americans and Mexican immigrants mistreated by both law enforcement and labor bosses. He eventually earns himself a respected following among various kinds of Chicano artists and even fell in love and started a family. The happy times did not last long, as he contracted the AIDS virus which took his life at a time when so little was known about the illness.

His widow, Elsa Flores Almaraz and Chicano artist/activist Richard Montoya have directed and written this truly outstanding tribute of a film to an artist, not only known for his incredible talent, but also a passion for helping and advancing others like him. Friend and admirer Edward James Olmos narrates and conributes his own recollections and feelings of the impact Almaraz had on the Chicano community in L.A. Musician/activist Zach De la Rocha also contributes to the narration by reading aloud some of the personal memoirs of Almaraz. De la Rocha’s father Beto De la Rocha is an artist and activist he befriended Almaraz and also contributed to the emerging Chicano art scene of the sixties and seventies. Also, the music of East L.A.’s Los Lobos provides the perfect soundtrack to this insightful and exquisite film.

The attending audiences of the Cine Las Americas screening were joined by special guests Robert Montoya and Edward James Olmos who introduced the film and offered a Q & A session following the screening. They offered further insight into who Carlos Almaraz was and what his work meant to the Chicano movement. It still resonates beyond its years of origin.

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