The 28th Chicago Latino Film Festival got underway with the Catalán-language feature "Any de Gracia" (Year of Grace), whose director, Ventura Pons, received a lifetime achievement award.

The festival, which this year will show the most movies in its long history, will show until April 26 the best of Latin American and Spanish cinema with the presence of great filmmakers, performers and technicians from both sides of Atlantic.

Festival director Pepe Vargas told Efe on Friday that this year's event will bring such established figures as the Argentine Eliseo Subiela, Spaniards Ventura Pons and Montxo Armendariz, the Cuban Fernando Pérez and Mexicans Gustavo Loza and Maria Novaro into contact "with the new voices of the movies."

In his opinion, the program reflects "our cultural, historical and linguistic riches," since besides three films in Catalán, there are productions shot in Mayan Quiché, Mayan Q'eqchi and Mayan Ixil, one in Basque and others in Guaraní, all with English subtitles.

On opening night Catalan director Ventura Pons received the Gloria Career Achievement Award for his outstanding contribution to Latin art and culture.

Ventura got a standing ovation when he accepted the statuette from Vargas, the festival's founder, in the main theater of the show inaugurated downtown on Friday at a sprawling cinema complex.

After the ceremony, "Any de Gracia" was shown in Catalán with English subtitles, which won the audience's applause at the end of the show.

"As a boy I wondered what I wanted to be, and my answer was that I was going to make movies. With the utmost joy I can say that good receptions like that have been repeated every time I've premiered a film," Pons said.

The festival director said that some 100 directors and actors, participants in the 140 feature films and documentaries shown in the festival, have gathered in Chicago to "share marquees and experiences" during the two weeks of the festival.

The event is organized by the International Latino Cultural Center and since 1993 the audience has voted for its favorite films in several categories.

It is estimated that some 35,000 people will attend the projections and gala festivities during the three weeks of the event.

This year's film fest includes movies depicting historical figures like the Cuban poet and independence hero José Martí, slain Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero, Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, Chilean novelist María Luisa Bombal and Venezuelan painter Armando Reverón. 

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