Film Group Teaches History and Culture

A program where youth watch films from Spanish-speaking countries has become popular at MacLaren.

Top photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

“It may seem to the untrained eye that it’s just about watching movies and eating food, but it’s not, it is far beyond that.”

That’s what one youth wrote recently in an essay about the Film Festival program at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility.

Started in early 2020 by Javier Perfecto with OYA’s Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations, Film Festival allows youth to watch and discuss movies from Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and other Latin American countries. The purpose is to show them the differences in Hispanic culture worldwide.

“Sometimes in our society, we have a misconception of a culture different than ours,” Perfecto says. “People also have a tendency to include all Spanish-speakers in the same culture without paying attention to the many differences among people from different Latin American countries.”

By watching the films, the youth are learning about other cultures, listening to different Spanish accents, and learning to be more sensitive to the differences they encounter in their own lives, Perfecto says.

“It will help them in their future once they get immersed again in a bigger society after their release,” he says. “Tolerance and respect for others will always help them toward rehabilitation.”

young men sitting around a table and watching a movie while eating snacks

These are just a few of the films the youth have watched:

  • “El Cometa” (“The Comet”, Mexico): A tale of life within a travelling tent show in early 20th century Mexico, at the time of the revolution.
  • “Diarios de Motocicleta” (“Motorcycle Diaries”, collaboration from multiple countries): A 2004 biopic about a journey taken by 23-year-old Ernesto Guevara, later known as Marxist guerrilla leader and revolutionary Che Guevara.
  • “Voces Inocentes” (“Innocent Voices”, El Salvador): A young boy in 1980s El Salvador is caught up in a fight for his life as he tries to avoid the war raging all around him.
  • “Diecisiete” (“Seventeen”, Spain): To find a shelter dog he befriended, a 17-year-old boy escapes a juvenile detention center and is joined on his quest by his older brother.

To see the impact of the program, check out these excerpts from essays written by the participants.


“It really brings out the good in people by bringing a group of guys together to hang out, laugh together, and just have a good time watching TV shows and movies while eating some snacks. I can say personally that this group has taught me a lot about different races and sexual identities, also the different derogatory terms. This group has taught me a lot about different struggles and challenges that different races and identities have to go through on a daily basis. I have made a goal for myself to learn how to speak Spanish fluently before I get out of corrections and this group is helping me a lot with that.”


“Film Festival is a great partnership group to learn more about different cultures, countries, history and politics. Also about how they can relate to America today or maybe even have nothing to do with us. … I have learned that politics in Chile are completely different there than here in America. In Mexico there is a lot of history of corruption. … The film festival group celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month and we try foods from Mexican culture and learned to dance the way they dance which was very cool. There is so much this group has to offer so I’m going to keep attending so I know more about different cultures for my future.”


“It’s nice to understand what they went through and still made it through life. It shows us young adults how to persevere through life and make it, because I’ve never seen or been through such a struggle that lasted so long and that had been so horrid. We all need to be grateful for what we have and didn’t have to go through. Life isn’t easy.”


“What I learned is you should never be ashamed of who you are. If they really liked you, they’ll accept you regardless. Also, if you are different, there’s always gonna be people who try to bring you down but you shouldn’t give them the satisfaction because your happiness comes first.”


“At first we were struggling in having to get more youth involved. While days passed we kept telling youth more and more about the group, plus the movies helped us know about some history of the world. Not just that, but we were able to relate [the movies] to our lives. Being in this group has helped me be social by having to talk to youth that I don’t know.”


“I believe that the group has helped many youth, myself included, to explore and relate to many things in the world. For example, a movie we watched about how a boy was being ran out of the country he was from because of a rumor made us realize how strict the world really is. At the same time, this group gives us a chance to get off unit when the environment is a little down. I have to say Film Festival is my favorite group.”

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