A seasoned entrepreneur who always reaches for the stars, Eugenio Maslowski has a new vision. As founder and director of the Hispanic Culture Film Festival, he dreams of making St. Augustine the Hollywood of Hispanic films in the U.S. During a four-day festival held at the Corazon Cinema and Café, Maslowski will take the first step toward realizing his dream when representatives from Spanish-speaking countries around the world converge on the First Coast.
“I want this to be the Telluride or the Sundance for the Hispanic film industry,” he told Folio Weekly.
Though born in Venezuela, Maslowski also lived in the Soviet Union before immigrating to the U.S. in 1998. His family settled in Miami, and in 2017, he traded life in an increasingly crowded South Florida for a home in Northeast Florida.
Maslowski has been around the world, but he never strays too far from his Hispanic roots. He founded the film festival with two related goals in mind: to showcase the work of Hispanic filmmakers, and to help Americans understand more about the Hispanic world and its people.
“We want to educate Americans about what it means to be Hispanic because everybody thinks that all Hispanics are the same.”
For instance, many people do not know that 21 Latin American countries are represented under the umbrella of “Hispanics,” according to Monica Hernandez, president of the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. It’s a big tent. “We have whites; we have blacks; we have Asians,” she explained. “It’s a diverse pool of individuals with different views, different political standpoints and different religions.”
In her role, Hernandez finds tools to help Chamber of Commerce members grow their businesses. She sees the film festival as a great way to celebrate Hispanic culture and raise awareness of the growing Hispanic community in Northeast Florida.
“As a business owner,” she said, “you want to make sure you’re tapping into that Hispanic community because of the buying power they have … and they are customers that you will potentially have.”
The first Hispanic Culture Film Festival in Northeast Florida was held last year in Jacksonville. This year, however, Maslowski decided to move the festival to St. Augustine. Each year, the film festival highlights one of the world’s 21 Hispanic countries. In 2019, Spain is the “guest country” because of its special connection with St. Augustine and because it has an impressive film culture. Spain is the home of many actors and directors, including Pedro Almodovar, Alejandro Amenabar, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Antonio Banderas.
Once Maslowski decided to move the festival to St. Augustine, finding the right location to screen the films was the next step. The Corazon Cinema and Café seemed like a natural fit, and owner Karla Wagner agreed. In addition to hosting the film festival, Wagner served on the film selection committee.
This year, the festival features 70 entries from seven Spanish-speaking countries in addition to Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. The offerings include documentaries, film shorts and feature-length films. Spanish-language films are subtitled.
The festival also boasts special events and parties including meet-and-greets with actors, directors and producers.
As the festival grows, Maslowski hopes to see all 21 Hispanic countries entering films, and as they bring their films to the U.S., he hopes they will also bring their art, their music and their cuisine.
“The good thing about the film industry is that it is magic,” he says. “In two hours, it can transport us to wherever we want. You can go to the past, or you can go to the future. You can travel geographically. You can be seeing something in Miami, or you can be looking at something in Japan or Africa.”
With the magic of cinema, Maslowski hopes the films showcased in the Hispanic Culture Film Festival will do for Spanish-speaking cultures what My Big Fat Greek Wedding did for Greek culture in America.
“That was an interesting way to see how the Greek culture integrated into America,” he said. “This is the concept we’re talking about here. How do we integrate all the Hispanics, so they feel that they are 100 percent American?”