Armando Guareño, founder of KidCinemaFest in NYC. (Courtesy Armando Guareño)

Latino creates an international film festival – for children

Armando Guareño always thought he’d be a doctor when he grew up, but when it came time for college, he says he just couldn’t deny his first love — film.

“I remember going to the theater every Sunday since I was 4,” says the film producer from Santiago, Dominican Republic. “I just had a passion for film, so I came to New York to study.”

After getting his bachelor’s in film and communications and an MFA in film production from The City College of New York, Guareño went on to found a total of four film festivals, including the Latin American Cinema Film Festival and the Dominican Film Festival in New York.

On Friday, his fifth annual KidCinemaFest commences through November 14, which will feature more than 30 films from 20 countries.

Guareño says many of the children in the neighborhood of Washington Heights, in New York City, are not exposed to travel or get to go to many cultural events.

“It’s something new for them,” he says. “It’s really exciting for them to come see the movie, and then meet the directors and the actors. I divided the programming so children can be entertained and also get some education by seeing films from other cultures.”

Some of his highlights this year is “The Reject,” a film about bullying; “The Painting,” an animation which is visually astonishing; and the opening film, “Tio Papi,” which Guareño says was made in Washington Heights but didn’t much play there before the Fest.

“Expanding the cultural horizons of our local youth is a great step toward preparing them for a future as global citizens.” said NYC Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez in a statement announcing the free of cost KidCinemaFest. “I want to thank Armando Guareño for his hard work in putting together a great program, and I know our families will enjoy every minute.”

RELATED: [VIDEO] “Tio Papi,” a movie about family crosses cultural borders

Guareño says he believes “children will have the opportunity to travel around the world without leaving Washington Heights — they will learn different cultures beyond what Hollywood shows,” he says.

Guareño himself has to travel to different children’s festivals around the world in order to select the films appropriate for KidCinemaFest.

He says he dedicates about four months out of his year to KidCinemaFest, and the rest of the year he’s a film producer and curator based in Manhattan. Most recently he produced a documentary this year called “A South Bronx Family.”

“We shot it in one of the worst projects in America,” says Guareño. “It focuses on a real family that has been using drugs for three generations, but it ends with a positive message.”

He says it will premiere at the Dominican International Film Festival in Puerta Plata on November 16.

For Guareño, nothing makes him happier than providing the KidCinemaFest for youth in his neighborhood.

“I remember I brought a film from the Dominican Republic about three years ago, and I brought the director, and one of the kids asked him, ‘How do you make animations?,” and the boy said, ‘This is awesome! I want to be filmmaker.’ I felt touched because it was the first time a film director talked to this boy in his life.”

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