The non-profit arts organization Film Independent continues to build a solid track record of supporting projects by culturally diverse filmmakers through its Artist Development programs like Project Involve, Fast Track, and the Directors/Producers/Screenwriters Lab. Flip through those glossy FIND Talent Guide booklets they put out and it’s easy to see and read the range of multi-cultural and ethnic voices they have backed (the guides are actually extremely valuable for scouting talent; the online version found here). Among the eight filmmakers selected for the 2013 Film Independent Director’s lab, two are of Latin roots.
There is Aldo Velasco born in Guadalajara, Mexico to a Mexican father and gringa mother. His project is God Loves Stu, based on the real life of Stu Rasmussen the first openly transgender mayor in Silverton, Oregon. Velasco, 42, is a UCLA MFA Film Production grad who screened his second short film, Crabgrass Manifesto at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. Since then his subsequent short films have played at SXSW and LA Film Fest, and he directed Tent City on season one of ITVS FutureState online short film series.
The other Latino filmmaker prepping his feature debut in the lab, is Brazilian-American Alex Moratto, 24. His thesis short film “The Other Side” won the 2010 Jury Award from the Directorʼs Guild of America for Latino filmmaker. Watch it here. His untitled Amazon project is about a family in danger of losing their family home in rural Amazon and the indigenous treasure they might sacrifice to keep it. His producer, Summer Shelton took his script to Sundance Institute’s Producer’s lab last summer where she was honored as the first ever Bingham Ray producing fellow.
Film Independent’s Directing Lab, a free and intensive 10 week workshop lab that connects young talent with established filmmakers and where they are given technical discipline, equipment and preparation, is exactly the kind of infrastructure crucial in helping under-represented artists develop their voices in whichever kind of stories they are meant to tell. In my ongoing quest to uncover and do something about why there seems to be such a low disproportionate number of working American Latino filmmakers in the independent film world when we comprise the fastest growing population, it’s worth looking at the vital role these workshop opportunities play and measure how accessible they are to American Latinos at large. For far too long I have heard around the festival and studio block that black and brown films are just not good enough or that there are not enough of them. Can this be true? If so, why, and on what criteria is ‘good enough’ based? The pursuit of film as a viable career let alone a hobby, even in this day and age with all its technological advances and more accessible equipment, continues to evade the next generation born into working class families. Along with stronger diversity development outreach (artist non-profits!) like Film Independent’s incubator machine to encourage and crystalize raw talent, it is also the role of the savvy film curator as influential cultural gatekeeper to propel these films out there. I’m talking about someone who ‘gets’ where unheard of stories and filmmakers fit in connecting the dots on the long-erased or simply absent historical record and sociocultural map of those mixed communities and how that can be embedded into each and every festival mission. Based on the caliber and level of output I’ve seen in ‘blind’ American Latino film submissions it’s rarely the story that misfires, but a struggling technical confidence and proficiency to wrap it all together within the cinematic medium. Fierce originality and storytelling aptitude is innate and rare but out there in unheard volumes. Film technique and craft meanwhile is a skill that can be developed and continually nurtured.