When will Latinos get our Black Panther?

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There’s nothing like a fit of jealousy and frustration to get me motivated in a positive way.  The recent uproar of the Latino community calling out Hollywood about the lack of Latino representation, juxtaposed with the Black community’s successful mobilization towards increasing their representation  – which is undoubtedly fueling Black Panther’s record-shattering box office this weekend – has jolted me into posting a new edition of 8 Indie Movies Made by Latinos to Watch out for. But first, I want to dig into this question of what we in the Latino community CAN do if we ever want to SEE A SUPERHERO LIKE US.

nhmcI started this blog over ten years ago to raise awareness for American Latino film writer/directors.   I was confused and angry as to why there was a staggering lack of authentic Latino representation in mainstream films when I was discovering a number of Latino writers and directors in the independent film festival space.  Not as many as I thought I would find, truth be told, but definitely a steady number of filmmakers whose storytelling sensibilities reflected a culture I related to. I wanted to use this blog to yell “Yo, there are hella talented Latino writers and directors out here”. As if identifying them would be all it would take to make that change.

27021617_1688915677842179_4209939431460812473_o(1)It was around that time I kept hearing that ridiculous claim from studio execs and agents that while they would love to champion more Latino creators, they just don’t know of of any.  This statement persists today and is qualified with…’who are good enough’, or my favorite; ‘high profile enough’ (Insert fit of frustrated fury and bittersweet irony for that last part).

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 8.14.00 PMNewsflash: it takes years and lots of money to develop a creator and build the credits necessary before major studio executives come calling and that Oscar stage beckon.  Which is why, at the risk of sounding like I’m disparaging the National Hispanic Media Coalition’s valuable advocacy, I don’t think that their picketing the Oscars to attack studio heads over Latino exclusion is a fair argument or the most productive use of resources.

Beatriz-at-Dinner-2017-movie-posterIt’s not like there is a consistently eligible pool of Latino writers/directors who the Academy has been overlooking all these years.  Don’t get me wrong, its a damn shame that Miguel Arteta who directed Beatriz at Dinner was technically eligible for a Best Director nomination this year but did not get the campaign needed to make it happen.  Or what about Lemon, written and directed by Afro-Latina Janicza Bravo?  It’s true “For Your Consideration” campaigns are wildly expensive for indie distributors to take on. But we have to ask for the sake of that argument, what other American Latino writers and directors were even eligible for an Oscar nomination?

Lalo Alcaraz, before he was hired on Coco

Representing the Latino diaspora in the Oscars this year is Pixar’s animated feature Coco.  But seriously, don’t play yourself!  Disney’s long-time-coming co-opt of Dia de los Muertos strategically and conveniently leveraged the co-directed and co-written credit of  Latino Adrian Molina ONLY when talking to Latino outlets and to legitimize its Mexican authenticity. Because oh wait a minute, Molina’s name is visibly missing from the official nominee announcement.  All I have to say is they better bring his ass up on stage and let him get some words in if they end up winning.

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Tengo Nagendo EVP at Disney

Lets take a page from the Black community and create our own machine, and do less of that old guard-led raging against The Machine.  While there are a number of film organizations aimed at supporting Latino writers and directors to help develop their voices, its critical to support mid-career storytellers so they may continue to master their craft and realize their #brownexcellence.  We also need to shift a lot more support towards raising savvy producers.  After all the producer is the most critical role for a writer/director to be able to execute their vision.

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Nate Moore, producer at Marvel

The biggest challenge is how to infiltrate the overwhelmingly white agency and studio system. Real change will come when there are Latinos in decision-making executive roles because then we’ll have someone on the inside naturally considering, relating, and understanding the value of bringing in more Latino creators to pitch original ideas. Besides Paul Perez who came to Warner Bros from Pantelion, I don’t know of any Latino executive at a major film studio.  If I’m wrong please point it out to me.

Rictor, a Marvel character created in 1987 about a Mexican-American from San Francisco who has seismic powers.  Character made a cameo in Logan. More here.

As we know there is a systemic tendency inside Hollywood to reboot proven franchises and IP. So we need to make sure Latinos get the shot to put their spin on them.  Just see the African-American community with Tendo Nagenda at Disney backing Ryan Coogler with Black Panther.  By the way, I’m not saying that opportunities should be contingent on creators asked to tell some version of the ethnicity they represent.  They should be included and have the opportunity to tell and pitch whatever story they can tell the shit out of.

El Diablo
Super Villain El Diablo played by Jay Hernandez in Suicide Squad

Regarding Latino talent on screen, I concede that hiring practices in major motion pictures are more affected by who is on screen rather than the talent of the storyteller. Still, it doesn’t diminish the overall long play strategy of focusing behind the camera to position Latino writers/directors/producers. Because as the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study discovered, the outcome of hiring more underrepresented directors will organically translate into more opportunities for underrepresented casting choices.

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Powerhouse Producer Stephanie Allain with Mel Jones producer/director

Lastly, supporting Latino culture writers and film critics is vital like Vanessa Erazo of Remezcla has pointed out with her twitter thread, because again, those who have a connection or reference to a specific culture can more likely respond and champion the business value of supporting that voice.  This kind of holistic approach from within is more productive than pounding at the gates to demand from a system that does not include our community and one we have already called out as broken be that agent of change. Only then will we see our Barry Jenkins, Ava Duvernays and Ryan Cooglers flex their creative muscles at that next level to gain high profile recognition, and ultimately move the dial on reflecting what our representation actually looks like in this country.


The truth is I’m getting chills watching the African American community’s cathartic joy in celebrating Black Panther’s unprecedented success.  They have shepherded their own industry leaders from multiple angles and in turn have made the impact necessary to create this unstoppable ripple effect which is only going to gain more speed with Ava Duvernay’s upcoming Wrinkle in Time. Will and Jada Smith have donated one million dollars to Sundance Institute which will yield more black creators in the indie-to-studio pipeline.  Forest Whitaker has lifted up many new and fresh black voices by producing alongside Nina Yang Bongiovi through their Significant Productions including Fruitvale Station, Ryan’s first feature, Dope directed by Rick Famuyiwa, Roxanne Roxanne directed by Michael Larnell coming soon to Netflix and this year’s wild Sorry To Bother You by Boots Riley which was just picked up by Annapurna Pictures.

Charles King’s WME background and connection to high profile talent got him to convince investors to get Macro, responsible for producing Dee Rees’ Oscar nominated Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 1.29.25 PMfilm Mudbound, off the ground.  The undeniable and thrilling result of this ecosystem is that more young black kids are beginning to identify with mainstream media heroes!

When will Latinos, who per Forbes will be 30% of the country in 2060, experience that feeling and similar “Defining Moment”. For a hot second in the 80s, wide release films La Bamba and Stand & Deliver gave our community that sense of validation through representation. Its going to take a lot more to pump up the volume so that more than one American Latino writer/director gets the chance to be considered to helm a blockbuster, or make a film eligible and backed with the money to cinch a nomination for an Academy Award.  As terrible in reflecting the diverse American reality as those traditional institutions are, they are still key influences in defining mass culture and inspiring the next generation of artists who might suddenly see the viability in pursuing their storytelling art if they see people like them.

Aurora Guerrero, filmmaker who has recently directed Queen Sugar, Ava DuVernay’s  television series on Oprah’s cable channel.

In case you are like ‘but wait there’s been many Latinos who have been nominated or have won Academy Awards’.  Don’t get it twisted. Keep in mind when I use the word Latino, I make that unpopular distinction between those folks born or raised here who have Latin American and or Caribbean roots and those born and raised outside of the U.S..  That’s not to diminish the amazing work of Mexicans like Alejandro Gonzalez Iñnaritu and Guillermo del Toro, or Chilean filmmakers like Pablo Larrain with their recent English language films, but 1. They ain’t Latino because 2. there’s a disparity of class and resources between aspiring filmmakers born here and those born outside of the states, and unlike their international counterparts Latinos have been profiled and marginalized as ‘people of color’, a U.S. context that comes with very distinct barriers that keep them from global recognition.

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Eddie Olmos

Here is a reality check: The only Latinos nominated in the headliner writing/directing/producing categories has been Gregory Nava in the Best Original Screenplay category for El Norte in 1983 and Lourdes Portillo in the Best Documentary category for The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in 1985.  In the Best Animated Feature, Jonas Rivera won in 2015 for Pixar’s Inside Out which he shared with Pete Doctor.

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Jonas Rivera

We damn right will claim the Weitz brothers’ nomination for Best Adapted screenplay for About a Boy in 2002. Their grandma Lupita Tovar was a Mexican actor who starred in the first ever Mexican ‘talkie’ Santa.

In the Best Actor/Actress categories the first ever Latino was Jose Ferrer nominated in 1949 who won in 1952.  Since then its only EVER been OG Chicano Eduard James Olmos in 1982 who was nominated for Stand and Deliver. That was twenty six years ago!

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Benicio Del Toro

In supporting roles, nominees include Benicio del Toro –  two time nominee who won for Traffic, Rita Moreno who won for West Side Story, Anthony Quinn, four time nominated, two time winner, Mercedes Ruehl who won for Fisher King, Rosie Perez and Susan Kohner.  That’s it folks. More than a minute ago and over the course of 90 years of Oscars. WTF.

machete-kills-castOutside of the Oscar world but definitely more of a pop culture mainstream influence our highest profile Latino writer/director/producers is Robert Rodriguez whose success in capturing a wide audience is due in large part because he likes playing in the genres big studio films generally traffic in.  Machete (2010) is a film that cost under $20 million dollars to make.  And its box office made double that (unfortunately the sequel did not do nearly as well).  Whether its the characters in Frank Darabont’s Sin City, the beloved Mariachi character, Machete or Spy Kids, Rodriguez has always tapped into his own type of super heroes and world building.  Yet this guy hasn’t made a film over $40 million – which is considered low-mid studio movie).  If he hasn’t proved it time and time again, he can do a lot with a little, so just imagine what mind-blowing next level cinema he can do with a $100+ million dollar film.  And at the very top is Roberto Orci.  A writer and producer of the most expensive television and tentpole projects in Hollywood.  That’s it right?   1.  that’s two people 2. dudes 3. who can create (write/direct/produce) at the highest scale of this  business.


Needless to say all of this galvanizes me. We need more Latino CREATORS. I feel the pressure to reach out to my community and do more.  I’ll post more frequently about American Latino storytellers. I’m also doing what I can to bring in and develop more Latino voices in my current role as Creative Executive at Warner Bros Digital Network’s Stage 13.

And don’t forget to check out my latest post 8 feature-length fiction films currently in post that I’m excited for the world to see because they are wildly defiant, visionary, and unique perspectives created by Latinos.

LALIFF – Back in Community Effect

2013-10-10 18.35.41Last night was the Opening Night Screening and Gala of the 2013 Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.  Invoking it’s “Sweet Sixteen”, the tradition of celebrating an American Girl’s coming of age is appropriate even if technically, this would have been its 17th year, had it not taken last year’s hiatus. It’s appropriate all the same because this year’s program represents American (Latino) films AND a substantial amount of Latinas driving and depicting these stories.  Newly instated Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti was on hand to give his blessing.  The grandson of Chihuahua, Mexicans, his poetic remarks referring to Los Pobladores (the original mestizo settlers who founded LA in 1781) confirmed the passionate consciousness and respect he has for LA’s history. Edward James Olmos presented the Gabi Lifetime Achievement award to Pablo Ferro, a bohemian whose signature skinny long letters and influential film titles sequences on such films like Dr. Strangelove, Bullet, Russians Are Coming, BeetleJuice, Men In Black among countless others, established an art within the art of cinema’s first impression and tone.

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This is Pablo Ferro

The documentary, Pablo handled by Shoreline Entertainment and directed by Richard Goldgewicht is an animated, whimsical treatment of the life and times of this consummate artist and original hipster.  Folks like Angelica Huston, Andy Garcia, Leonard Maltin praise his genius, and narrated by The Dude, Jeff Bridges gives it an added air of deadpan wit, whose “This is Pablo” narrative  conceit, strikes the tone of the bohemian Cuban born artist.  Wearing his trademark red scarf,  Pablo accepted his award without so many words but no matter, as the audience generously paid enthusiastic homage to one or our own being rightly commemorated.  Also at long last given the deserving (posthumous) commemoration was La Madrina of the festival,  the late great Lupe Ontiveros.  Olmos made a point that even in her passing she changed the course of our community when her painful absence of the In Memoriam at the Oscars galvanized the Latino Academy members to rally and re-examine their presence within the organization.  Olmos’s handsome rugged face, much like Robert Redford, transmits such grit & soul, add to it that wicked Zapata mustache and his Escalante personality that he never got rid of, when he closed by saying It’s time for the community to take charge” his onda was fully registered.

At the party across the street at the Wax Museum where the uncanny real life sized figures freak you out every time you feel you should turn around to introduce yourself  (guests remarked where are my brown wax at!) I got a chance to see many of the US Latino filmmakers with films in the festival.  From Jesse Salmeron and Jeremy Ray Valdez of Dreamer, Richard Montoya of Water & Power.    I got a chance to catch up briefly with one of my esteemed mentors and friends who is also a LALIFF Advisor Sydney Levine of Sydneys Buzz on Indiewire.  She is a treasure trove of insight and knowledge in the international film circuit and I cannot wait for her upcoming comprehensive book focusing on Latin American Cinema.  Maria Agui Carter, NALIP member and filmmaker whose documentary on civil rights soldier Loreta Velazquez, Rebel screens in its full running time on Saturday at 3:10pm (The 52 minute version has been broadcasted on POV).  Maria and I started to get into a passionate chat on women authored and women depicted stories.  I’m pleased to find out there is a panel, Women and girls in Media Panel at 5:30pm today. We agreed that a candid and collaborative discussion needs to be had regarding these so called  female empowered yet still sexually objectified characters (see Sofia Vergara’s ak47 tits in Machete Kills), and on how as women we need to deconstruct our stories in a different way, not so much replace roles men have traditionally had.  Stories doing just that at the festival along with Rebel, are Maestra about Cuba’s National Literacy Campaign, a profile of the women who taught a nation to read and write, by Catherine Murphy. Colombian non-violent revolutionaries, in We Women Warriors by Nicole Karsin.  On the dramatic front there is Nicole Gomez Fisher’s delightful comedy Sleeping with the Fishes and the DIY Venezuelan inspiring guapa/activist/filmmaker/vlogger/mother, Fanny Veliz who has written directed, produced and has been distributing her film Homebound.

Eric Garcetti remarking on the flowers the Pobladores seeded 231 years ago

While LALIFF has had and continues to have many organization struggles and challenges, I’ve become so aware that one thing you can never take away from it,  is the powerful sense and network of community.  So many talent pursuing their craft have made connections, collaborated and grown in their careers as a result of hanging out at LALIFF.  Someone should archive these fruitful connections as much as the films that have been shown.   Further proof is the filmmaker who told me last night how he met someone he wants to cast in the film he is working on.

Mi querida amiga Maria Oliva! Documentary filmmaker/photographer and LALIFF’er

My dance card is full this weekend before I head to Mexico on Monday.  I’m in screening crunch mode for Sundance, but I’ll try to run down to the festival at the TLC Chinese 6 theaters when I can to write up another dispatch of films and filmmakers to watch.  If you are in LA please do buy a ticket to support the Latino Film Institute and the next wave of Mas American talent.  As with any festival your best bet for discovering emerging voices is the short film program.  Go watch shorts The Shooting Star Salesman by Kiko Velarde,  Llegar a Ti by Alejandro Torres, The Price we Pay by Jesse Garcia and El Cocodrilo by Steve Acevedo.  Go to http://latinofilm.org/festival/ for full program and check them out on Twitter & Face

Mas Later


It’s official #LALIFF2013 open for submissions

After celebrating its Quinceanera in 2011, it took a hiatus in 2012

It appears that The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival is back this year after canceling what would have been last summer’s sixteenth edition.  Without much fanfare, no press release or even news item on their website, yesterday @LALIFF tweeted that the call for submissions was open and shared the link to the entry form.  Yet there are no festival dates specified, only that it will take place (sometime) in the fall. For anyone who submitted last year, the submission page encourages you to reach out to them directly:  programming@latinofilm.org.

Last year I wrote a rather lengthy post about LALIFF’s sudden flatline here. In it I interviewed Moctezuma Esparza, Ben Odell, Douglass Spain, Alex Rivera among many other filmmaker and industry vets and luminaries who have participated over the course of many if not all of LALIFF’s history.  Repeated attempts to reach figurehead Edward James Olmos went ignored.   A lot of the community was confused at such a quietly suppressed shutter, and shaken that the festival had to hit the brakes so sudden and hard after accepting submissions and in some cases inviting films for the 2012 edition.  For fifteen years LALIFF had been the fundamental forum in our great city of Angels for US and Latin American filmmakers.  In many cases it was the ONLY place US Latino films had a real shot of screening.  I was personally appalled that the mainstream press didn’t bother to lend weight to such a cultural riptide, let alone pick up the story, so I took it upon my amateur self, counting on just my personal experience and contacts to examine it closer.  It was the very first film festival I ever worked on.  Like many filmmakers and filmgoers, it kind of changed my life.  I took that passion for nurturing original Latino films and went forth into the world working at high profile film festivals, mainstream and specialized, to gain a wealth of programming experience, most influentially at Sundance and Morelia.  It’s been seven years now, and every year I make sure to reach out to LALIFF with the hopes of capitalizing on my ever growing network, relationships, programming insight and producer skills I’ve accumulated to apply it towards making LALIFF’s infrastructure and programming sustainably stronger.   It is only natural, like wanting to give back to your alma mater once you’ve made it because you feel that at long last you can actually make a real impact to something that made such a difference to you.  But for either vague reasons given (or sometimes no response at all) my eager interest to help has never been taken up.

This year once again I offer myself up to do what I do best, steering an innovative programming vision and implementing a well executed festival.  It’d be easier for me to sit back and critique its’ weaknesses but what is the use, or greater good in that?   Instead, I’m saying right here, right now, Eddie, Marlene, I’m here, ready and willing to get my hands dirty and help make this institution reach its full potential and thrive once again.

Are you down for collaborating with the festival?  Will you be submitting to LALIFF this year?  How do you feel about its return?  Cuentame.


Are you?

WTF is Latino at SXSW 2013?

Back by popular demand here is my second in the “WTF is Latino at xyz Festival series”.  This time I’m taking a peek of what kind of Latino we got at the weirdest film junkie happening in Austin, the sweaty, youthful and hip South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival.

Last year, provocatively hitting that American Latino crack was Los Chidos by Omar Rodriguez Lopez.  It could have easily been thrown to the ravenous midnight wolves of the festival but instead Festival Director, Janet Pierson recognized the socio-cultural critique underneath the Neanderthal nasty, and boldly offered it up on the main storefront display of its Narrative Competition.  There was also an entire shorts program presented by those Miami based hooligans, Borscht Corp.  They return with their new short, #Postmodem, AND add this to your SXSW schedule, Cuban-American multi-media artist Jillian Mayer will be on a panel called Vagina Puppets and Fair Use.

kevin hernandez
Kevin Hernandez

So what does this first look reveal? There are lots of beautiful brown faces appearing in front of the camera, in particular emerging actors doing their ‘crossover’ thing like Francisco Barreiro and Genesis Rodriguez, popular Tigerbeat cover star Selena Gomez in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, young blood Kevin Hernandez in Short Term 12 (The Sitter, Get the Gringo) the feature based on the acclaimed short by Destin Daniel Cretton, and then there’s handsome Marcus DeAnda who delivers a moving performance in the small town gay drama, that just premiered at Sundance, Pit Stop by Yen Tan.

While onscreen talent is substantial, the films written and or directed by American Latinos in this crop is considerably less than so. By my preliminary account, we got three; Carlos Puga (Burma), Victor Teran (Snap) and Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spiders).  I’d love to be corrected.

(Descriptions pulled from festival, italic footnotes by me).


Marlene Perez of The Rhythm Shakers, photo by Daniel Funaki.

Los Wild Ones
Director: Elise Salomon
Wild Records is an indie label reminiscent of the early days of Sun Records. The label is based in LA and run by Reb Kennedy aka Mr. Wild Records and is comprised of young Latin musicians who write and perform 50s Rock n Roll.

With rockabilly and Mexican rock bands like Rhythm Shakers, AlexVargas, and Pachuco Jose y Los Diamantes signed to the old school label (they don’t do advertising and they are actually going back to vinyl instead of CD production) this is the perfect music doc representing American Latino culture to premiere at SXSW and in which audiences will discover a trove of hybrid Latino influenced music treasures.


Director/Screenwriter: Carlos Puga
On the eve of an annual sibling reunion, a troubled young writer is sent reeling with the arrival of an unexpected guest. 
  Cast : Christopher Abbott, Gaby Hoffmann, Chris McCann, Dan Bittner, Emily Fleischer

Festivals love it when their shorties come back to premiere their features. Chilean born Puga played his documentary short film, Satan Since 2003 at SXSW 2011 and returns with his first narrative feature in which Christopher Abbott shows off some serious dramatic acting chops (HBO’s Girls, Hello I Must Be Going). 


Behind the scenes photo of Francisco Barreiro, photo by Patrick Rusk

Loves Her Gun
Director/Screenwriter: Geoff Marslett, Screenwriter: Lauren Modery
This romantic tragedy follows a young woman’s transition from flight to fight after she is the victim of street violence, but will the weapons that make her feel safe again create problems worse than the ones she is escaping? 
  Cast : Trieste Kelly Dunn, Francisco Barreiro, Ashley Rae Spillers, Melissa Hideko Bisagni, John Merriman

Francisco Barreiro is a rising Mexican star whose recent acting credits include horror films, Here Comes the Devil and Somos Lo Que Hay (We are What we Are).  This marks his first English-speaking role.  Go Paco!

Director/Screenwriter: Eric Heisserer
Set mostly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Hours is the story of a man who battles looters, the elements and exhaustion for two days in a hospital while his newborn daughter clings to life inside a ventilator powered only by a manual crank.  Cast : Paul Walker, Genesis Rodriguez 

In Casa de Mi Padre, Genesis played the envious role of Sonia, the female lead who gets manhandled by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna’s characters and falls in love with big oaf Will Ferrell.  Competing for laughs she held her own opposite the comedic giant and proved she was more than a dime a dozen token Latina bombshell. Before being plucked for that role she was mostly seen in telenovelas so it’s nice to see her find more diverse work like this drama and the upcoming comedy with Jason Bateman, Identity Thief.

still from SXSW

Go For Sisters
Director/Screenwriter: John Sayles
Bernice and Fontayne grew up so tight they could ‘go for sisters’. After twenty years apart, they are reunited when Bernice is assigned to be Fontayne’s parole officer- just when she needs help on the wrong side of the law.
Cast: Edward James Olmos, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Yolonda Ross

This was not on my radar at all, but what a cool surprise to learn of a new film by ‘bootstrap’ John Sayles (among his body of work, Lone Star and Casa de los Babys offer distinct povs of Latino culture). Eddie Olmos, the original Chicano movie gets top billing.


Elena (Brazil)
Director: Petra Costa
Elena moves to NY with the dream of becoming a movie actress. She leaves behind Petra, her 7-year-old sister. Years later, her sister Petra goes to NY to look for Elena.

This personal and impressionist docudrama by Petra, a NY based filmmaker and actress is a 2012 grantee of Tribeca Film Institute’s Latin America Media Arts Fund.  Apparently her country’s Filmmaker Godfathers, Fernando Mereilles and Walter Salles greatly praised the film when it premiered last fall in Brazil and prestigious doc fest in Amsterdam, IDFA.

Directors: Youssef Delara, Victor Teran, Screenwriter: Victor Teran
A stylish psychological thriller set against the underground dubstep DJ scene that takes the audience on a dark and terrifying journey into the depths of the psychopathic mind as it threatens to explode into horrific violence.
Cast : Jake Hoffman, Nikki Reed, Thomas Dekker, Scott Bakula, Jason Priestley

From the team behind Filly Brown, co-directors and producers Delara (Iranian/Spanish) and Teran (Chicago born son of Nicaraguan parents), comes a brand spanking new film that takes us inside the mind of a DJ in a story that is as sick and heavy as the thumping and synth sounds of its Dubstep score.  Gina Rodriguez, the eponymous Filly Brown lead who ignited audiences with her breakout performance has a small role.


Diario a Tres Voces / Three Voices (Mexico)
Director: Otilia Portillo Padua
We are always told that love lasts forever like in children’s fairy tales, but the reality is that people change and relationships expire.

I’m very happy to see this beautiful and lyrical documentary, which had its world premiere at the Morelia International Film Festival, included in the program.  It is by far one of the most moving glimpses into the female psyche I’ve seen.  – A simply elegant and intimate glimpse of three women in three different stages in their life and how they perceive and appreciate the romance they’ve met, loved and lost.


Dog Flesh / Carne de Perro (Chile)

Director/Screenwriter: Fernando Guzzoni
The life of Alejandro, a solitary, fragile and unpredictable man, who is crushed by the hostility of his mysterious past.
Cast : Alejandro Goic, Amparo Noguera, María Gracia Omegna, Alfredo Castro, Sergio Hernández, Cristián Carvajal,

Add Fernando Guzzoni to the growing list of young talented filmmakers from Chile with this chilling feature directing debut. A haunting and psychological post-Pinochet drama – (a reminder of the vast imprint left on the country still reeling and seeking reconciliation in the aftermath of its cruel dictatorship regime), it was awarded Best Film in the venerable San Sebastian Film Festival’s New Directors Competition and recently screened at Rotterdam.


FlacoJimenezSanAntonioThis Ain’t No Mouse Music!
Directors: Chris Simon, Maureen Gosling
Roots music icon Chris Strachwitz (Arhoolie Records) takes us on a hip-shaking stomp from Texas to New Orleans, Cajun country to Appalachia, searching for the musical soul of America.

Features five time Grammy winner, King of the Accordion, Flaco Jiménez, a Tejano musician from San Antonio.


Evil Dead
Director/Screenwriter: Fede Alvarez, Screenwriter: Rodo Sayagues
Five friends, holed up in a remote cabin, discover a Book of the Dead that unwittingly summons up dormant demons which possess the youngsters in succession until only one is left to fight for survival.
Cast : Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore

Alvarez - still from Collider
Alvarez – still from Collider

Uruguayan born filmmaker caught Hollywood’s attention in 2009 immediately after uploading his disquieting and innovative sci-fi short film, Panic Attack. Suddenly Hollywood was on the line and Fede soon met with Sam Raimi.  Four years later and the eagerly anticipated Evil Dead remake and Fede’s directing debut will world premiere at SXSW where it is slotted as one of the main Headliners (reason#132 to love SXSW) In this awesome interview with the geeks at Collider, Fede remarks on the whole recent ratings arbitration with the film, “You know you Americans are crazy, right? The whole ratings system is like “cuckoo!”, he says, referring to the puzzling prescription dose of sex and horror the MPAA deems fit for U.S. mass consumption (mutilation ok, boob no way).  Sony releases Evil Dead in April.


Big Ass Spider!
Director: Mike Mendez, Screenwriter: Gregory Gieras
When a giant alien spider escapes from a military lab and rampages across the city of Los Angeles, it is up to one clever exterminator and his security guard sidekick to kill the creature before the city is destroyed. Cast: Greg Grunberg, Lombardo Boyar, Clare Kramer, Ray Wise, Lin Shaye, Patrick Bauchau

A devoted horror buff and filmmaker (Killers, Gravedancers, Convent) Mike grew up in Pasadena and would work at his parent’s Salvadorean/Mexican restaurant on Hollywood Blvd when he wasn’t making movies with friends.  Check out his wicked website. 


Si Nos Dejan
Director: Celia Rowlson-Hall
If they let us, we will love each other all our lives.

Homegirl may not be Latina but she knows her classic Mexican ballads from which the title is based (Luis Miguel and Rocio Durcal are among the many great singers who have covered this song). Spanish is THE ultimate romance language and it’s perfectly infused into Celia’s beautifully shot and offbeat cosmic love short.

The Village (Brazil)
Director: Liliana Sulzbach
The daily life of the dwellers of a microtown in the the south of Brazil which is about to vanish.

Boy Friends
Director: Hugo Vargas-Zesati
A man disturbed by a dream awakens to realize his unconscious has called his self-awareness into question. When confronting himself, misfortune brings the temporal world into perspective.

This is insanely hilarious and now that I read this logline, ingenious.  Young Texas filmmaker.

Dance Till You Drop
Directors: Eric M. Levy, Juan Cardarelli
She thought the house was safe, but under the right circumstances, anything can be dangerous. Even a dance montage.

Juan Cardarelli is originally from Argentina. Together with Levy they are Render Guys, a motion graphic house (Toy’s House, Gasland).  Their first feature film Congratulations! played last year’s Austin Film Festival

Directors: Jillian Mayer, Lucas Leyva

#PostModem is a comedic satirical sci-fi pop-musical based on the theories of Ray Kurzweil and other futurists. It’s the story of two Miami girls and how they deal with the technological singularity, told in a series of cinematic tweets.

The party starts March 8-17.  Follow them on Twitter @SXSW and check out the mega diverse action/info/passes to attend here

LALIFF – The Drive

My old 2005 LALIFF Volunteer shirt. The image (corazon) and word, Drive, epitomizes the festival’s beating spirit and describes the Fundraising and Support Drive needed now to keep it beating stronger than ever!

People always ask me how I got my start in film festival programming and the answer is volunteering at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.  Back in 2006, I was a miserable, zombie-eyed assistant to a Hollywood studio producer the likes of the tyrannical boss in Devil Wears Prada.  When LALIFF took place I always looked forward to volunteering whenever I could because that is where I woke up to the multi-cultural flavor, intensity and originality of International Latin American Cinema and became part of the spectrum of saucy Spanish language-accented conversation.   I discovered a whole community of young, brown and beautiful Latinos hustling their craft.  So I decided to take a leap of faith by pursuing and accepting a short term position as Programming Assistant at the Festival.   I willingly accepted the lowly wages, and for the first time entered into the highly stressful and unstable world of the non-profit festival seasonal world, where I still reside.   Unlike the white-bread, diluted projects I had written script coverage on over at the studio.  I was thrilled to work in a film realm that offered true cultural exchange and offered unique points of view.  Back then LALIFF was at its peak as a 14 day filled fiesta of films and events and over 100 features (cut to last year’s 42 features).  It was such a memorable sight to see audiences line up past the Egyptian Theatre’s deep courtyard all the way down to the Hollywood Walk of Fame for films like the Colombian blockbuster movie, Soñar No Cuesta Nada, Mexican documentaries like En El Hoyo from established documentary master, Juan Carlos Rulfo, or the emo goth punks who came out for the high octane documentary on Alex Lora frontman for legendary Mexican rock band, El Tri.   Screenings were packed and the celebration was epic. I continued to attend the festival in the years following, up until last year’s Quinceañera edition when I was surprised to see someone other than the Festival’s Executive Director, Marlene Dermer introduce films.  It was none other than Edward James Olmos himself, aggressively pleading the audience to become a member of the Latino International Film Institute for the sake of sustaining LALIFF. It was a cry for help that seems to have gone unanswered.

Earlier this month, Edward James Olmos announced that LALIFF which had previously announced its dates for a five day fest from August 16-21, would not be returning for its 2012 edition.  The announcement which had an almost pre-emptive positive sounding spin and deliberately left out any reason behind canceling simply stated “…the next edition of the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF) will be in the summer 2013, marking a new era for the organization and the Los Angeles Film Institute (LIFI), the non-profit organization that produces the annual festival.  LALIFF will present landmark anniversary screenings and will host membership/networking events.”

In the previous weeks, filmmakers had submitted their precious films and with them the hopes of screening at a festival which may have been their only outlet.  A number of films had already been invited and even confirmed.  Mere days before their start date, longtime seasonal staff had been notified their job fell through.   No doubt such a sudden decision was an extremely painful and difficult to make, of the last resort variety.   The abrupt news that the preeminent Latino film festival in the mecca of Hollywood was not happening sent many of us in the latino community reeling.  First I was saddened, then alarmed.  Other than the LA Times piece titled Fundraising Shortfall causes LA Latino Film Festival Cancellation, I was dissatisfied with minimal coverage in the following days given such a landmark festival was in trouble.  I began to reach out to filmmakers, industry, staff and other film festival directors to get reactions and figure out how to rally support.  As the story organically shaped into a tribute piece, for me it also naturally stemmed questions like,  ‘Why has such an important festival contracted instead of expanded over the years?’,  ‘Besides making a donation, how can we come together and become the life support it needs right now?’  “Are the challenges it faces insurmountable or can we rebuild our reputation?  “How do we make a Latino Film Festival commercially viable?”  I know, clearly too much to cover in one post but all ideas worth touching on that I hope I can engage you to comment and kickstart dialogue.

Erase una Vez

So the story goes as I’ve been told by old school vets, in 1996 the city of Los Angeles’ cultural commission approached a few high profile and influential Latino Hollywood players like Moctezuma Esparza, (Maya Releasing producer/ exhibitor) and Jerry Velasco (President of Nosotros, the oldest Latino Media advocacy group, and owner of the Ricardo Montalban theatre in Hollywood ), to meet the demand of the Latino population and create a Latino Film Festival. It was Edward James Olmos, who was becoming more and more popular due to his starring roles in such bi-cultural cross over pioneer hits like American Me, Mi Familia, and Selena, who stepped up to lead the charge.  Together with Marlene Dermer, who at the time was at Paramount, the two founded LALIFF which in its 15 years of existence has become THE most invaluable and critical platform for Latin American and American Latino talent.  As Marlene Dermer puts it, ” LALIFF has nurtured and supported the work of Latino actors, writers, producers, and directors who have gone to become internationally recognized, to work with Hollywood studio films, and have become award-winning filmmakers.  Since 1998, the Festival has had over 25,000 LAUSD students participate in their powerful Youth program in which kids are bussed to the Festival to walk the red carpet, be dazzled and inspired by established artists who they can identify with and share their same language.  It became an institute, LIFI, in 2005 and one of its goals through the Youth Program is to support younger generations to find a voice in film, to see film as a possibility after graduating from school, and most important promote literacy in our community.”

Alumni Cineastas

A festival serves a number of different constituents who are all equally integrated and important, from nurturing audiences, providing acquisition opportunities and talent for industry, and of course the filmmakers who provide the content.  Many thanks to the filmmakers who shared with me their experiences and thoughts.

Josefina Lopez (Real Women Have Curves) who has served as a juror at the Festival took the time to send me an email in the middle of shooting her new movie on location to say “I was very sad to hear about the festival not happening this year… It was always a dream of mine to submit a film and have it be the opening night film. I really hope this is only temporary but I have been aware of the tremendous struggle it has been to keep the festival going each year.  I really hope it continues soon so when my feature is ready I can make one of my dreams come true and have it screen at LALIFF.”  When not making her own films Lopez has established herself as a mentor to many young artists and revitalized a space in East LA, Casa 101 that puts on live theater and she is also the founder of The Boyle Heights Latina Film Festival.

Best festival parties EVER. We all went to them, so lets support them so we can have MAS to come!

Multi-hypenate (actor/director/producer), Douglass Spain (Star Maps, Resurrection Blvd) actor/producer/director has had several films premiere at LALIFF including a short he directed, ONLINE. “That year”, he says, “I spent everyday at LALIFF and got to know so many talented people which led to fruitful collaborations.  I’m Latino and I’ll own up to that.  LALIFF owned up to it as well.  They created a platform that gave Hollywood an opportunity to see how diverse we Latinos are; How rich our stories are and how financially successful they can be.  I guess it wasn’t enough.  Funding and support… that’s the real reason this festival isn’t coming back in 2012.    When Edward James Olmos asked me become a member and pay the fee, I did it without hesitation.  LALIFF 2012 is where we had hoped to premiere our  new film Mission Park.  To end on a high note, LALIFF had the best freaking parties in town, period.  It’s true about us Latinos, we love to have fun especially on set.  Whenever we get a chance to celebrate, we are there.  LALIFF was a place that brought all of us LA Latino Filmmakers and from the world over together to celebrate great cinema, music, dance and life.   I don’t think it’s the end for LALIFF.  I’m hoping it won’t be.  In September 2012 a new film festival will emerge in Chicago… Mexican Film Festival of the Americas.  Mission Park has been invited to premiere there.  This goes to show that when one door closes another one opens.

Meanwhile, Alfredo de Villa (Washington Heights) who has had five features and premiered his very first short film at LALIFF reminded me of the vital role of film festivals in general –   “Festivals can provide a cultural antidote without alienating its own base….they expose audiences to something different and contribute to a different strain of thinking.”  In talking about the overall fragmentation of the Latino population fragmentation he points to the 29% of Latinos living at or below poverty level who are in effect, ‘stranded by the experience as we know it’.”  The Mexican American experience of which roots in the US goes backs centuries is vastly different than the Central American wave of the 80s. And so on and so forth. ” We are still defining who we are so how can we become a political force?   That is what is missing, the community is all over the place and as filmmakers we’ve been catching up rather then responding or identifying it before it happens.”

Gabriela Tagliavini whose second film, romantic comedy, Ladies Night opened the 2004 Festival, premiered her opera prima,  “The Woman Every Man Wants” at LALIFF in 2001.  Last year she showed her film, Without Men, which turned out the stars like Eva Longoria and La reina, Kate del Castillo on the red carpet.  Gabriela says, “I would have never gotten so much press and exposure if it wasn’t for them (LALIFF), and I live in LA!  People that come from all over Latin America with their indie movies in Spanish would never see the day of light.  Plus, there’s the networking. Everybody mingles at the courtyard of the Egyptian, meet, compares notes and laugh.They had these lunches at the top studios to introduce the Latino filmmakers. I got to meet the CEO of Warner Brothers, Nina Jacobson when she was at Disney and Mark Gil when he was at Miramax. This is an opportunity that no other film festival does for their community. It’s too bad that my new film “The Mule” staring Sharon Stone which is about Immigration in the Mexican-US border won’t be able to be shown at LALIFF this year. I wonder what’s going to happen to all those other fantastic films that we might never get to see.”

There are many other filmmakers I did not have a chance to connect with who I’m sure would echo the sentiments of the networking and industry opportunities LALIFF has given them on top of the  audience reach it provides.

Industria and Networking

Over the years, the industry component and exposure to studios that LALIFF use to facilitate seems to have diminished.  It used to serve as a mini-market of sorts with its industry office library of Latin American films which offered studio execs the opportunity to come in and pore over hundreds of titles to consider for acquisition.  On the other hand the invaluable hub of networking with one’s peers remains the Festival’s biggest strength and community builder  .  The collaboration that grows out of those dancing parties has brought countless artists together.  Eddie Ruiz, who produced the short film, Mad Doggin was at the Festival last year remarked that while it wasn’t incredibly industry-centric in the way a filmmaker might seek a job for hire, the incredible social aspect of meeting like minded talent re-invigorated him, the audiences gave him a sense of affirmation, and in general he appreciated the environment that encourages the mantra of persistence of vision. and no matter how hard it is, to keep making your films.

Ben Odell,  who most recently produced  Girl in Progress, and is shooting Aztec Warrior with Luis Guzman, said, ” It’s tragic the thought of losing LALIFF”.  Odell tells me that over the years he has met a number of talented directors that he would have never met if not for LALIFF, and many of whom he’s collaborated with like Sebastian Borensztein with whom he wrote and produced the 2010 Mexican thriller, Sin Memoria.  He adds, “It’s particularly important to have the Latino festival in LA because it blends mainstream Hollywood, the US Distribution part with talent.” In talking about the big drum that is “Latino” he hinted at the programming challenge of lumping the everything in one category that defies sub-culture, in this case genre and audiences. “How do you fit in Latino art house movies from Peru and Chicano shoot ’em up movies all under Latino.  It’s not the same audience”.  I asked him what kind of festival would be most viable as far as getting our Latino talent industry exposure, to which he quickly asserted and used many examples of recent commercial genre films.  It’s true, there is an influential big wave of filmmakers from Colombia, Cuba, Central America who grew up with Hollywood blockbusters and now want to make those in their own flavor.  It reminds me of Alejandro Brugues the director of Juan of the Dead.  One last observation worth mentioning is filmmakers not wanting to pigeonhole themselves as a “Latino filmmaker’.   Might this play into the shaky support of some LALIFF filmmaker alumni?

Jerry Velasco, recently awarded NALIP’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Media Advocacy, says that upon hearing the news he immediately reached out to the organizers to say, ‘How can I help? Whatever you need I’m here.”  If we let them go we’ll have to wait another four to five years to start another”, the implication that it takes a long time to establish a brand.  “Lets help and continue and compliment.  We gotta make it work in LA.”    “It’s alarming,” he goes on to say, ” I’m worried about it losing momentum.  Corporate America should be more conscious.  We should support by contributing our contacts, dollars, get together and not let it die out.  Let’s create a chain reaction….Think of all of those who LALIFF has touched.  It’s alright to say, hey listen the film festal is in trouble.  It has brought a lot of joy over the years”.  What about some of Hollywood’s leading Latino talent?  To them,  Jerry challenges them to lend their money and vocal support.  We are talking about la J-Lo, Salma Hayek, Eva Longoria etc.

 Santa (Saint) Sacrifices made by staff and volunteers

Former staff were kind enough to share their years in the trenches, sometimes off the record,  and more than one implied, “I’ve been taught that if you don’t have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all (I do not subscribe to that – if it is to motivate change, bring it).   I asked the passionate, tireless and multi-tasker producer extraordinaire, Monica Sandoval who’s worked for LALIFF the past six years to share.   “LALIFF stands for so many things. It has brought together so many people, so much creativity and so many opportunities. In a city such as L.A., LALIFF has been our flag. I discovered LALIFF as I hit the pavement hard, at full speed, although as a volunteer my first year, I had responsibilities’ like a staff member. I quickly realized this was greatly due to the fact that LALIFF was understaffed. As staff member the following year, I had become part of a hardcore family that spent hours without sleep, inventing innovative ways of using the few resources we had to make the festival as inviting and as extraordinary as possible.  There is a lot of hard work and miracles, that go into carrying out this Festival. Then of course, there is LALIFF’s grim reality in regards to it’s core structure. There isn’t a year round team following up and maintaining LALIFF despite the many years its been around. I don’t fully understand why there isn’t a sponsorship coordinator working year-round. There are so many things that can be done throughout the year to maintain LALIFF alive. (on Marlene Dermer) …”I cannot imagine anyone else more passionate, more deserving, more appropriate for carrying out LALIFF than Marlene. BUT because of this, she hasn’t or maybe can’t let anyone else restructure, assist, give input, because this is too personal for her. LALIFF has been her lifelong mission and I truly believe LALIFF would not exist without her.  LALIFF is in dire need of restructuring… I believe full heartedly that it was the best thing to do considering the circumstances and that this will ignite a shift in LALIFF’s history. There can only be new and exciting changes in its future. Hopefully people will realize how important LALIFF is and by missing it this year, will be prompted to actively support LALIFF and not just show up to ask to get into free screenings or parties…

Gabriel Sotomayor, a filmmaker and now Director of Programming at the University of Guadalajara use to work closely with Marlene was the only one on staff year round for a couple years.  He argued vehemently that we, the community must put in to as much of what we’ve gotten out of LALIFF.

We are all in it together

On top of the love and passion fueled by alumni and staff there is also much goodwill and support from the community of non-profit art organizations at large:

John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival, which this year premiered two US Latino features, Mosquita y Mari and Filly Brown said, “There is a real value in showing films that represent a broad range of stories and cultures, as well as developing audiences for these films. Coming together as a community with like-minded passion is important and inspiring. We recognize that we are currently in a challenging fundraising climate, and with limited or no support from government agencies, it can be difficult for nonprofit arts organizations to thrive. We send our best wishes to the Latino International Film Institute and hope to see continued programming from the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival very soon.”

The Egyptian Theatre, home of the American Cinematheque which has served as the dazzling venue for LALIFF nearly every year, also expressed their support.  Nancy Winters, director of Special Events  said, “LALIFF has been an extraordinary organization to work with and we’ve been very proud to serve as a partner.  We are saddened to see the organization struggle however its not unusual to see organizations.”  In addition to its cinephile driven film programming, the American Cinematheque works with about 12 film festivals a year and in her 22 years there, Nancy has seen a number of festivals pop up and fade out.  Other Latino oriented programming there includes their home grown Spanish Cinema series and The Hollywood Brazillian Film Festival (which Talize Sayegh former LALIFFer who founded four years ago – big mad props querida!)

Eddie at last year’s Festival tried to drum up support at screenings

While calls and emails to Eddie Olmos went unanswered, Marlene Dermer took the time to email me back.  “We want people to know that we are regrouping and we are just taking a break from producing the festival this year, and we will return in 2013.  We will continue to support Latino filmmakers with special screenings and other events. We will be announcing them on the website, to our members, and to the press when they are scheduled.Our mission is to support Latino films and filmmakers and serve our community, and that will never change even if we don’t celebrate a festival this year.  We are positive about our organization, and believe that after 15 years, our community knows that LALIFF has offered audiences the best venue in the city to celebrate Latino films and artistry and in the process we created a cultural event for our community.   Many don’t realize that LALIFF, which started in 1997, has expanded to work year-round with Youth Programs, screenings, and Preservation Film programs, among other things.   All of these programs need funding, is not about the festival alone.  Fundraising has become a challenge for all non-profit organizations regardless of serving Latino or non-Latino communities.   We are a non-profit organization, and every contribution, regardless of the amount, helps us continue our mission. People can support us, by becoming a member.

Membership and Sponsorship support

Speaking of Membership.  Okay, full disclosure,  Up until a few clicks ago I was not a member of the Latino International Film Institute.  (You can make a donation here, the festival’s actual membership donation page is wonky).  You heard right, here I am, talking the talk, wanting to support the festival and I wasn’t even a member.  See the pattern?  I don’t doubt that there’s more than a few of you out there like me out there so let’s get it together people.  This thing is bigger than us. Membership is from $50 – $500. Cultivating membership and making it worthwhile for folks is critical especially given the demographic the festival appeals to the most, LA’s hip, young starving artists. In talking with Calixto Chinchilla, founder of the West Coast’s big Latino fest, NY Latino Film Festival  (which announces programming this week!!) I ask him, ‘Shouldn’t it be easier in this climate to get the support of corporate sponsorship since everyone is itching to tap the Latino market?,  to which he immediately says, “It’s hard as hell.  The cost of a festival isn’t getting any cheaper.    Managing how to spend a decreased budget and sponsorships is more critical than ever and takes lots of savvy.  Everyone is downsizing and competition for sponsorship is getting fierce.  “It’s like Survivor of the Fittest!”.  Activation, deliverables and reports must be stringently met.  The NY Latino Film festival which from its inception has benefited from a strong sponsor relationship with HBO is no exception and has also had to scale down some.  Calixto added,  “I was sad to find out a big city like LA is in trouble”.  He pointed out to San Diego Latino Film Festival, a festival he frequents regularly, which has managed to thrive and applauds Founder and Executive Director, Ethan Van Thillo and Artistic Director, Lisa Franek.  “It takes a while to build a brand”.  Calixto offered up the idea of putting together a summit for all Latino Film Festivals.  “We should be open to having a dialogue, put aside our egos so we can find a way to have each other’s back.  We hall have our best interests in mind and want to see us succeed.”  I think its a good time to reflect and think about the future.”  I agree wholeheartedly with Calixto. Just like he suggested at NALIP that a junior advisory board would rejuvenate and tap into the pulse of the fresh and younger and younger skewing energy pulse, it’s something to consider for LALIFF too.  There’s a whole lot we can learn from the Old Guard and just as much they can learn from us.   Why not form a mutually beneficial mix of old and new and spice it up some?

Back to Sponsorship  – the other person who flipped the script on my naive thinking (isn’t it easier to get money for Latinos?)  was the erudite Moctezuma Esparza.  I realized I was asking wrong questions given my lack of historical plays out.  Esparza says, ” Sponsorship has changed.  Corporate demand is for measurable results.  There was a time when sponsors and advertisers were all about impressions; how many people see xyz.  The landscape is now changing, sponsorship is tied to Marketing which is tied to Programing.  They are looking for direct results, increased sales.  That presents a tremendous challenge for a cultural venue.  Competition is intense.   As a consequence there is a retrenchment in dollars to all kind of organizations.  The criteria for allocation is changing.”  At yet another point where I, the young kid, was quick to interject because I thought he was going to give one of those crossover success stories from 20 years that’s no longer relevant, he said, ” Twenty five  years ago movies like, Born in East LA , Stand and Deliver, Milagro Beanfieled War, La Bamba, every two years these movies were being made, reaching a growing audience.  For their cost they turned profits.  But only about three filmmakers were making these films and there was not enough support from studios to create a habit for audience, a HABITAT.  Structural changes are the challenges.  It’s important to have an nuanaced understanding of the forces of nature instead to beating each other up.  It’s not useful to say that latinos are not supporting each other.

Esparza who as executive producer has had many films screen at the festival says, “LALIFF has been an invaluable cultural platform that grew every year and seemed to grow in reach and reputation.   LALIFF offers two powerful benefits; to filmmakers – access to a market and recognition, and second to audiences  – the opportunity and access to extraordinary films not distributed online or in the US home video.  “I look forward to LALIFF’s renewed commitment.”

Let’s be real

Let’s be real though.  As important and empowering it is to recognize the milestone achievements of LALIFF,  I believe there is value, now more than ever, for the community and especially those familiar with festivals who want to help (moi) to offer constructive feedback where there is room for improvement and to also offer our efforts, mobilize, and shake things up a bit.  Not everything can be chalked up to lack of resources, right?  What about consistency and leadership?  I remember what Calixto said.  A smaller budget requires skillful management and a constant shifting of priorities that continue to serve the mission.  Then there are other details like, year after year I notice LALIFF does not announce its program until right before the festival.  The publicity machinery needs time to massage interest in films most of the the public has never heard about.   Also, in Hollywood where there is a vibrant community of arts and multi-media festivals competing for audiences wide scale awareness is key.    Right now if you look on the Festival’s website, it still gives you the submission deadline. No indication of the announcement so one might not be able to tell that the Festival has been cancelled.   Sure these may sound like details and tiny oversights and I’m not saying that this never happens at other festivals.  But the difference here is the unchecked perpetual culmination of these oversights reflect a poor infrastructure.  And these are relatively easy fixes that should be priorities because they go a long way.  We could and should demand better from our Latino organizations.  After all we have to work twice as hard to get ahead.

An active year round presence  is required to make a festival grow.  Only a couple staff members are year round, if that.  That’s an enormously debilitating factor given the scale of the international festival.  Who or what do the Board of Directors do?  Are they doing all they can to power the festival?

Will the organization embrace and engage with the community on how to revamp the festival?  I hope so and will stay optimistic until I see otherwise.  Given the injection of new board member, the passionate Luisa Crespo, Executive Director of Academic Senate at UC Irvine, who has lent the festival renewed credibility and has committed to working with Marlene Dermer, I noticed a small but notable impact last year.  International Industry maven, Sydney Levine has been an advisory board member for many years.  Sought after by many festivals to lend her expertise on distribution and acquisitions, they are lucky to have Sydney’s participation as its immensely beneficial to emerging filmmakers at the festival.

Despite all of its trouble, one thing is clear to me; the audience continues to show up to LALIFF screenings- BECAUSE THERE ARE STILL FEW AND FAR IN BETWEEN VENUES THAT SHOW SPANISH LANGUAGE AND BI-LITERATE PROGRAMMING.   And that is why I am renewing my support and commitment to the cause.  If I am harsh at pointing out its flaws while applauding its achievements, its only because  I want it to be as perfect as possible. I believe LALIFF will only grow strong with a rehaul set by the community.

I implore everyone who has been enriched by the festival to give tribute to the festival’s legacy. Whether they openly admit it or not, LALIFF is in trouble and the call to action is bigger than all of us.  I encourage us to speak out and speak LOUD.  Let’s tell the organizers what we expect and want from our festival and then help make it happen.  While we won’t be seeing new work at the Festival, the organizers are planning a Retrospective program which they will be announcing soon on their website.  Follow LALIFF on twitter and like them on Facebook.  Share your network of talented peers, make a donation no matter how small, volunteer.  Come to the Membership event today, Wednesday, July 25 at L’Scorpion (my favorite Hollywood tequila joint). If you can’t go, make a donation for whatever amount you want.  If I can do it and I’m broke as a joke, so can you.