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.

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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.

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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

#MasAmerican

It’s official #LALIFF2013 open for submissions

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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.

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Are you?