Marlene L. Dermer is the Executive Director, Programmer and Member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF.) The Festival, which she also co-founded, has grown from 42 films during its first edition in 1997 and an overall attendance of 5,000 people, to last year’s Festival, which exceeded 27,000 and showcased 130 films (features, documentaries, and shorts), 10 panels, workshops and secured major corporate sponsorship from nationally recognized organizations. LALIFF celebrates its 10th edition in October 2006.
Dermer’s desire to showcase Latino talent led her to create a venue for Latin films in Los Angeles. She has seen her vision unfold by using the film medium as a vehicle to bringing to light the richness and diversity of the Latino culture and artistry. LALIFF started in 1996, when the City of Los Angeles first looked into the possibility of having an official Latino film festival that catered to the cultural needs of its rapidly growing Latino community. Dermer wrote the original proposal to respond to the request by the City of LA. During the development process, Dermer was asked by the City’s Latino Committee to meet with actor/activist Edward James Olmos to join forces on the new Latino festival.
When Dermer and Olmos met, they made an instant connection in terms of vision and what they wanted to accomplish with the project. They started to work together during the weekends, as she was still working full time at Paramount Pictures, to work on the first ever Latino film festival in the city. LALIFF was then co-founded by Dermer, George Hernandez and Olmos, with the first festival starting small as part of the 1997 Latino Heritage Month celebration in Los Angeles, showing 42 films during five days.
LALIFF soon developed its own identity, and with the constant support from film studios and sponsors, the festival grew quickly into a high-profile event with a strong presence in the Hollywood community. In 2003, the seventh edition of LALIFF showcased 147 films (features, documentaries, and shorts), offered panels, and workshops it included the first Latino Screenwriter’s Lab for Ibero-American participants, and a writer’s workshop for 26 participants, selected from among more than 300 applications from all over the US. The Festival had an overall attendance in excess of 27,000. Expanded to 16 days, LALIFF became the longest international film festival in the world. In 2005, LALIFF enjoyed an audience in excess of 20,000.
During Dermer’s tenure at LALIFF, she has developed and implemented many programs that have nourish future Latino talent and positively impacted the Los Angeles Latino community such as the Latino Writers Workshop; Youth Program, which promotes literacy and further education among elementary to high school and filmmaking among high school to college students; a Writing Competition, for emerging filmmakers and the fundamentals of storytelling in a cinematic medium and the Latino Screenwriters Lab, which offers the opportunity to a new screenwriters or experienced filmmakers to have his/her screenplay develop, produced and distributed by a Hollywood company.
Under her leadership, the festival also enjoyed an important milestone in 2005 when the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Science (Oscars®) recognized LALIFF as a qualifying festival for the Academy’s Short Film Category Award. Furthermore, with Dermer’s help, the Academy established the LALIFF Collection at the Academy’s Film Archive, which is open to students, educators and the general public.
Dermer’s vision to make LALIFF a year-round organization led to the announcement in 2006 that LALIFF would become the Latino International Film Institute, LIFI. As a non-profit organization, LIFI will expand LALIFF’s educational programs and industry labs as well as to mentor, develop and support Latino filmmakers in the United States and international.
Prior to her current position with LALIFF, Dermer was also the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Latino Public Broadcasting, the only non-profit organization in the Latino producing community funded by the Federal Government, for five years. After working together with Olmos in creating LALIFF, Olmos persuaded Dermer to leave the job at Paramount Pictures (1996-98) and to be in charge of running the this fund and in turn create Latino Public Broadcasting, an organization that they both co-founded. She served as the Executive Director for five years and still serves on its Board of Directors.
During her tenure, LPB awarded grants to more than 50 projects and was actively involved in the production of joint projects with the National Minority Consortia. Under her leadership at LPB, several of the projects won prestigious awards, such as “Señorita Extraviada”, 2002 Sundance Winner; “Blue Diner”, an Alma Award Winner for Outstanding Independent Motion Picture in 2002, and “Every Child is Born a Poet”. Other films produced under Dermer’s leadership at LPB include: Viones Latino Art & Culture, series for PBS by Hector Galan; Matters of Race; Accordions Dreams, Hector Galan; Senior Year; Limon a Life Beyond Words; Fotonovelas, Carlos Avila The Double Life of Ernesto Gomez Gomez; Race is the Place; Stealing Home; La Boda, and Our House in Havana.
Founded in the winter of 1998 as an interim organization, the Latino Public Broadcasting Project’s mission was to provide a voice to the diverse Latino community throughout the United States with an equitable and accessible funding and distribution mechanism to present Latino programs on public broadcasting stations.
Under Dermer’s leadership, the LPB was awarded Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s contract and became a non-profit organization established to represent the Latino community nationally. At the time of her departure, LPB presented over 28 hours partly funded by them on PBS. Latino Public Broadcasting became the only non-profit organization for the Latino producing community funded by the Federal Government.
As thefounding Executive Director, Marlene was responsible to the Board of Directors for effectively running the affairs of the organization. With the participation and oversight of the Board, she directed the staff, programs, and activities of the organization. She created the by-laws, procedures and programs. Dermer also created with her designers the brand including an award winning logo for LPB.
As the Executive Director of LPB, she was also responsible for implementing board policies; advising the Board regarding strategic direction and organizational development; fundraising; and overseeing day-to-day operations, including staff activities, budgeting, financial planning, and programs serving artists. In addition, Dermer and Olmos were the principal public face for the organization and represented LPB in multiple local and national venues articulating the organization’s vision and needs on the national and local level.
Dermer says, “Latino Public Broadcasting was born from the ashes of another organization and took flight into the future in the light of its own flames. Thanks to the passion and hard work of our producers and talent. It was hard in the beginning. The community’s trust had been lost and it seemed that instead of getting people to support you, sometimes you felt that they were waiting for you to fail. But we persevered with our desire to do right, stand by our principles and accomplish something for the community that we could all be proud.”
Dermer’s background also includes filmmaking and producing. From 1996 to 1998, Dermer worked as Director of Foreign Adaptation at Paramount Pictures. She supervised the production of delivery of scripts, translations and subtitles for the studio feature films to be released in Latin America. Paramount can credit her with having the most success ever in opening dates with Spanish titles. She left in December of 1998 to start the Latino Public Broadcasting.
Dermer’s experience in filmmaking and festival programming has made a key player when other international film festivals, cultural and film institutions around the world look to promote and showcase Latino films. She programmed in 1995 for the Shanghai International Film Festival the Latino Film Program the largest presentation of Latin films ever screened in China, one of which won the Jury Prize Award in 1995. She also was a participant in the first ever U.S. China Film Industry Conference in Shanghai. She served on their Advisory Board for two years.
Dermer lent her expertise to the Los Angeles Cuban Cultural Festival, which epitomizes the richness of Cuban culture. This civic festival founded to celebrate Cuban culture in Los Angeles has seen itself grow from 3,000 attendees in its first year, to 30,000 visitors. With a wide range of programs available, Dermer has assisted in the selection of its art, music and literature.
Besides films, Dermer’s other passions are the arts, books and music. She has traveled the globe to personally get involved in the promotion and preservation of international archeological treasures, art and literary works. Over the past 21 years, she has also campaigned for such causes as the Cancer Society, Green Peace, World Peace and AIDS. While living in New Orleans she was part of the Arts Community and has been a visible entity with the Cultural Affairs Department in Los Angeles. Of course as part of her role as the Executive Director and Programmer of LALIFF, Dermer is constantly traveling around the world to be part of many international film festivals and to scout new and upcoming Latino talent to showcase every year at LALIFF.
Marlene was born in Peru, but she considers herself to be a citizen of the world. She has lived in New Orleans, Spain and now in Los Angeles. She has a son, William who resides in New Orleans.