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LALIFF Now

Latinx Stories Take Over LALIFF’s 2019 Film Slate with World Premiere Screenings and Landmark Projects

Reflecting the Latino Film Institute’s commitment to championing and providing spaces for Latinx talent—those born and/or raised in the United States with Latino heritage—the recently announced slate of feature films, shorts, and episodic content to screen at the 2019 Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF) focuses predominantly on these experiences often neglected by film festivals and the industry at large.

Opening night will see the LA Premiere of the formally stunning and timely hybrid film “The Infiltrators” by Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera, which combines fictionalized sequences with documentary footage to tell the incredible story of a group of undocumented youth who banded together against a for-profit detention center. Their clever tactics are a testament to the strength that comes from community, which is also a core notion of the messaging LALIFF is promoting.

New Latinx voices are poised to dazzle audiences with their powerful first features addressing diverse topics relevant to our people and beyond. Chelsea Hernandez’s documentary “Building the American Dream” dives deep into the precarious conditions faced by immigrant workers, Daniel Fermin Pfeffer’s “I’ll See You Around” is a drama centered on an African-American striving to improve his life against adverse circumstances, and Diana Peralta’s “De Lo Mío” deals with two sisters caught up between their life in NYC and the Dominican Republic, where their brother lives.

With more credits under their belt, seasoned Latinx talents are also bringing their latest works to LALIF. Rashaad Ernesto Green, who’s had a successful career in television over the past few years, will present his second feature, romantic Harlem-set tale “Premature.” Adding an edgy vibe to the festival, Daniel Garcia and directing partner Rania Attieh are having the West Coast Premiere of their new work “Initials S.G.,” which takes the duo to Argentina for a story about an aging actor with delusions of grandeur.

While Latinx stories are taking a big part of the spotlight this year, Latin American storytellers are also present at LALIFF via some of the most notable works to emerge from the region over the last year.

Entrancing Brazilian dystopia “Divine Love,” from acclaimed auteur Gabriel Mascaro, explores a future where religion has infiltrated secular society in disturbingly pervasive ways. It’s a thought-provoking vision of a country currently undergoing a peculiar political moment. On a more intimate scale, Uruguayan director Lucía Garibaldi’s debut feature “The Sharks” uses mass panic and unassuming danger to convey a coming-of-age narrative where a complex female protagonist discovering desire in a small town.

Highlighting Latinx and Latin American art, as well as the intersections between them, a trio of fantastic biographical documentaries will celebrate some of our greatest talents in multiple disciplines: “Raúl Julia: The World’s a Stage,” honors the Puerto Rican who left his mark in Hollywood, “Carlos Almaraz: Playing with Fire” dissects the complicated life of the Chicano activist and artist, while “Siqueiros: Walls of Passion” explores how the singular Mexican painter became a symbol for the Chicano movement.

Prolific globetrotting filmmaker Michael Flores spearheads the shorts programs with two distinct works, one is a bit-size biopic of late narcocorrido star Chalino Sanchez and the other, “The Bell,” takes Flores to El Salvador for a heartfelt drama about displaced people.

A variety of genres and stylistic approaches are featured across the two collections of shorts screening at LALIFF this year, all of which have in common the utter authenticity of the experiences portrayed that find universality in their specificity. From Jessica Mendez Siqueiros’ food-related dramedy “Pozole,” to Chicana filmmaker Lizette Barrera’s friendship story “Chicle,” Cuban-born director Gabriela Garcia Medina’s delightful period piece “Little Con Lili,” or Victor Hugo Duran take on masculinity in “Figueroa.”

As television becomes a major platform for stories by people of color to enter the mainstream, LALIFF’s episodic slate includes several pilots showcasing up-and-coming creators.

The Latino Film Institute’s very own Benjamin-Shalom Rodriguez, who’s served as a mentor for the Youth Cinema Project, will debut his comedy project “Stoned Breakups” about a writer’s romantic mishaps. On a similar vein, writer-director David Tripler will present “South of Sunset: Fake Mexicans,” a narrative following a Mexican-American writer as he embarks on a journey to understand his own identity. Also notable, is the docu-series “Werq the World: Valentina,” following the Latina star who became a “RuPaul’s Drag Race” sensation.

As previously revealed, the organization LatinX in Animation, which recently joined the Latino Film Institute, will be present at LALIFF through a masterclass with important figures working in the animation industry: Pilar Flynn, producer of “Elena of Avalor,” Miguel Jiron, story artist for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Niki López, creator and producer of “Santiago of the Seas,” Silvia Olivas, executive producer and head writer of “Maya and the Three,” and Eric Robles, co-creator and executive producer of “Glitch Techs.”

Put together by seasoned Sundance programmer and LALIFF’s Director of Programming Dilcia Barrera, the film and episodic programs for the 2019 edition are bold, original, and above all true to the diverse voices that comprise the Latinx community.

LALIFF’s Volunteers Find Community and Inclusion While Supporting the Fight for Latino Representation

Since its inception, the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF) has thrived thanks to the support of countless individuals who believe in its mission as a bastion for Latino representation. LALIFF is an event powered by community, and as such the role of its volunteers carries immeasurable significance. In short, the festival wouldn’t function without them.

Last year, upon the festival’s return from hiatus, a new generation of cinema lovers, emerging artists, and committed supporters in general had the chance to be part of the LALIFF family as volunteers. Though their help in a variety of positions regarding the operations of the event is crucial, volunteers also benefit from the creative environment and inclusivity that define the festival.

Take the case of actress Graciela Campos, for example, who joined LALIFF’s band of volunteers in 2018 and was able to “meet many creative Latinx people, and also learned a lot about the business.” Her genuine dedication and openness made her an invaluable member of the team. Floating around multiple tasks, Campos soaked in the experience and engaged not only with other members of the staff, but also audiences, and guests.

“As an actor I love being in that atmosphere,” added Campos. “I learned that a good attitude will get you a long way. Just being genuine and helpful will work in your favor. It’s not about rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. It’s about community and people can see where your intentions are. Good intentions get you in doors.”

For Valentina D’Agostini, a student at Marymount Manhattan College, it was the vision behind the festival and all of the Latino Film Institute’s initiatives and the change they are trying to enact that enticed her to be a part of it.

“One thing I learned at LALIFF is how important it is that we continue to work on and be in discussion about the lack of inclusivity in the entertainment industry,” said D’Agostini. “On top of being a cool event to be involved with, LALIFF is about promoting culture and Latinx representation in media which is something I would consider myself passionate about. “

Following the fantastic and welcoming experience she had during her first year, D’Agostini is returning to volunteer at LALIFF 2019 this summer, and her continued involvement is proof that everyone in the team immediately becomes part of a likeminded group pushing forward for our collective advancement.

“The number one thing about the organization that made me want to come back and volunteer is the people! I got to meet so many incredibly talented and kind people that immediately made me feel at home. I felt like I was surrounded by family the entire time,” added D’Agostini.

Along the same lines, for student Randy Cruz, who’s starting this fall at CSUN, joining LALIFF’s volunteer force represented a sort of homecoming as she tried to navigate the ins and outs of the entertainment business. “Being a Latina trying to find my place in the film industry, I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like or where to go, but I’m so happy to have found LALIFF and become part of the team and meet so many amazing people,” said Cruz.

LALIFF became an open space for Cruz to feel connected to a larger community of Latinos in the industry, so much that she didn’t think twice about returning once again to support the organization. “The feeling of inclusion is amazing at LALIFF and am happy to be coming back for my second year volunteering,” she added.

Beyond an astounding film program, unforgettable musical performances, and networking opportunities for career advancement, LALIFF stands as a unique intersection for all Latino creators and their patrons to engage not only with the art on the screens, but with the issues, yearnings, and shared experiences that concerns us as a community. No one embodies these sentiments of selfless dedication for the good of our people as a whole than the volunteers.

In her own words, Cruz summed it up nicely: “If someone wants to come in and help, allow them. It may seem silly but being in an inclusive place like LALIFF helps spread that sort of mentality. There is a place for everyone if we open up our doors.”

To become a LALIFF volunteer apply here.

LatinX in Animation Joins LFI and Plans Exciting Events for LALIFF 2019

LatinX in Animation Joins LFI and Plans Exciting Events for LALIFF 2019

Expanding its reach into the animation, VFX, and gaming industries, the Latino Film Institute (LFI) has partnered with LatinX in Animation (LXiA), an organization founded in 2018 by Magdiela Hermida Duhamel and Bryan Dimas with the goal of creating a network of Latinx professionals working in these fields.

Over the past few months, thanks in part to its monthly networking events, the group of talented individuals from across multiple studios and a variety of career paths has rapidly grown to become a major player in the fight for representation in media. LatinX in Animation is helping the collective career advancement of our community by building bridges with studios and providing spaces for creators and emerging talents to connect.

By championing and showcasing diverse voices, LXiA hopes to inspire a new generation of artists to pursue careers in animation and related areas.

 “The lack of Latinx voices and diversity in general steams from growing up in a world with only a few animated characters that look like us. Seeing yourself on screen is very powerful to a child and the child in all of us. Not seeing yourself on screen or on a creative, executive or production role subliminally tells your brain that you are not meant to play any of those roles,” said Duhamel regarding the significance of representation.

As their efforts solidified and their membership grew in numbers, Duhamel and Dimas reached out to Rafael Agustin, Executive Director of LFI, to lay out the ground for LXiA to be part of the LFI family. In March 2019, the young organization officially joined the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF) and the Youth Cinema Project (YCP) as a Signature Program under the LFI umbrella.

“This opportunity will help our organization in several ways, most importantly becoming part of a non-profit organization that has strong leaders like Edward James Olmos, Rafael Agustin, and the rest of the Board of Directors of LFI,” said Dimas about the union that will enable LXiA to continue flourishing.

LFI will provide LatinX in Animation with an operating budget each the year, which will allow them to implement programs and offer opportunities to its members and beyond that they simply didn’t have the resources to execute before.

As part of LFI, LatinX in Animation will interact with the institute’s other programs to build an ecosystem of mutual support and talent crosspollination.

Starting with LALIFF 2019 (July 31-August 4), LatinX in Animation will be present with two special events: a Q&A panel with an industry guest speaker and an animation workshop. In addition, the group is currently working with Youth Cinema Project to develop an animation curriculum to implement in their program, which provides access to visual storytelling to underserved communities across California.

Details about LXiA’s two programs at LALIFF will be announced in upcoming weeks.

In New Project “Instant Crush” Latinx Filmmaker Chris Carmona Keeps Putting South East LA on Screen

Last year at LALIFF, Chris Carmona, a young Latinx filmmaker from the city of Bell, experienced a powerful moment of validation and fulfillment when his debut feature, “Bad Labor” premiered at the festival in front of an enthusiastic audience.

The film made for just $700 with a group of friends showcases the people and places familiar to the Latino community in Southeast Los Angeles, which are rarely seen on screen. “It’s really humbling how moved people are by the fact that ‘Bad Labor’ got to play last year as part of LALIFF at the Chinese Theater,” said Carmona.

Representing people of color from places often ignored by the entertainment industry is a key part of what motivates him and fuels his storytelling decisions. Following the success of “Bad Labor,” Carmona embarked on an episodic project titled “Instant Crush” for Latino media company MiTú.

Though his idea was originally for another feature-length movie, Carmona adapted the story to MiTú’s preferred format: a web series to debut on their platforms that reach countless millennials. Centered on Cindy (Nisalda Gonzalez) and Andy (Emilio Garcia-Sanchez), the show emanated from the director’s own brushes with complicated romantic love.

The entire series was shot in seven days all over Southeast LA, and the cities of Torrance and Long Beach, remaining true to his philosophy of highlighting unseen places in the Los Angeles County. Originally, the series was supposed to be released as three long episodes, but then these were turned into 6 mini-episodes to facilitate its release.

This was the first time Carmona worked with a sizeable budget and a professional crew, a different experience than the scrappy project he’d made before. Still, while the task was undoubtedly overwhelming, it was equally empowering to know he didn’t have to be in charge of every aspect of the production.

Carmona admits that making “Bad Labor” wasn’t particularly enjoyable because of the level of ambition and limited resources. “The goal this time was to have fun,” he said. Whenever they encountered an issue his approach was to rationalize the problem as an opportunity. His mantra would be: “It’s great that this didn’t work because now we can find a new way to do it.” The prolific artist attributes this new professional outlook to his decision to meditate every morning.

For “Instant Crush,” Carmona brought along his two closest collaborators on “Bad Labor.” Tony Remigio returned as cinematographer, while Jose Martinez, who did sound in the feature, served as first assistant director on the series.

None of them had any formal filmmaking education, but Carmona believes that’s exactly what allows them to be less fearful of approaching the medium freely. They have built a community of likeminded people, just like many aspiring filmmakers do in film school, but don’t have adhere to any dogma. “I’ve become very comfortable with not having the film school limitations on my brain and just doing it,” he said.

Now that his career is starting to take shape in a more significant and professional manner, Carmona understands that his purpose should be to encourage other Latino creators and create spaces for them to be nurtured, just like many others have done for him. It’s not only about entering preexisting circles of power and opportunities, but also about creating their own.

“I don’t see white creators as any different than me, but it shouldn’t be my goal to try to be part of their circle. I got to form my own circle and start bringing people that are brown, that come from my hood, and that want to attain this thing so that they can know it’s real,” he emphatically explained.

Inspired by multi-hyphenates such as Donald Glover, Carmona is making his first professional foray into music this year with the upcoming release of an EP in the summer and a music video over the next few weeks.

Currently, he also co-hosts a podcast called “The Us Podcast” and is writing a lose remake of the troubled and virtually unseen production “Don’s Plum” that originally starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. His version will recast all roles with Latinx teenagers and is expected to begin shooting before the end of the year.

“Instant Crush” is currently available on MiTú’s YouTube Channel.

Taking Stock of LALIFF 2018 as We Set Sights on the 2019 Edition

With an expanded vision aimed at highlighting even more Latinx and Latin American talent than ever before in multiple artistic fields, 2018 marked the stellar return of the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF)—an indispensable platform for the appreciation, exhibition, and development of our community’s artistic ambitions at a time when positive representation is truly imperative.

Enhancing the highly-curated film program, new sections including LALIFF Music, featuring emerging acts performing in an intimate setting, and LALIFF Art, which provided a space for creators in other visual disciples to showcase their works, helped the festival evolve into an even more inclusive event with a fresh voice.

Calling LALIFF the Home of Latinx content is no overstatement as it brings together an array of diverse experiences under one roof: from undocumented youth, to local directors, as well as celebrated auteurs from across Ibero-America. Looking at the trajectories of LALIFF 2018 alumni, it’s clear that what the festival is investing in is talent with the potential to reshape the global cinematic landscape, but perhaps more importantly, the way Hollywood represents the Latino identity here at home.

Since last year’s festival, U.S. Latino creators who shared their work with LALIFF’s audiences have gone on to receive incredible recognitions and to participate in even more prominent projects.

Rudy Valdez’s deeply moving documentary The Sentence went on to have a theatrical release in October and later premiered on HBO. This portrait of a family enduring separation because of excessive punishment is at once hopeful and devastating. The Sentence won the Cinema Tropical Award for Best U.S. Latino Film back in January.

Actress and filmmaker Rosa Salazar screened her short film Good Crazy at LALIFF following success at Sundance. Earlier this year she graced screens around the world as the star of Robert Rodriguez’s Alita: Battle Angel, a sci-fi fantasy that has defied box office expectations stateside and has become a significant success in China. Salazar is a trailblazing Latina lead setting an example for the industry

Young filmmaker Chris Carmona, a proud Southeast LA native, stunned festival attendees with his debut feature, Bad Labor, a genre story about a day laborer in peril, which he produced for $7000 in the spirit of Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi. Carmona just completed a romcom web series for Mitú titled Instant Crush. Its six episodes will debut online  

Lastly, writer-director Gigi Saul Guerrero was recently named one of Variety’s 10 Latinxs to Watch in 2019. Guerrero premiered the feature-length version of her web series La Quinceañera at LALIFF. The gritty revenge story proved her outstanding directorial abilities ready to take on even more ambitious ventures.

Additionally, several Latin American titles that played at LALIFF last year found a home at HBO Latino reaching a mass audience in the U.S. Uruguayan soccer story Home Team, Colombia revenge drama Killing Jesus, Paraguayan adventure tale The Gold Seekers, Dominican biopic Veneno, The First Fall, and the Salvadoran short film My Treasure, are now available on HBO’s Spanish-language channel. Lastly, the Spanish documentary Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle by Gustavo Salmerón had a theatrical release stateside in the fall of 2018 and went on to win the Spotlight Award at the Cinema Eye Honors Awards, which recognize excellence in documentary filmmaking.

While LALIFF will continue to celebrate outstanding features and shorts from Latin America, Spain, and Portugal, a significant focus going forward is to provide even more spaces and opportunities to U.S. Latinos, those born stateside with Latin American heritage, who still terribly underrepresented in the entertainment industry. U.S. Latinos are often lumped together with their Latin American counterparts creating a deceiving perception that progress has been made.

Whereas filmmakers in Latin America have access to government subsidies and incentives to finance their projects, U.S. Latinos struggle to break into an industry that doesn’t understand the subtitles of their experiences and how these are distinct from those of Cuarón, del Toro, Iñárritu, and other major names that have emerged from the region.  

To that end, LALIFF will continue to support the Youth Cinema Project (YCP) through its LALIFF Legacy section. YCP brings filmmaking into Southern California schools presenting the craft as a plausible and exciting career path for kids in the Latino community and beyond who may have otherwise never contemplated the possibility of working in entertainment. Their work then finds a home at LALIFF Legacy in a special screening event that demonstrate the relevance of the LALIFF ecosystem for filmmakers working professionally today and those that are coming behind them.

LALIFF 2019 will build on the foundations set into place last year to continue to become not only the epicenter for our creative endeavors to shine and be shared, but a key participant in the year-round conversations around meaningful inclusion and access.  

LALIFF’s Short Films Tell Hugely Relevant Stories in Bite-Size Form

Audiences seeking to explore bold and inspiring content created by Latinx filmmakers beyond the great selection of features at LALIFF, will find a treasure chest of stories and idiosyncratic visions in the festival’s Short Programs. Experimental works, hard-hitting dramas from rarely seen regions, and even animated narratives, comprise a curated compilation of the best short films created by or about Latinx talents in the last few years.

Through this selection of standout bite-size creations with hugely relevant stories, LALIFF is bridging the gap between its last edition and its return. Many of the short films included were made during LALIFF’s hiatus, thus this programs allows the festival to share them with audience and showcase some the best work Latinx filmmakers completed in this intermission.

One of the festival’s invaluable partners to bring incredible short form content to this year’s festivities is the Borscht Corporation, a non-profit redefining the way cinema is produced in a Miami. Borscht also puts together its own film festival every couple of years, an even that has garnered a cult following for their audacious programming and creative approach to production. For LALIFF, having Borscht be part of this new journey was a perfect match.

“It was so important to include Borscht Corp in LALIFF’s comeback year as they continuously represent Latinx creators and Latinx perspectives in prestigious film festivals throughout the world,” says LALIFF’s Senior Programmer, Dilcia Barrera.” Their ingenuity and approach is admirable and I hope their journey inspires other Latinx filmmakers to take chances, be bold and created art true to their own stories.”

Borscht is represented at the festival with a stunning lineup in a program titled Borscht Diez: 10 Year Anniversary Program. Apart from including Oscar-winner Barry Jenkins’ hypnotic short Chlorophyl, this look at a decade of Borscht-produced works also presents two animated gems by Brazilian-born Miami-based director Bernardo Britto. Both Yearbook and Glove premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and have cemented Britto as a singular force in multiple mediums.

Outside of the Borscht Diez package of wonders, one of the most anticipated directorial debuts playing at LALIFF is the short Good Crazy directed Rosa Salazar. The actress who’s had an immensely successful career in both film and television takes her first stab at writing and directing in a complex piece. Later this year Salazar will star in the title role of Robert Rodriguez’s new feature Alita: Battle Angel.

Distinct areas of Latin America are also present at LALIFF via award-winning shorts like Michael Flores’ My Treasure (Mi Tesoro), a touching tale about the aftermath of war from El Salvador; Juan Pablo Arias Muñoz’s Hombre, sharp take on masculinity from Chile; Carlos Morales’ Symphony of a Sad Sea (Sinfonía de un Mar Triste), centered on a young Mexican man escaping violence in his homeland; and João Paulo Miranda Maria’s Ant Killer (Feminas Formicida), a provocative look at a teenage girl’s personal battles.

Similarly, shorts from a Latinx points of view include the Boyle Heights-set The Town I Live In directed by Guadalupe Rosales & Matt Wolf; two documentaries on issues around immigration, Anna Barsan’s Libre and Lorena Manriquez & Marlene McCurtis’ Here I’ll Stay; and a hilarious comedy Diet & Exercise by Benjamin-Shalom Rodriguez.

Undoubtedly, shorts at LALIFF are a sample platter of ides, techniques, and perspectives that complete an already balanced program.

 

Alih Jey and Cunao - LALIFF

Latinx Bands and DJs to Score the Festival as Part of LALIFF Music Series

Picture Credit: JC Olivera (Instagram: @jcolivera)

For the first time in its long history of championing emerging talent, LALIFF will include a new section focused on Latinx musical acts that are pushing boundaries and reinventing traditional genres with modern sensibilities.

Each night during the festival, the Hollywood Roosevelt will transform into the perfect stage for an eclectic collection of bands and DJs to share their culturally complex creations with eager attendees. This new addition to LALIFF’s rich program encourages discovery and aims to connect artists with potential audiences in order to build a supportive community for them to thrive.  

“Our vision for LALIFF Music is to advocate and celebrate brilliant Latinx Musicians, DJs and Artists,” says Alexis de la Rocha, LALIFF Music Programmer. “It is important for us to highlight diverse independent acts who are not only creating spectacular sounds, but who are changing the way  the world views Latinx performers.”

Opening Night guests will dance to the rhythm of psychedelic Cumbia courtesy of the East L.A.’s whimsical Tropa Magica, as well as the bilingual and comedic tunes of The Mexican Standoff and Eastside Luv’s resident DJ: Bsyde. To call it an unmissable lineup would be an understatement.

With film screenings now in full swing, Thursday night’s performances by Grammy-nominated Dominican singer-songwriter Alih Jey, accompanied by South American-inspired folk group Cuñao, and globally-minded Cumbia fusion band We the Folk will set the tone for the rest of the festival.

Weekend vibes kick off on Friday thanks to Sin Color, an ambitious South L.A. duo crafting electronic beats grounded on old school Latin musical styles, and Salvadoran-American DJ and singer Linda Nuves of Chulita Vinyl Club.

Prominent DJ José Galván, who is currently an on-air DJ at radio station KCRW, will be spinning Saturday night delighting listeners with his distinct brand of mixes. The utterly idiosyncratic Soul Jazz band Brainstory and Chicago Batman’s multinstrumentalist É Arenas will also join the party.

Straight from Mexico City, the Closing Night act, El Conjunto Nueva Ola is sure to bring dance-inducing tracks to cap off the LALIFF’s return with revitalized interpretations of classic songs on Sunday night.

As part of LALIFF’s evolution into the epicenter of Latinx entertainment, the new musical component is a revolutionary idea to open the platform beyond cinematic works. It’s a bold move on the organizers part, but one that wholeheartedly aligns with the inclusive mantra the festival preaches. The LALIFF Music Series will provide a soundtrack to the five-day celebration of the multitude of Latinx identities, interests, and influences.

US Latinx Voices Break Out at LALIFF 2018

Works by Latin American filmmakers are always present at international festivals, sometimes in abundance, simply because government incentives and opportunities for both emerging and established talent are available in many foreign countries. However, for US-born Latinos or those who work stateside, the same doesn’t apply because those financial stimuli are non-existent here.

In addition to having no direct access to funds, US Latinos must also battle an industry that doesn’t understand their specific cultural perspective, which is shaped by their Latino heritage yet distinct from that of those who grew up, live, and work in Latin America. The white mainstream media tends to place everyone under the same umbrella without acknowledging the experiences of those who identify as Americans with a Latino background.

LALIFF, at its core, has always been a bridge between US Latinos and Latin Americans in order to shine a light on our similar sensibilities but also  offers a space for specificity to stand out. More than ever, US Latinx voices are demanding to be seen in the context of their struggles and triumphs as people of color within the United States.

The Pushouts

A prime example of such a vision is Rudy Valdez’s hard-hitting and heartbreaking doc The Sentence, which earned him the “Audience Award – U.S. Documentary” at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. In this personal debut feature, the Mexican-American filmmaker assembled a portrait of his own family as they endured the tragic consequences of his sister Cindy’s unreasonable 15-year sentence for her alleged involvement in the crimes committed by her deceased ex-boyfriend. Rudy, his brother-in-law, his parents, his siblings, and Cindy’s daughters must adapt to life without her, while at the same time venturing into the uncertain path of trying to get her released through the clemency initiative implemented by the Obama administration. The Sentence will serve as the festival’s Opening Night film on June 20th.

On a similar note, The Pushouts, directed by Katie Galloway and co-directed by Dawn Valadez, is a non-fiction work that centers on the story of Dr. Victor Rios, who went from gang member to professor and author after being inspired by a teacher who refused to see him simply as a troubled Latino youth. Driven to give back, Rios agrees to lead a program mentoring young people of color at the Yo! Watts YouthSource Center. He helps change Changing the notions around these teenagers by referring to them not as dropouts but pushouts also shifts the responsibility of their struggles is shared with the system that is currently not designed to help them succeed.

Playing with genre elements Chris Carmona’s first-feature Bad Labor takes the preconceived stereotypes about Latino day laborers and turns one of them into the audacious protagonist of his action-packed and sleekly photograph debut. The film reflects the story of a Hard-worker, Roberto Vargas (played by Mexican actor Salvador Chacon), who takes a job from a suspicious white man. As the plot unfolds, Roberto begins to understand that what he has been hired to do is a much darker, violent, and a dangerous task than he could have ever expected.

Lastly, defying the format constraints that other festivals impose,constraints regarding format that other festival’s imposed, LALIFF has included a web series from Warner’s Stage 13 studio: Gigi Saul Guerrero’s La Quinceañera, as part of its program. This gritty Tex-Mex reimagining of the fragile image of a Latina teenager girl is a revenge tale ready to surpass all expectations by pushing its characters out of their comfort zone and into a thrilling narrative. Across the board, LALIFF is pursuing greater inclusion of US LatinxLatino voices and the varied ways and genres in which they are producing content.

Undocumented Storytellers Take Over Hollywood Via LALIFF Art

Under attack by the anti-immigrant rhetoric that plagues the highest circles of power, young undocumented creators have embraced budget-less filmmaking to fight generalizations, ignorance, and the unrealistic standards they are held to because of their status. Undeterred by their circumstances and armed with their stories, these artists are tackling the undocumented experience through humor, mood pieces, traditional documentaries, and even web series.

A collection of these works created over the last decade will be exhibited as part of an art installation titled Con Camaras Y Sin Papeles in the lobby of the TCL Chinese Theatre during LALIFF 2018. This year, the festival is collaborating with CultureStrike, a nonprofit whose focus is on supporting art geared towards spotlighting social justice issues, and they are bringing undocumented storytellers to the heart of Hollywood. Not only is the installation a move for wider visibility, but also an educational opportunity for those who are unfamiliar with the reality of undocumented life in this country.

Curated with the help of acclaimed artist Rafa Esparza, this selection of short videos represents a myriad of genres and worldviews all encompassed within the undocumented realities in America. Featured creatives include activist Angy Rivera, who is behind the popular YouTube channel Ask Angy and who was the subject of the 2015 documentary No Le Digas a Nadie; Armando Ibañez, who advocates for “undocuqueer” struggles through his episodic venture Undocumented Tales; as well as other fresh talents like Marco Nieves and his three-part short doc Almost American.

Attendees at LALIFF will have the opportunity to engage with the material during the five-day event between screenings and events. With over a dozen different pieces, all equally  fascinating and insightful, each visit will deliver new information that refutes the false statements about undocumented people perpetuated by racist figures and will replace them with connections that reaffirm our shared humanity.

The significance of calling attention to undocumented voices cannot be overstated. Their prominence at the festival as part of the LALIFF Art section reiterates the values that guide every programming decision: Our stories, all of them, matter.   

The 2018 festival runs June 20-24 at TCL Chinese Theatres in Hollywood.

LALIFF’s Resurgence is Reshaping the Festival’s Legacy for Today’s Latinx Generation

The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF) is back, and its return aligns with the wave of change that has engulfed the entertainment industry in recent years. Increasingly present in every conversation about content creation, the demand for representation has started to question those in power about the stories being portrayed and who is telling them.

Plugging LALIFF into this discussion is more than natural, given that its very inception was grounded on addressing the lack of spaces and opportunities to see ourselves on screen.

Simultaneously, the festival reappears at a time of profound political turmoil in the United States and across the Americas. Last time LALIFF took place, in October 2013, Barack Obama was president; DACA had just started drastically changing the lives of undocumented youth, and the prospects for more inclusion in film and television were not enough, but the path to get them seemed less threatened than now.

Though the festival’s mission was then just as relevant in regards to highlighting our art, today there is a different connotation to what this endeavor represents: resistance. Constructive visibility through the work of our artists and the power of our narratives serves as a dignifying counterattack to ignorance, bigotry and hatred.

The industry’s landscape has dramatically change in the five years that the festival went dark and LALIFF is aware of that, thus the approach for its resurgence is comprised of both the need to retain the values that made the event a trailblazer and the vision to reshape them for the moment that Latinx and Latin American artistic expression is enjoying.

Beyond an excellently curated film program for its 2018 edition, LALIFF is expanding to champion emerging talents in other disciplines via its LALIFF Music and LALIFF Art sections, where creative individuals outside of cinema can exhibit their projects and abilities. A live podcast session with leading Latinx voices aims to tap into another group within the umbrella of Latinx audiences.

In the late 90s, LALIFF was a pioneering force before other festivals focused on individual national cinemas were birthed in Los Angeles. For over a decade, LALIFF was the premiere showcase of cinema from the region on the West Coast. Through this improved reimagining of its greatest qualities, its promise within the festival ecosystem of the city and the country at large will once again be fulfilled.

Forming new alliances and maintaining existing ones, such as its long-standing partnership with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, LALIFF is evolving to accommodate even more experiences and worldviews as part of its revitalized purpose. Those who were avid attendees in the past can be certain the selected movies are up to the standards LALIFF has always been known for, but should be equally ready to partake in the festival’s new ventures. For those discovering it for the first time, a great cinematic revelation awaits.

The 2018 festival runs June 20-24 at TCL Chinese Theatres in Hollywood.

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