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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.