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.
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.