Photo courtesy El Rayo Films
The largest urban Latino film event in the United States begins today and runs through Sunday, August 21. AQ Online speaks with Calixto Chinchilla, founder of the New York International Latino Film Festival (NYILFF) about how the Latino movie industry continues to evolve and some of the films that should not be missed.
Interview by Wilda Escarfuller.
Americas Quarterly Online: Over the course of the last 12 years how has the festival, the movies and filmmakers showcased evolved?
Calixto: The festival has become more sophisticated with the advances in technology. The stories also have evolved, and the filmmakers are increasingly capturing different aspects of Latino culture by broadening the way they reach out in their films using comedy and drama as well as thrillers to tell their stories. We want to reflect the diversity of Latinos in this year’s festival and strive to bring talented filmmakers that will meet and surpass audience expectations.
AQ Online: How did you select the films and topics showcased this year?
Calixto: We do not select topics; the topics emerge from the selection. In the beginning of the year we issued a call for entries to filmmakers in the U.S. and Latin America. This year we received over 500 titles.
After the entries are collected, our screening committee and programmers sort through all of the material. This year, we narrow it down from approximately 200 titles to the final 100 titles. From there, the festival starts to take a shape of its own. From the beginning of the process we are conscious to balance the stories and countries selected. We want to avoid an excess of immigrant stories and social justice themes and be certain that there is something for everyone—from the younger to the elder generations.
AQ Online: How has the increase of the U.S. Latino population affected the Latino film industry?
Calixto: We are beginning to see a growing trend of Latino-focused movie studios such as Pantelion Films, which was launched as a partnership between Lionsgate Entertainment and Grupo Televisa. Universal Pictures is also making aggressive moves in hiring Latino talent with its decision to bring on Fabian Castro as Vice President of Multicultural Marketing and HBO’s (Home Box Office) Vice President of Acquisition and Multicultural Marketing, Lucinda Martinez-Desir.
Clearly, the motion picture industry and the film networks are aware of the potential of this demographic. Latinos are the number one moviegoers; it’s no longer an audience to ignore. If they continue to diversify their workforce and increase the number of Latinos in high-level positions, the industry will be better able to match quality with the content that Latinos are seeking.
AQ Online: The winner of the HBO Short Film Competition is Crush, which was directed by Gloria La Morte and written by Dominic Colon. Please discuss the prize and why was this film selected.
Calixto: The prize was a $15,000 grant to shoot this short film. It will run as part of the premier screenings for the film festival and broadcast on HBO afterwards. This is a unique competition for Latino filmmakers. Approximately 200 entries were received from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, California, Miami, Texas, and other places.
Applicants must submit a five-minute screenplay. In this case, Dominic Colon presented a story about a high school crush that involves a gay relationship. It’s a sweet and innocent story with a twist, and I’m elated that a New Yorker won. When I visited the set it was stimulating to see the people dedicated to the project and know that the fruits of their labor will be broadcasted on HBO.
AQ Online: What message do you hope to bring forward as a result of this year’s festival? What should festival attendees expect to walk away with?
Calixto: A dream, a collective dream for young filmmakers. It’s a moment for our unsung-heroes who produce films with scarce funds to gain recognition. Some filmmakers will call attention to the stories behind the film production process. Countless sacrifices are made so that you and I will be entertained and enlightened. Hollywood has lagged in broadening the stories told; we consider ourselves as the prototype for this platform.
AQ Online: What policy discussions currently in the news is the film festival addressing?
Calixto: One topic is the prison system in Colombia. Captive Beauty, a documentary about four female inmates in Medellín, Colombia, looks at the story behind their competition in a beauty pageant. Another one is Karla’s Arrival, which is a survival story about a mother in Nicaragua who runs away from a situation with her child.
Visit AQ for more coverage of the New York International Film Festival. An interview will be forthcoming following the Dominican night movie premiere of La Hija Natural.
Tags: New York International Latino Film Festival