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LatinoBuzz: New York Latino Film Summit Aims to Change Paradigms & Support Latino Filmmaking in the U.S.

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by Sydney Levine
July 5, 2013 1:30 PM
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Close to 100 New York-based Latino film & media arts professionals attended the New York Latino Film Summit on Friday evening, June 21, evening and all day Saturday June 22, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, to engage in an open dialogue concerning the current and future state of U.S. Latinos in multimedia. By reevaluating and adopting comprehensive strategies that address critical issues, their professional insight and dedication proved to be an invaluable response to build a community to serve us all.

The purported trillion dollar purchasing power of Latinos in the United States bestowing a tremendous power as consumers of media has not yet increased the number of Latino cultural producers in this country.  There are not yet enough Latino film directors, screenwriters, critical writers, programmers, and funders to create a consistent flow of product to a developed audience looking for a “Latino” film experience.

Simultaneously, independent filmmaking in Latin America is reaching new heights. The amount of projects coming out of the region continues to increase and the films are receiving international acclaim at top tier film festivals. So, what is going on?

The Summit culminated with a number of concrete initiatives, action points that to be implemented to advocate for a greater understanding of Latino cultural and geographical diversity, the richesse of stories, and a determination not to be defined and limited by labels.

Multimedia makers

The word Multimedia is used to include advertising, television, feature films, webisodes, and even literature, comic books, cartoons, animation and any other sort of media, new or old. 

Beginning with Friday evening’s introduction and kick-off, a freely associated discussion of the meaning of “Latino” began a stimulating give-and-take amongst the participants aimed at pinpointing the solutions to the obstacles that stand in the way of creating meaningful and innovative Latino media content and a vibrant U.S.-based Latino film community.

The roundtables on the following day attempted to tackle such questions as:

  •  Who has access to a film career?
  •  How can we democratize access to filmmaking?
  •  What stories are we telling?
  •  Are we limiting the stories Latinos can tell? 
  •  Who is documenting our cinema? 
  •  How are film festivals programming our films? 
  •  How can we create more critical content on Latino films and filmmakers? 


The spirit of the meeting reminded me of that of the Art House Convergence (now in its 6th year) or even of the founding of IFP East and West so many years ago.  The enthusiasm and intelligence shared among all the participants energized all of us.

What follows are my notes and sometimes my own thoughts as a well organized process took place to cull out the five major issues needed in order to develop further a strong, vibrant Latino multimedia community.

New York Latino Film Summit: Changing Our Paradigms

Day 1: Friday, June 21, 6pm – 8pm
Summer Solstice today marks a new beginning.

Today, what defines Latinidad exceeds the traditional categories imposed on the Latino identity. The opening session asked participants to question how we define ourselves, how we are defined by others, who validates our authenticity, and what it means to appropriate the label.

The Amphitheater at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center was filled to capacity.  The audience of writers, actors, directors, producers, festival programmers, executives, and interested individuals bandied about the words heritage, language, community, diversity, the need to identify while still being “American”, the need not to identify to maintain one’s own unique individuality, the understanding among selves, the diversity among selves, even the Jewish part of Latino spoke up.  Junot Diaz, (OMG! My idol! If you have not yet read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, then run to your nearest bookstore or go to Amazon now and order it! Its depiction of the Dominican Republic under Trujillo and the hero’s journey well deserves its Pulitzer and Booker Prizes!) standing in the back of the amphitheater, spoke of the need to identify in Latino solidarity, in spite of all the differences, in order to be heard by the rest of the world. Latino is a general strategic identity. The outside world recognizes it.  It in no way negates all the other identities each one of us carries within us.

Other ideas coming out of the discussion:

•   Latino serves as a bridge to filmmaking.  It does not follow the Hollywood model at all.
•   There is a duality of Latino: one’s own self-perception and others’ view of Latino.
•   How can we rethink the Latino identity to rebuild the old into a new system?
•   How to increase the Latino without appearing un-American?
•   How do we move forward?
•   There is a lack of community, even in the community.

Day 2: Saturday, June 22, 10:30am - 8pm

On rising this morning—at 4am, -- I am excited, anticipating today, and thinking about last night, I came up with my own thoughts and feelings on the issue.  I bring the POV of an outsider, and a “Latino manquee”, so to speak, as a once Spanish Jew who, when expelled from Spain in 1492, did not go to the New World, but instead went over the Pyrenees, “with nothing but the clothes on our back”, to France whence we were invited to the Duchy of Lithuania, and where we spent the next 400 years becoming “Ashkenazic” Jews.  Speaking as an outsider I would define Latino as “everyone originating some generations ago (more or less with Hispanic last names) in the New World in areas not first colonized by the Anglos, French, or Germans, but by the Spanish and Portuguese, and not totally indigenous”

Access and Accessibility 10:30am - 12pm

Who has access to a film career?

By teaching reading and writing via filmmaking as storytelling to the young, both in school and out of school, we will raise the next generation of filmmakers and multimedia makers. Literacy began and still begins with pictures.  Every child knows about moving pictures and wants to make him/her self part of them.  Our form of alienation today is that we see ourselves as actors in stories not our own or we retreat into realities we create for ourselves, thinking that they are our private domain.  We need to share the stories to become “real” to ourselves and to the rest of the world. Silence is not golden; it’s suicide.

Today access comes with the simplest digital toy: a mobile phone, iPad or simple point and shoot camera.  Anyone can make a film.

How can the audience get access to the work of Latino media makers? 

  • By creating a Latino circuit of festivals, distributors and exhibitors who share information, marketing ideas, existing materials, prints and advertising, dubbed and subtitled soundtracks, press coverage and tools for community outreach.
  • Creating a sustainable circuit of branding festivals with films or for films, distribution, exhibition, press.
  • Placing product in movies, at events, in advertising...Corona beer, Chilean and Argentinian wine, Dominos Pizza, Contadina, Coca Cola, Univision, Televisa, Panama hats, Galapagos conservation,  Easter Islands tourism, Earthquakes preparedness, quinoa...

Funding and Training: Is needed not only for filmmaking, but for also distribution and international licensing and sales. The discussion created a list of options, under the headings of challenges.

Public Funding

What are the strengths: PBS, ITVS, Ford Foundation, NEA, Latino Public Broadcasting grant money one does not have to pay back and they bestow a seal of approval upon the project.

What are the challenges: They are restricted by the fiscal year, by who has access, and by their lack of lack of outreach into the communities.

Private Funding

·      Global film initiative
·      Wealthy individuals
·      Equity funds

Training and networks of solidarity training
Class and access, formal schooling vs. other forms of training.
Professional networking

Distribution

Strengths:

·      Can raise monies
·      Access
·      Money
·      The deal
·      Legitimizes

Challenges:

·      Expensive
·      Lack of screens
·      Only 3% of films get into theaters
·      1% of programming in theaters is split among U.S. indies, docs and features and foreign language films.
·      Lack of organizational cohesiveness
·      Highly trend given.
.      I think the model of Affrm (for African American theatrical film distribution via the African American film festivals) plus using Emerging Pictures to reach non-theatrical  venues in museums, libraries and other 4walled spaces, plus art house theaters would be viable especially if there were a “body of work” rather than just a single film.
·      Non-theatrical circuit needs an organizational strategy of the Latino film community.
·      Additional revenue streams, audience development, greater visibility are needed.
·      Shorts have great interest at universities.
·      Parity of funding, exposure on tv, etc, If Latino is 13% , then funding, distribution, and training should be 13%. 

And not parenthetically, 50% of that should go to Latinas (gender parity).

Storytelling and Narratives

What stories are we telling? Are we pushing the envelope? Are we limited by our own narratives? Are we limiting the stories Latinos versus Latin Americans can tell?

•            Latin American films have greater interest in Europe than Latino stories. And they are very different from each other.        
•            What about this oft cited “universality of stories? Question the formulas which labs and classes provide. Learn the rules and then bend them, like learning the dance steps, beats and rhythms in order to create new variations of the themes which are, nevertheless, universal.
•            Alex Rivera, filmmaker who did Sleep Dealer noted that he changed genre to tell a typical border-crossing story and made it science fiction.
•            Film is a collaborative art, there is a need for people to read scripts, Proofing your scripts! Have someone else proof them!
•            There seems to be a lack of creativity in scripts.  Self doubt creates a lack of creativity.
•            There is a need for mentoring, for a salon and for workshops for scriptwriting particularly for Latino screenwriting labs and social networking, a workshop where each person gets 10 minutes to try out his\her project.

There is a lack of critical writing about Latino films.  The only consistent writing is  LatinoBuzz, Chicana from Chicago, about.com, NBC Latino, Huffington Post.
There is a lack of government funding of films except for the ever dwindling NEA.  However, discussions are now underway with the government regarding using Kickstarter, Indiegogo and other crowdfunding platforms to accept investments as well as gifts.

Validation and Audience Development
Who is validating our cinema? Who is documenting our cinema? How are we programming our films and directors? How can we create more critical content on the films and filmmakers? How do we engage audiences in a more effective way?
There is a lack of knowledge of U.S.-Latino films.
The closest thing to a catalog of U.S.-Latino films was created by LAVA.

Latin American Video Archives (LAVA) opened in the late 80s and closed in 2006 for lack of funding.  It contained 3,000 tapes. It created a database, and was set to go online as a searchable database of Latin American and Latino cinema.  Listing over 9,000 titles produced by and about Latin Americans and Latinos, it became a distributor for the educational and consumer markets and for film festivals.  The physical archive still exists as does the database on a hard disk drive.

FilmFinders (the company I founded in 1988) also tracked U.S.-Latino, Latino and every other film in the international film market from 1988 to 2009, totaling 60,000 titles with details including rights sold.

Latino film festivals also have databases of films and of participants from the public as well as publicists for Latino films.  Those festival databases and those festivals’ skills in outreach could be used throughout the year if they would see the value in this for their own festivals.

Out of this comes the idea to create a central database with critical information.

The educational and non-theatrical market is an unknown market. Finding the academic department where the film belongs is somewhat complicated. A film could show on campus and bring in $3,000. A school or university could also buy the film on dvd for $300.  The trick is in finding the proper professor to pitch, preferably one who would bring in the filmmaker as well to speak of the experience.  Moreover, professors will write about the film too and so the life of the film can continue to be a vital part of the study program or the body of literature cited in the course of study.  The professors might be in Latin American studies, anthropology, political science, or any other departments at a university or college.

An example in academia of interest in Latino film which might be useful in going forward in educational distribution is the  Film Festival Research Network (FFRN).   Kansas based member Tamara L. Falicov, Associate Professor/Department Chair of the Department of Film and Media Studies at the

University of Kansas was quoted in a LatinoBuzz blog dealing with Latino production from the Spanish point of view.  She can be reached at tfalicov [at] Ku.edu, 785-864-1353

Plenary Session Wrap Up

1st session: 
Felipe Tewes, HBO Latino, reiterated Junot Diaz's advice to embrace general identity for strategic purposes without diluting individual identities.

Action

  • Create community and spaces for cross-pollination.
  • Create a monthly salon for sharing...
  • Create a resource directory/database.
  • Create a film collaborative.
  • Create a cinema club.

2nd Session: Storytelling

  • Lack of mentorship and development
  • Create an umbrella encompassing a salon, with biweekly or monthly script reading.
  • Create a Latino fund.
  • Create Facebook Page...or Linked In
  • Create co-production event.

3rd Session: Distribution and funding bodies are broken.

  • Look at models of Emerging Pictures, Affrm, and create a festival-distribution-exhibitor circuit
    Look at educational distribution and other forms of non-theatrical distribution to universities, colleges, libraries, special interest groups.

4th Session: Validation

Lack of knowledge of U.S. -Latino films
Lack of critical writing

  • Lobbying
  • Archiving
  • Micro cinema
  • Networking
  • Writing networking...cinema tropical and Latino buzz
  • Latino film history/information

In one year this group meeting will reconvene to see what has developed.  Meanwhile, here are the points of action with volunteers committing to work on them.  I am on the database committee.

Call to Action

For those of you who were not able to attend, the participants of the last session signed up for the action groups, If you would like to sign up, please email and name which group(s) you choose to join. Send your email to: newyorklatinofilmsummit [AT] gmail.com

The committees are:

- Organizing Committee. The group in charge of general coordination and communication, as well as planning future Summit events.

- Information Committee. The group that will coordinate databases and communication in social media, as well as creating fluid networks of information inside and outside the group.

- Salons. This group will organize Professional events (please choose one from below)


a) Screenwriters

b) Producers

c) Work-in-progress screenings

d) Non-Theatrical/ Educational Distribution

 

- Workshops. Organizing specific workshops for the professional advancement of the group.

- Mentorships. Creating mentorship programs both for the members of the group, as well as for younger generations.

- Lobby/Advocacy/Activism. Creating strategies for the advancement and visibility of the professional and social causes of the group.

- Microcinema/Cine-Club. Creating a on-going cine-club with the hopes of documenting and presenting the history of Latino Cinema in the U.S., and serving as a curatorial platform for the exhibition of Latino works.

The summit organizing committee consists of: Andrea Betanzos (Assistant Director, Cinema Tropical), Carlos A. Gutiérrez (Co-founder and Director, Cinema Tropical), Paula Heredia (director/editor, Heredia Pictures), and Lucila Moctezuma (Production Assistance Program Manager, Women Make Movies.

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