The festival’s huge success in attracting visibility to Latino films in spite of some hard economic times, is an achievement in itself.
By LENIKA CRUZ, UCLA Daily Bruin
LOS ANGELES, CA -- On Sunday night, filmmakers and cinema enthusiasts gathered at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood to begin celebrating one of the summer’s biggest quinceañeras, kicking off the 15th Annual Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.
The nine-day event, which opened with a birthday gala and a screening of the comedy “Aquí Entre Nos,” will feature a total of 76 films – including shorts, features and documentaries – from 14 different countries.
Official festival selections include “Without Men,” “A tiro de piedra (A Stone’s Throw Away),” “¿Alguien ha visto a Lupita? (Have you seen Lupita?),” “Granito: How To Nail A Dictator” and “Capsules.”
“When we first started, there was an initiative for the city of Los Angeles to create a festival that could cater to a fast-growing Latino community. Now we’re no longer a minority,” said Marlene Dermer, LALIFF’s co-founder and programmer.
According to Dermer, Latino filmmakers have risen to earn Academy Awards and direct critical smash hits such as “Y Tu Mamá También,” as well as Hollywood favorites such as “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”
“I think these amazing creative artists have proven to the industry that … we are part of world cinema,” Dermer said.
Dermer also said that the festival’s huge success in attracting visibility to Latino films does not obscure the fact that simply reaching 15 years of putting on the festival, in spite of some hard economic times, is an achievement in itself.
The festival will close with the highly anticipated summer blockbuster “Cowboys & Aliens,” directed by Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) and co-written and co-produced by Mexican-born Roberto Orci. However, for the most part, the films shown at LALIFF do not yet have Hollywood exposure, much less Hollywood funding.
“(LALIFF) gives the Los Angeles public the chance to see films they would otherwise not have the opportunity to see,” said Randal Johnson, interim vice provost of international studies at UCLA, former director of the UCLA Latin American Institute and professor of Brazilian culture and film. “It’s difficult for foreign films to enter the exhibition market in the U.S. so festivals become important as venues to see films that might otherwise not be available.”
Though this year will mark Johnson’s first absence from the festival since its inception in 1997, his connection and esteem for LALIFF remain strong, he said. Two years ago, Johnson served on the jury that pronounced “Sons of Cuba” best documentary. The film – which follows the training and lives of three young Cuban boxers with their eyes on the Olympics and national glory – went on to win several awards at festivals across the world, spurred on by its initial success at LALIFF.
Johnson said he admired the film so much, he brought it to UCLA for a screening. He also said that resources and inspiration are abundant at LALIFF and UCLA students who are interested in meeting creative film minds merely need to have the confidence to ask.
While LALIFF primarily focuses on Latino artists and themes, Johnson said it does not do so at the expense of cinema’s ability to provide a collective, transcultural experience.
“The best Latino filmmakers tell stories about Latino culture and society, but in a way that also expresses universal values,” Johnson said.
According to Dermer, the festival, while prefixed by the filter “Latino,” offers a visual collection that spans genre and subject matter.
“From historical movies to little independent films, to those dealing with transgender issues, comedy, films about surfing in Cuba … there really is a little bit of everything for everyone,” Dermer said.
She also said that LALIFF owes a great deal to the UCLA community, which has not only screened and held discussion panels on the festival’s films, but also provides the hands and hearts that fuel it. Every year, UCLA students and alumni join the LALIFF team that hangs lights, fields media requests and directs the films that make it to the festival screens.
The films at LALIFF may evoke a sense of cultural pride for L.A.’s Latino community, but they are also a chance for visitors to become open to the experiences of others, said Glenn Dicus, a UCLA alum and a production assistant at LALIFF.
“When you watch a Latino film, usually they don’t have a big $200 million budget, but they do have the stories, and that’s most important,” Dicus said. “That’s why we go see the movies in the first place.”
Enjoy the following promotional video: