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October 28, 1998 2:00 AM
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1998 L.A. Latino Fest Wraps, Attendance Triples

1998 L.A. Latino Fest Wraps, Attendance Triples

by Stephen Garrett




Earlier this month, the 1998 Los Angeles Latino Film Festival ended with
bittersweet success, as the Closing Night screening of David Riker's "La
Ciudad
" not only sold out but turned away over 400 people who came with
hopes of getting an extra seat. The circumstance wasn't unusual for the
2nd annual festival, which this year watched its audience balloon to
over 17,000 people during the ten-day event.


"Attendance tripled," says the festival's General Manager Alan Noel
Vega. "I had a slight inkling -- the numbers are there," he continues,
citing L.A.'s 4-million-strong Latino community, the largest in the
United States. "But during the course of the festival, I literally had
to turn 1000 people away. If I had been told this in July, I would have
said no way."


Greatly expanded from its debut last year, the LALIFF screened seventy
features and shorts from the USA, Latin America, the Caribbean and
Spain, including Victor Gavira's "La Vendadora De Rosas," Adolfo
Aristarain's "Martin (Heche), "Patricio Guzman's "Chile, Obstinate
Memory
," and Stuart Gordon's "The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit."


But the most flattering reception was for Riker's "La Ciudad," which
continued a festival circuit that started in San Sebastian and Toronto
earlier this fall. His four-part, episodic film, six years in the
making, first started life as a short, "The Puppetmaster," eventually
the third story in the film. What makes "La Ciudad" so impressive is how
it addresses socio-political concerns about Latino immigrants in New
York, yet maintains a compelling narrative flow. "At the time [of
making the first short]," Riker explained to indieWIRE, "I wanted to
deal with what seemed to me were the most pressing urban issues:
housing, health care, and education -- and I constructed a story that
allowed me to deal with all of them, without you knowing that I'm
dealing with any of them."


The consistent tone throughout all four films is somewhat dark, but
never hopeless. "The question that we had to deal with constantly was,
how do we honestly show what life is like for an immigrant worker in New
York City today without appearing simply to be say, 'stay home,'" Riker
stresses. "We didn't want to be doing a PSA for the U.S. Government,
trying to discourage immigrants from coming. As difficult as it is,
these communities are establishing new roots in New York; they are
bringing with them their culture and traditions."


Along with its film programs, the LALIFF also added over a half-dozen
seminars, two of which were geared towards children: a lecture on music
in movies, held at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum; and a workshop in
film criticism run by the Los Angeles Times, which drew 300 kids.
Adults could choose from five seminars that covered Brazilian Cinema,
women directors, documentary filmmaking, special effects and Chicano
studies.


Special awards were also handed out, with the Gabriel Figueroa Lifetime
Achievement Award given posthumously to versatile actor Raul Julia. The
Tribute Award Winner was received by Rita Moreno, who was moved to tears
during the ceremonies when the festival unspooled her never-before-seen
screen test for "West Side Story," which director Robert Wise helped to
locate especially for that night. Adding to Moreno's celebration was
the naming of the Best Film Award in her honor, forever after to be
known as "The Rita" and to be accompanied by a $10,000 cash prize.

Regarding this year's ambitious expansion, Vega recalls that two months
before, at the planning stages, he and the other organizers had actively
bitten off more than they could chew. "We said we were going to stuff
our mouths and worry about it later," he laughs. "We were very, very
lucky. We definitely will be bigger and better next year."

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