BIZ: Latino Producers Unite! NALIP Conference Builds Community
by Jorge Aguirre
(indieWIRE/7.18.00) -- What happens when 300 Latino producers from across the U.S. gather to discuss the future of Latinos in front of and behind the camera? Well, it can get messy. And it can get challenging.
But words like "exciting," "inspirational," and "a hell of a good time" operate like a consensus among those who attended the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) conference, titled "Latino Media: Challenges in the New Millennium," at Miami Beach's Eden Roc Resort and Spa from July 6-9.
Forum attendees included actress Raquel Welch, comedian Paul Rodriguez, actor Edward James Olmos, producer Moctesuma Esparza ("Selena"), experimental filmmakers, Hollywood execs, New York documentarians, and more. Panels covered everything from cyber-producing and grassroots organizing to how to get an agent.
"The most important part of the conference is information," said conference co-chair, Frances Negrón-Muntaner. "[But] most fundamental is the face-to-face contact. It is that which really makes it possible for us to call ourselves a community."
This community, NALIP, was born last year in San Francisco as an emergency response to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's (CPB) defunding of the National Latino Communications Center (NLCC). The NLCC had been responsible since 1979 for dispersing CPB funds to Latino filmmakers. But following charges of financial impropriety and a structure that kept many new producers out of the funding stream, the CPB withheld funds from the NLCC.
Edward James Olmos' Latino Broadcasting Project was later formed and designated to take NLCC's place. Latino producers throughout the U.S. convened at the 1999 conference in order to ensure an open and continuous dialog with the CPB. But what resulted from the meeting went beyond the ad hoc group's original impetus. (See the excellent book, "The Future of Latino Independent Media: A NALIP Sourcebook," edited by Chon Noriega, Chicano Studies Research Center Publications).
In addition to confronting the CPB, the ad hoc group also expanded to promote a broader agenda: to serve as a national advocacy organization on behalf of Latino media makers as well as to open opportunities for the next generation of Latinos.
This year's panel, "The Next Generation: Young, Gifted, and Latino," was packed to the floor. Panelist and Miami filmmaker, Joe Cardona ("Water, Mud, and Factories") pointed out, "It's telling that we [on the panel are] speaking English. We're the largest minority in the U.S.-- we ARE the mainstream. The key is to reflect honest and good stories."
A different take on the mainstream versus the culturally specific came up at a panel called "Building an Audience." Panelist and NALIP steering committee member, Moctesuma Esparza explained that historically, Latinos have not flocked to see films marketed directly to them. Rather, a perception exists among the Latino community that Latino works marketed at them are "second class" to mainstream white American product. (A glance at some of the female breast-heavy and low production values of some Spanish channels seems to support this perception.)
As an example, Esparza said that the audience who saw the film "Selena" was 85% Latino(a), but 80% percent of its promotion was done in the mainstream English language markets. In contrast, the recent release of the Jimmy Smits' film, "Price of Glory"(also produced by Esparza), was promoted heavily in Latino markets and very little in English language markets. When it performed poorly at the box office, studio executives blamed the Latino audience for not supporting it. However, based on studies and experience, had the studio invested more marketing resources in the mainstream media, increased attendance would probably have followed.
The commercial disappointment of "Price of Glory" came up often during the weekend. At the plenary, "How We Define Ourselves," Edward James Olmos proposed that, "Any time we don't support our own films we shut doors." Olmos referred to his own projects, some of which were stalled by studio backlash to the commercial failure of "Price of Glory."
But must Latinos support the release of every Latino film based solely upon it being Latino? Many said yes. Many disagreed. Some just shrugged.
Debate like that initiated by Olmos was predominate throughout the conference. Lillian Jim