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January 14, 2002 2:00 AM
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Park City 2002: The Hispansion of Hollywood; A Director's Take on the Latino Film Scene

Park City 2002: The Hispansion of Hollywood; A Director's Take on the Latino Film Scene

by Franc. Reyes



(indieWIRE/ 01.14.02) -- For the first time in the history of the Sundance Film Festival, Latinos are so well represented that the organizers have created a special panel to discuss where all this is headed. I've had the honor of being asked to appear on this panel to discuss the future of Latino filmmaking, and while I'm not a big fan of these events, this is my first Sundance trip and I want to do anything I can do to help my film "Empire" get noticed. My experience with Latino panels has always been the same: boring. If a panel is one hour long, 55 minutes are usually taken up by the panelists running down their resumes and talking about how they are the first Latino to blah, blah, blah. I don't think I'll be able to say much of what I feel should be said at the panel, so when indieWIRE asked me to write an article about my take on Latino film, I jumped at the chance to tell you about what some Latino filmmakers talk about at the proverbial "water cooler" but are afraid to say in public.


Hispanics, Latinos, Chicanos, Boricuas, call us what you like, because we're all of them. We're Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Cubans, Dominicans, Colombians, etc. I can go on but I have to get to the point: we're no longer just hanging out on the street corners of New York or East Los Angeles. We're in Hollywood West and East. We're Robert Rodriguez, Gregory Nava, Alfonso Cuaron, Leon Ichaso. . . . I can go on with that too.


Does the selection of my film "Empire," along with Miguel Arteta's "The Good Girl," Victor Nunez's "Coastlines," Patricia Cardoso's "Real Women Have Curves," and Eric Eason's "Manito" (not to mention documentary and world cinema filmmakers like Lourdes Portillo and Gerardo Tort) serve as proof that an "explosion" in Latino cinema is just around the corner?


But what classifies a film as "Latino?" Is Arteta's "The Good Girl" and Nunez's "Coastlines" any less "Latin" than Cardoso's "Real Women?" The filmmakers are all Latin, but the former films have an Anglo cast, the latter Latino. It seems to me that before we talk about a "Latino film explosion," the definition of a Latino film needs to be discussed. Recently, the head of a Latin film festival suggested that a Latino film is a film that is "either" directed, written, produced or executive produced by a Latino, or has as least one major Latino cast member. With that criteria, Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven" -- which was executive produced by David Valdes -- would be just as Latino as Gregory Nava's "Mi Familia." Does that mean "Sense and Sensibility" should be considered a Chinese film because it was directed by Ang Lee? Interesting.


But does it matter? Are we limiting ourselves by telling only stories about Latinos? In my opinion, a film should be limited only by the imagination of the director, not his or her ethnicity. Having said that, I have found that within both the Hollywood and independent film communities, producers in a position to get a film financed tend to have limited visions of the possibilities for Latino film. About five years ago, I was trying to make a film with a 90% Latino cast. While executives on both coasts liked my screenplay enough to give me a meeting, they couldn't understand why I didn't make my characters African American, implying that audiences would accept a "Black" film but not a "Latino" one. Keep in mind that this happened after Gregory Nava and Robert Rodriguez had already made profitable films. Apparently, Hollywood was still looking for the next Spike Lee.


Now, it seems that the U.S. film industry has found it easier to open its doors to Latino filmmakers outside of America like Alejandro Amenabár and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Both of them are wonderful filmmakers, but if this year's Sundance Film Festival says anything about Latino filmmaking, it's that there is some pretty good stuff in our own backyard.


To get off of Hollywood's back for a minute, I'd like to say that doors have closed faster in my face in the Latino community, than they have anywhere else. The success Latino pop music has come as a surprise to us. The phenomenon has had an effect on the film community -- some Latino producers are finally taking meetings with a few of my Latino filmmaker friends. But like most in the Hollywood and Indiewood financing community, they want to attach a star like Jennifer Lopez before they even consider greenlighting a project. Hopefully, we'll get over that one soon.


A Latino film explosion is inevitable. With the success of "Spy Kids," Robert Rodriguez has proved that not every Latino movie has to have a taco or rice and beans in it. Mr. Rodriguez chose to tell a universal story with Latino characters. This does more for us than Latin actors who think they are helping the community when they take high profile roles playing white or black characters.


The size of our community can no longer be ignored. The African American community has already shown that it has enough of a box office presence to support its own films, and we as Latinos need to do the same with a definitive but diverse Latino identity. We're proud Americans who have retained our culture, and we need to show that not every Mexican has had problems at the border and that all Cuban-Americans didn't arrive in this country on makeshift boats. The recognition we've received at Sundance this year serves as further proof that the Hispansion of Hollywood has begun.


[Franc. Reyes is the director of "Empire," which is screening in this year's American Showcase section.]

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