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

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

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.

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.

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

York Latino Film Summit: Changing Our Paradigms

1: Friday, June 21, 6pm – 8pm

Summer Solstice today marks a new beginning.

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
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.

ideas coming out of the discussion:

Latino serves as a bridge to filmmaking.  It does not follow the Hollywood model at

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.

2: Saturday, June 22, 10:30am – 8pm

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?

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.

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
: 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

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.

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

·      Wealthy individuals

·      Equity funds

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



·      Can raise monies

·      Access

·      Money

·      The deal

·      Legitimizes


·      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

·      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

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

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 hisher

is a lack of critical writing about Latino films.  The only consistent writing is  LatinoBuzz, Chicana from Chicago,,
NBC Latino, Huffington Post.
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.

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.

(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.

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

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.

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],

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.


  • 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
    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

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

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]

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.

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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