Filmmaking At Its Finest

LALIFF showcases the best in Latino cimema

By Abelardo de la Pe??a Jr.
Published on LatinoLA: July 9, 2001

Filmmaking At Its Finest

Holding a film festival in the center of the movie-making universe is a virtual no-brainer. Given Southern California's demographics, devoting one to Latino and Latin American films also sounds like an easy call. So although it took a while to get one going, the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF) -- barely in its fifth year -- has become the preeminent venue for the screening of contemporary Latino cinema.
For founder, producer and artistic director Edward James Olmos, the festival offers L.A. moviegoers "the opportunity of a lifetime that all the world would like to have: To sit at the finest theatre in the world to see Latino filmmaking at its finest."
With all films being shown at the Egyptian Theatre, LALIFF seems to be hitting its stride, with more than 70 films, including features, documentaries and shorts, being exhibited. They represent the work of filmmakers from 12 Latin American countries, including the United States.
"For me, the highlight of past festivals has been the number of people who've attended, as well as the real intense love and respect they have for this festival," says Olmos, who built his reputation as an actor with such roles as El Pachuco in Zoot Suit and Lt. Castillo on Miami Vice, as well as a director. "The biggest thrill is to see people leave a theatre after watching a movie and getting back in line for another one, and staying for the day. That's what's going to happen when you're showing the best films in Latin American cinema."
At LALIFF, says Olmos, "You'll see everything from the romance of Latin America to really strong reality."
Because he has seen every movie that is going to be shown at the festival, Olmos already has chosen his favorites. "I'm really excited about the films coming out of Peru, as well as those we are seeing out of Spain, Argentina and Mexico," says Olmos. "Coronacion, directed by Silvio Caiozzi, will be here from Chile. It's a brilliant film. Garage Olimpo, directed by Marco Becchis, will make people realize what Argentina is going through. It will leave you atarantado. Mexico's Perfume de Violetas, directed by Maryse Sistach, forget it. It won five Ariels (Mexico's equivelant of the Oscars), and Arturo Ripstein's Asi es la Vida is so hard hitting, people will be stunned."
When it comes to work by U.S. filmmakers, Olmos insists that they, too, will represent. "I'll tell you who to watch," he insists. "The film by the Valdez Brothers, from San Juan Bautista and sons of director Luis Valdez, is called La Balada del Soldado and is a really strong film. Hector Galan's Accordian Dreams documents the instrument, from where it came from in Germany to its use in norteno music. It's brilliant. The documentaries from US filmmakers are superb. Then there's Blue Diner by Jan Egleson: It's the first major piece of bilingual work."
Throughout its history, LALIFF has developed a strong reputation for up-and-coming filmmakers and Latino film and television professional seeking greater opportunities in an industry that is not always welcoming to minorities. Workshops and seminars, held in conjunction with various studios and professional guilds, are a part of the festival's commitment to the development of Latino talent.
"This year, we well bring learning opportunities to independent filmmakers," says Olmos. "Irwin Young will be conducting a seminar that will explain different video cameras and what they look like when transferred to film. The Director's Guild will have a presentation on the future of Latinos and the media, while the Writer's guild will show how to pitch stories, for aspiring and intermediate writers. We'll have a panel discussion on film and culture, with participation of Argentine and Cuban filmmakers. And we'll have a roundtable on Latino high school dropouts."
As to be expected, Olmos feels that Latino films are among the best being produced in the cinematic world today. He also feels that this excellence comes from their being made outside of the shadow of the monolithic movie industry. "Because they are independent films, the filmmakers are given alternatives, a range of choices," asserts Olmos. "In Hollywood, filmmakers have to succumb to certain ingredients: You need bankable stars and the money people have a lot of control. Indies are not producer-made; they're filmmaker-made. There's a big difference."
And when will we see another movie from Edward James Olmos? "I'm trying to make a movie now, but it's hard to make, especially with the types of movies I want to do. It took me five years to do Stand and Deliver, 18 years to make American Me.
If another Edward James Olmos film ever gets made, it will certainly have a showcase, and an audience, at the Los Angeles International Film Festival.
Los Angeles Internationa Film Festival
July 20 through July 29
All films will be shown at the Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.
323 469-9066.

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