It was a whole new experience attending the Tenth Annual NALIP or National Association of Latino Independent Producers Conference this year in Newport Beach. NALIP (www.nalip.org) was started ten years ago to create more images in the entertainment industry by and about Latinos.
I had no idea what to expect from what I recalled years ago at one of the organization's first conferences. All I remembered were Latino veteran producers and directors discussing the little representation and participation of Latinos in the entertainment industry and a few network and studio executives who were willing to listen. But this year I ventured to see what HBO and other industry experts and executives had to say and offer. So I took the trip to Orange County with many other Latinos who came much further than Los Angeles to Newport Beach's Fashion Island.
First of all there were hundreds of Mexicans, Dominicans, American Latinos and more who came to the conference. In fact, over 600 people paid to attend NALIP over the two-day conference (April 17-19). Another 200 actors came to an open call for Latino talent the day before (April 16). The highest attendance the conference has had to date.
Frances Negr??n-Muntaner, who is a founding board member of NALIP and co ÔÇôchair of this year's conference, said she was at first concerned with the state of the economy and who would come to the conference. "Yet, we quickly saw that there was no reason to (worry). Once registration opened, the conference was packed weeks before."
There were plenty of opportunities for actors, screenwriters, producers, directors and more to learn and network, pitch their projects, have their films screened and get immediate feedback to their work. Documentary filmmaker Pamela Aguilar had traveled all the way from New York City to come to the conference and wasn't disappointed. "I was so impressed at the huge turnout; the diversity of projects our Latino community is creating. I am empowered and inspired and ready to push forward to attain those goals," she says.
But it wasn't just those who came looking for work who were happy with what they found at NALIP this year. Michael A. Lopez with Film Independent was pleased with the wealth of filmmakers he met at the conference too. "I was impressed by the scope of the conference. I met some talented filmmakers with exciting projects."
Negr??n-Muntaner says although it wasn't easy at the beginning there is now more participation from studios and networks too. "It is always a challenge to convince executives to attend. Not only because people are busy but also, and this goes to the core of our mission, because many executives still don't really see a problem with the absence of Latinos in the media. The good news, however, is that once executives attend, they often come back and bring others with them. This year, for instance, we hosted the largest executive contingents from HBO and Universal in our organization's history. And to the extent that NALIP's conference is often a transformative experience, we expect these relationships to grow and multiply in the future," she says.
A future, NALIP keynote speaker and legendary writer/director Luis Valdez (Zoot Suit, La Bamba) says belongs to the Latino filmmaker, who is determined to tell the American story. Something Valdez (pictured) was able to do with the 1987 movie La Bamba that continues to be the highest grossing Latino based film and rock bio ever made.
He reminded the audience that the story of America concerning Latinos has not been told. "We are still dealing with adjectives and people are still calling us Latinos and not American. We need to tell the American story." He talked about how far Latinos have come since his young days in Delano and shared a story of how his childhood friend Cesar Chavez fought against segregation in a movie theater in Delano. Valdez went on to share his story about Teatro Campesino which he started traveling and performing with the United Farmworkers who of course "CC" or revered union organizer Cesar Chavez founded. "He took a stand and made it something. We need to recapture our story today." Valdez insisted that the beauty of his movie La Bamba was that it was "a good portrait of our people, a good simple story and a positive image of people."
Although there is still much work to be done to increase and change the image of Latinos in the entertainment industry, it was encouraging to see the number of Latinos ready to make that change at NALIP this year. "Much has been accomplished but much more needs to be done," elaborates Negr??n-Muntaner. "My hope is that over the next ten years, NALIP helps to bring about a complete transformation of the media landscape. Our goal is to assure that the media industry and the stories it tells are as complex and as diverse as the United States. Because if Latinos are nearly 20% of the population, and have always been part of the U.S., shouldn't we see more of them on TV?"