By Carlos A. Gutiérrez
On Friday and Saturday, June 21 and 22, a special gathering of Latino film professionals under the banner ‘New York Latino Film Summit: Changing our Paradigms’ took place at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. It was an exercise in bringing together local Latino film and media arts professionals to discuss the most pressing issues affecting the group, to try to find ways to face these concerns, and most importantly, to create a common front, a sense of community.
The initiative was carried out by an organizing committee composed by Andrea Betanzos, Paula Heredia, Lucila Moctezuma, and myself. The idea behind the initiative was born out of a series of informal conversations among colleagues, all which shared the sentiment that Latino filmmaking in the U.S. has been losing crucial sources of funding, programming, distribution and promotion over the past decade. Due to diverse reasons, we have lost a sense of community in New York City, and people who should be natural allies, did not necessarily know each other, or were not in direct contact. Most importantly, the reality of failures from past years are bound to be repeated in the future if we don’t acknowledge them and learn from such past experiences.
Evidently, it is important to recognize that many of these issues are not only affecting the Latino film community but the American film community at large. Yet, despite the problems and setbacks, this moment of crisis provides us with the perfect opportunity to rethink many of the outdated and preconceived notions that still reign through many activities in our field.
It goes without saying that the U.S. Latino communities are bound to gain more political, social and cultural influence in the next decade. Additionally, new technologies have had a substantial and direct impact, making *our transnational communities *develop a more fluid identity.
It seems that after the downfall of the so-called ‘American independent cinema’, it is a perfect time to occupy independent cinema, and truly *re-appropriate the idea of independent film. Recent Latin American cinema provides a very interesting role model, as the region has created hybrid models of production mixing public and private funds, as well as local, national and international resources that have launched the careers of numerous young filmmakers.
The group that came to the summit was very diverse: from U.S. born Latinos from different parts of the country, to people born in Latin American countries that migrated here at different stages of their life and in different conditions. The group was largely composed by filmmakers, but also included programmers, distributors, film composers, actors, and we even had the of Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Diaz.
Based on the idea that this was not a typical film conference, we asked the group to challenge and question preconceived notions of a system that is not working. We also asked the participants to avoid group therapy, self-promotion, finger-pointing and commiseration. The task was for the group to detect the most important issues that affect us as U.S. Latino film professionals, to carefully select the battles to fight, to engage on a creative and critical dialogue on how to create alternative solutions for these affecting issues, and to take this opportunity to picture what kind of film community we want for the future.
Four things were key in the summit, the first being generosity. As this was a communal endeavor, we asked people to think in terms of what was best for the community, and not just personal gain. Participation was key as we wanted to heat from as many people as possible. This was the forum to voice those concerns. Proactivity was also a must. As we articulated the issues, we needed to try to bring practical solutions to the table. It was also important we have fun. This was and is a great opportunity to meet new people and create new networks.
Instead of breaking down the summit into the traditional categories of production, distribution and exhibition, we decided to divide the two-day event into four separate sessions with larger topics: New Cultural Frontiers; Access and Accessibility; Storytelling and Narratives; Validation and Audience Development.
The sessions were prepared by an executive committee that included Nina Álvarez, Cruz Ángeles, Amalia Córdova, Vanessa Erazo, Merilay Fernández, Sofía Gallisá, Marcela Goglio, Geoffrey Guerrero, Inga Moren, Louis Perego, Mario Rosales, Julia Solomonoff, Felipe Tewes, and Maria-Christina Villaseñor.
Each session, which generated a passionate discussion and exchange of ideas, gathered comments and ideas for solutions that were poured into a last plenary session. Specific action plans were discussed in that last session as well as the creation of committees to follow up on those plans.
The result was very stimulating. The level of discussion was kept to a professional level, which allowed different perspectives to be expressed. While hearing opposite views on filmmaking, some participants showed signs of discomfort at times, nevertheless the feeling of camaraderie was always present.
There was also a reinforced sense of wanting to build community. It was very encouraging that a veteran film professional such as Sydney Levine, who participated in the summit, expressed her belief that the discussions in the group reminded her of the early beginnings in the creation of the Independent Film Project (IFP) or the Art House Convergence some years ago.
Our new challenge is learning how to organize a very diverse group of professionals to make sure we’re able to tackle many of the issues that affect us all. Bringing people together was already a big step forward in addressing and reimagining a better professional context for all of us. We deserve it.
OTHER NEW YORK LATINO FILM SUMMIT ARTICLES:
The weekend of June 21 and 22, the New York Latino Film Summit brought together dozens of filmmakers, media arts professionals and intellectuals from the greater New York area. Over the course of Friday and Saturday, the combined group explored the most pressing issues facing the Latino community in the film and media arts world, from questions of identity to commentary on the funding sources available.
The New York Film Summit on Friday and Saturday saw over eighty of the area’s film professionals come together to discuss the future of Latino and Latin American multimedia in the United States. After two grueling brainstorming and organization sessions, several of those present were approached to give their thoughts on a few of the most pointed questions that came up during the summit.