NY Latino Film Fest Closes Shop After 13 Years

By Andrew S. Vargas

After 13 years, Calixto Chinchilla, the founding co-executive director of the New York International Latino Film Festival, has decided to pull the plug on the City’s major festival.

Over the past several months, filmmakers and fans alike have clamored for information regarding the festival’s future, while promises of an official statement have been left unfulfilled. Concern was initially sparked by the fact that the festival, which is typically held in the summer, had not so much as opened their call for entries. Adding to the confusion, the organization’s official website had not been updated since the immediate aftermath of the festival’s 2012 edition.

According to Chinchilla, he and his team had found themselves in the midst of a crippling financial crisis and were evaluating a possible sale or merger of the festival until several weeks ago, when the decision was made to close up shop. Explaining the complex nature of the festival’s finances, Chinchilla insisted that in a corporate landscape where Latino budgets are being slashed, striking the delicate balance between reducing audience and maintaining sponsorship was no longer a realistic option.

Foreseeing a looming crisis, the festival, which cost approximately $500,000 a year to produce according to Chinchilla, had already been experimenting with cost-cutting techniques -- eschewing the use of the traditional paper catalogues one year in favor of an electronic version -- but despite this foresight and the continued support of HBO, the festival was simply no longer economically viable in the high-priced New York market.

According to Chinchilla, who founded the festival in 1999, the decision was a difficult one. "It’s my baby," he said in an exclusive interview for TropicalFRONT, “but you have to get emotions out of the way and think about what is the right decision." Nevertheless, Chinchilla sees the festival’s predicament as indicative of a larger sea change in the relationship between filmmakers and their audience. "The world of festivals is changing," he remarked. "Soon only the markets will survive... the filmmaking community needs to look to other avenues, look within themselves."

Regarding Latino film in particular, Chinchilla observed that a dearth of Latinos in sectors like publicity and marketing fosters a dependence on traditional promotional outlets that relegate Latino media to a niche market. "This is not a niche market," he insisted, "this is popular culture."  As for his own future, Chinchilla seemed quietly optimistic: "I’m just waiting to find what’s next," he said. Whatever that may be, we can rest assured that New York hasn’t heard the last of Calixto Chinchilla.

Correction: September 6, 2013. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the title of Mr. Chinchilla as "founding director", his correct title is "founding co-executive director."