By Diego Molano
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.
Friday kicked off the summit with a two-hour session labeled "New Cultural Frontiers." The main goal of the session was both break the ice and explore the traditional boundaries of the Latino identity. The main discussion boiled down to whether or not to stop describing ourselves as "Latinos," forgoing the label that some of those present felt was used against us by sources of funding. The label of "Latino artist" marginalized the community, making funding and audiences much harder to find. The question was raised about whether or not to embrace the cultural differences that arise from the national boundaries of Latin America. Both sides have their merits, and will have to be discussed further.
The argument began to devolve into semantics, but was shocked back to life by writer Junot Diaz, who called for the acceptance of the label to counteract the negative stereotyping by the powers that be. "Rejecting the label (of Latino) doubles our people’s sense of alienation," he stated, bringing the crowd to a resounding cheer. The possibility of the appropriation of "Latino" clearly demarked the idea of a community, fulfilling one of the main goals of the session.
Saturday's session began with a brainstorming session about the positives and negatives of private and public funding, while creating a wish list for 2014. The discussion soon shifted to the question of access. The Latino community’s marginalization from traditional avenues of expression was the centerpiece of the discussion. The Latino community lacks access to the proper funding and education often necessary for film careers, sidelining stories that are important to the community and substituting them with the stereotypes that funding sources link with minorities.
The storytelling and narratives section that followed lunch never reached its goals, with the discussion returning time and again to a question of funding. If nothing else, it proved the desperate state of Latino filmmaking, with so many professionals of the field concerned about how to fund their projects. Perhaps the most heated moment of the entire summit came when one group member expressed his belief that there needed to be a move towards more commercially oriented films in an effort to increase viewership. One filmmaker vehemently disagreed with him, claiming his own love for his art as his sole reason for creating films. The question remains – would these attempts to improve the commercial aspect of Latino cinema force “Buñuel to be Spielberg,” as one of the participants remarked?
Questioning the validity of Latino cinema, the fifth session of the summit returned to questions of universal stories versus niche stories. Should the group, as film professionals, focus on stories that appeal to everyone, or more pointed plots that risk alienating some of the public. Concerns were voiced about the influence of non-Latinos in deciding what stories are told, and which projects get funding. The current state of the industry closes off most avenues for young filmmakers.
The evening closed with a community building session where each artist present signed up for a different seminar from a list created throughout the day. Choices included micro-cinema and cinema clubs, mentorship and grant writing training, cementing the desire to create a more cohesive and connected community. With the sign up list complete, the day concluded with the hope that each person present will remember their new responsibilities. This summit has lit a spark, created buzz for the possibility of a cohesive community, and proven the commitment that we all have to improving the representation of Latinos in the digital arts.
OTHER NEW YORK LATINO FILM SUMMIT ARTICLES:
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 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.