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NYC Film Festivals

Latino Film Fest Offers Grand Tour

A scene from Marco Kreuzpaintner's Trade, the opening night film of the 2007 NY International Latino Film Festival (Photo: NYILFF)

By Annaliese Griffin

When Calixto Chinchilla founded the New York International Latino Film Festival in 1999 he didn’t have much film experience. He just knew he wanted to create a space to celebrate Latinos in film, both in front of and behind the camera.

"I was 21 at the time and I was, you know, really hungry to see my images on the screen," he told The Reeler in recent interview. That hunger has been sated, at least partially, as Chinchilla, who is now the festival's full-time executive director, has watched the number of Latino films, actors and filmmakers increase dramatically over the past few years. This year the NYILFF is sandwiched by major releases with Latino stars: the festival launches Tuesday with a screening of Trade, a drama about sex-trafficking; and El Cantante, a biopic about salsa star Hector Lavoe starring Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, screens Saturday as the festival finale.

Although tickets for El Cantante sold out early, fans can opt to attend the festival’s revival screening of West Side Story at Riverbank State Park on the Hudson River, which is also on Saturday night. Shorts, documentaries and more narrative features, including the world premiere of 44, a film from a recent NYU film school graduate Miguel Aviles, round out the NYILFF's offerings.

Still, cultivating a diverse audience for the films in the festival -- particularly the smaller releases -- has emerged as one of NYILFF’s most important challenges. “We aim to be a festival that reaches out to Latinos, to individuals who live in Washington Heights, in Brooklyn, wherever, -- not just the art house crowd," Chinchilla said. "So for me, that was the whole point of the festival when it first started. It was really about developing audiences for the work, because you had this community that wasn't fully being reached out to."

For Chinchilla, one of the most rewarding elements in the festival is the NYILFF/HBO Short Film Competition. Up-and-coming filmmakers submit screenplays to the festival, with the winner receiving a grant from HBO to produce a five-minute short that will be shown at the beginning of each screening during the festival. This year's winner, Freddy Vargas, shot his film Hispañiola in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. "It's the first drama we've done in a while; the last two were comedies," Chinchilla said. "It's about relations between Dominicans and Haitians in the Dominican Republic, seen through the eyes of children. It's some pretty serious issues."

The short fits especially well with the festival's Dominican Night, which salutes filmmakers from the Dominican Republic. Additionally, a Puerto Rican sidebar program will celebrate new films from that country. The Puerto Rican government recently implemented a program that attracts filmmakers to shoot on the island, and according to Chinchilla, "Puerto Rico has kind of emerged." Another island-nation film, 638 Ways to Kill Castro, a documentary that explores American assassination attempts on Fidel Castro, got a nod from Chinchilla a one of his top picks for the festival. "It's a pretty focused selection this year," he said. "I feel it, I really do."

The New York International Latin Film Festival runs July 24 - 29 at various venues around New York. For details and screening schedules, visit the festival's Web site.

Posted at July 23, 2007 8:04 AM

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