Identifying and empowering future filmmakers. Cultivating new and diverse talent. Providing a platform for underrepresented artists. These are just a few things on the Academy’s to-do list since launching the Aperture 2025 inclusion initiative.
But we’re definitely not alone. Other cinema-centered organizations share a vision like ours. The Latino Film Institute (LFI) is one of them, showcasing and strengthening the richness of Latinx lives by providing a pipeline, platform and launching pad from the community into the entertainment industry. The Edward James Olmos-founded and -led organization does this year-round, but Hispanic Heritage Month feels like the perfect time for a spotlight.
So how exactly do they do it? Mainly through three signature programs. The Youth Cinema Project, for one, offers students in public schools and low-income communities a hands-on way to tone their filmmaking muscles. Throughout grades 4-12, filmmaking professionals guide students as they complete short films from concept to screen. LatinX in Animation is a newer community focused on promoting and developing Latinx artists in the animation, VFX and gaming industries. And the annual Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF) has become a meaningful place for discovering emerging Latinx talent.
We were curious to hear more about what inspires the next generation of Latinx filmmakers, so we asked a few of LALIFF’s recent champs some questions. Read on to see what Kristian Mercado (director of the Best Animated Short, Nuevo Rico), Victor Orozco Ramírez (who received a Special Jury Recognition for Innovative Storytelling for Revolykus), Gabriela Ortega (whose In Case I’m Next won her the Best Direction of a Live Action Short), Maite Zubiaurre and Kristy Guevara-Flanagan (co-directors of Eagles, which won the festival’s Best Live Action Short prize) had to say.
What film most influenced you as a filmmaker, and why?
ORTEGA: I think I was 18 the first time I saw Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también, and it was a film that changed everything for me and made me want to one day tell a story that felt like a love letter to my country and my upbringing. For me, growing up in the Dominican Republic meant that most people around me looked to the U.S. as the only place where dreams could come true and [at English-language stories as] the only stories worth telling. I saw films in English with Spanish subtitles, and they became the standard of how I was to see the world and process storytelling.
"What Y tu mamá también did for me was reframe that mindset and remind me that our stories are universal, that we can take space, and that space can be incredibly moving and honest. This film taught me to show up unapologetically and to never allow myself to get lost in translation." -Gabriela Ortega
GUEVARA-FLANAGAN: Though you can’t necessarily tell from my work, I am greatly influenced by Lourdes Portillo. I have loved the way she weaves the personal with the political in a driving, fearless investigation. Her style, her humor, her biting criticism. I love it all.
MERCADO: Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. It’s a film that ages so well, and its relevance to our society feels more powerful as every year passes. As a work of speculative fiction, its impact taught me how when we talk about the future we really are talking about our current society and the things we need to change or focus on.
OROZCO RAMÍREZ: The House Is Black by Forough Farrokhzad has become one of the most important films for me. The use of poetic texts and montage in an essay context changed completely my way of making films.
What is your favorite performance by a Hispanic/Latinx artist, and why?
MERCADO: Oscar Isaac’s performance in Inside Llewyn Davis feels like it transcends in a way. The role is played by a Latinx actor but is not inherently Latinx in nature, and I feel it speaks to the range and diversity of roles we can play in cinema.
GUEVARA-FLANAGAN: I might take this literally and offer the performance art of Ana Mendieta. She was so bold and feminist and ahead of her time. She used her own body to comment on how women and Latinas were rendered invisible. Her work also connected to the Earth in recognition of our spiritual connection to it.
ORTEGA: Even though film has become my focus, my first love was the theater, and after taking Solo Performance in college, I fell in love with one-person shows and the way they allowed performers (especially of color) to take hold of their own narrative. The first time I saw John Leguizamo's Freak, I was absolutely galvanized into bringing my own stories to life. Leguizamo is like no one else, a fearless performer that embodies his character’s soul and rhythm. That can swiftly have you jumping off your seat with laughter and move you to tears in a matter of seconds. He is a pioneer and a champion of the Latin American diaspora and never ceases to inspire me.
ZUBIAURRE: My favorite performance is that of Juan Daniel García Treviño in Fernando Frías de la Parra’s masterwork, Ya no estoy aquí (2019). Phenomenal performance. A face and a body that speak the difficult and somewhat opposed language of intensity and stoicism simultaneously: magnífico!