Houston Latino Film Festival Brings Latin Film Into Focus

The first annual film festival targets Latin filmmakers and Latin stories, and helps bring Houston filmmakers to the screen.

By Sara Samora March 25, 2016

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Héctor Medina in Viva, which shows at Houston Latino Film Festival.

While Latino filmmakers, such as back-to-back Best Director Oscar winner Alejandro González Iñárritu, making an impact in Hollywood, three filmmaker friends had an idea to point the camera in their own backyard here in Houston. The first annual Houston Latino Film Festival features works from burgeoning filmmakers from Latin American countries or films depicting Latin American life.

“We feel like, at least locally, there’s a void here in Houston for Latino filmmakers,” Festival Director Dave Cebrero said. “And just independent cinema made by Latinos in general is being underrepresented here in the city as well as in the entire country.”

Cebrero, along with his friends Pedro Rivas and David Cortez, had been talking about starting a Latino film festival for years.

“I think we were hoping somebody else would do it first,” said Rivas, the festival’s program director. “Maybe like, four or five years ago, we were saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if someone started it up?’”

But time passed and no one did. For the last few years, the three friends began talking about starting the festival on their own accord.

“We sat down, we started thinking more, and we decided, ‘You know what? Let’s go forward with it’,” Rivas said.

“Then once people started saying, ‘Finally! Someone’s doing it! This is great!’ that’s when we realized how much it feels like a necessity to have something like this for Houston,” Rivas said.

One of the things the men talked about was that some of the Latino film festivals like the L. A. Latino Film Festival and the New York Latino Film Festivals no longer existed, and only a few are left. Hence, Cebrero said this is a chance to show independent cinema lovers in Houston that there is content out there.

“There’s no place to showcase these films,” Cebrero added. “That’s one of the things that we want to do.”

As to why other Latino festivals fell through and others thrive, Cebrero said one big reason could be funding, an obstacle they encountered in their journey.

“Getting sponsorships and support financially is a big challenge. When you have such a niche festival that caters to a specific group or content, then it’s a lot harder to get sponsorships.”

Not having experience with the timing of certain things and giving their best educated guess on when things should be put out was another hindrance.

“I think we’ve managed pretty well, when we didn’t hit those targets and now next year we know.”

Though the goal is not to make a profit off of the festival—it’s to start a non-profit for the art and craft of Latino filmmakers and screenwriters.

“None of us had ever started a non-profit before,” Cortez said. “So that was the first step, and it took a while. Once we did that, we said, ‘Okay, this is going to happen.’”

Cortez adds that while part of the festival is to show the culture through film, it’s also to promote aspiring filmmakers to make films. Workshops are open to the public and teach the aspiring filmmaker about lighting and cinematography as well as learn about what tools to utilize for the beginning filmmaker.

“We tried to bring good workshops for people to attend and we really wanted the best content that we could possibly give people,” Cortez added.

Though, the friends say that although it is a Latino film festival, the festival is not just for Latinos; it’s for everyone. Subject matters range from homosexuality, politics, class and immigration.

“I think we covered all the bases that we could,” Rivas said. “Even if it had nothing to do with Hispanic or Latinos, if it was relevant in some way to humanity then we included it.”

March 25–27. See website for schedule and locations. Workshops are on Saturday, March 26 at 11. $7-$35.

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