Watching movies has become an essential pastime during quarantine, but in the age of smartphones and life hacks, you no longer need a Hollywood budget to deliver the perfect slice of life to our screens. Take 9-year-old Elohim Nycalove, one of the youngest filmmakers featured in En Su Casa, a family film festival and competition showcasing short films created by and for Latinx families and young audiences, which kicks off July 30. His film, Quarantine Life, serves as the exemplar of what the event is meant to showcase: pure imagination transformed into art without any need for fancy equipment.
“With these at-home films, I hope that people can see a little more magic in their own worlds,” says Marissa Castillo, co-founder and marketing director of Houston-based Latinx theater company TEATRX. “All these people who created these films—they used what they had in their home at the moment.”
Since TEATRX was established in 2018, the theater company has hosted the annual La Vida Es Cortos /Life Is Shorts Festival, a presentation of international short films and locally staged plays geared toward Houston’s Latinx audiences, a demographic that remains largely untapped by the larger theater scene. The success of the first festival—62 percent of attendees spoke Spanish as their first language—inspired organizers to look for similar avenues in kid-focused content. “The future of art, the future of theater, lies in the future of our young storytellers,” Castillo says. “In order to get more visibility in theater as Latinx people, we have to start with the kids. They have to know what it looks like to see themselves onstage.”
When the pandemic hit earlier this year, TEATRX leaders recognized that La Vida Es Cortos might have to go online (it returns in November). They decided to tackle both challenges at once, creating En Su Casa as an opportunity to give their virtual screening tech a test run while simultaneously connecting with and encouraging young Latinx artists and their families to get creative from the safety and comfort of their homes. While several of the films featured in the festival are made with little ones in mind, just as many tackle weighty topics, like 22-year-old filmmaker Anthony Ortiz Gutiérrez’s Un Rollo de Cuarentena (A Quarantine Roll), which confronts the social impacts of the pandemic.
“My film is about an unemployed person dealing with boredom by doing crafts, but it is actually about the mask situation in America and how some people would use it to their advantage,” he says. Tackling another major, but no less pressing, issue is Angel Suarez, 19, who was inspired to create Degradado (Downgraded), his film about pollution on the Venezuelan island of Margarita, after his cousin suffered an asthma attack while burning garbage.
En Su Casa’s films, which come from all over the world, have been bundled into four different categories for easy viewing: “At-Home Films,” works created during the COVID-19 pandemic; “Animate Your Imagination (Anima tu Imaginación),” artistic animated and stop-motion shorts; “Dramas Sociales,” shorts that tackle current social issues, and “From Puerto Rico (Desde Puerto Rico),” shorts exclusively from the Island of Enchantment. The festival also offers an All Access Pass, which grants audiences the opportunity to dive deeper into the Latinx filmmaking experience with four special events.
“For too long Latinos have been represented in film based on stereotypes created by a small group of people,” says Guatemalan animator Giselle Perez, who will speak alongside HBO actress and native Houstonian Vannessa Vasquez and UH film graduate Karen Martinez as part of the Journey to Filmmaking panel on August 3. “Latino representation in the film industry would mean a more honest and real representation of our culture.”
Perez and Castillo say although representation has been growing in theater and film in recent years, more is still needed. TEATRX's founders hope events like En Su Casa can help broader audiences see the full range of Latinx experience, says Castillo. “We're a vast beautiful and diverse community.”
Though Aug 5. From $5. Your home. More info and tickets at seedandspark.com.