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This Year's LA Latino Film Festival Gathers Stories From Around The World (Here's What To Watch)

Two brown-skinned women lie in the grass on a colorful blanket. One woman looks at the other, while the other looks up to the sky. They both wear white T-shirts — one of their shirts has a black and white image of two women sitting with their legs entangled with one another.
From Disney's "Mija," screening at LALIFF.
(Courtesy LALIFF)
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The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF) returns this week, running through Sunday. You’ll find fictional narratives and documentaries, features and shorts, and even episodic television.

The festival has brought together films on common themes from different parts of the world, with the hopes of creating dialogue between diverse pieces of art.

“We want films to be talking between themselves or among each other,” festival director Diana Cadavid told LAist. “If all the elements of it try to convey diversity, I think that responds also to the way we as Latinos see the world so differently.”

It’s All Politics

Threads this year include questioning and rebellion around Latinos' rights to self-determination, according to Cadavid — films that cover sexual orientation, gender identity, cultural identity, and racial identity, with work pertinent to LGBTQ+ and disabled people.

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“Not to say that the entire program is political, in the most basic sense of the word — of course, everything in the end is highly political,” Cadavid said.

The international part of the festival is key, with a goal of representing filmmakers in countries around the world, Cadavid said. Along with covering the Americas, another area of focus is how Latinos experience immigration in other parts of the world.

While working to represent a variety of the numerous languages spoken by Latinos, Cadavid said she doesn’t usually think in terms of language — she thinks of cultures.

“I am definitely much more interested in indigenous cinema that’s spoken in its own language — that’s made, produced, directed by people from the communities,” Cadavid said.

She added that the films are “non-binary in terms of language and culture,” embracing the idea that you can be 100 percent of multiple things.

Cadavid’s seen an evolution in the work being created in recent years, with a shift in both how stories are being told and the angle they’re being told from.

“We as a community are evolving, but the filmmakers show a lot of that evolution through their visual language — through the complexity of their writing, through the departure from common places, from looking at ways of telling stories in a more nuanced, unique kind of way, with a unique voice,” Cadavid said.

These changes have taken hold since former President Donald Trump rose to political prominence, according to Cadavid.

“Our filmmakers talk a lot about politics, a lot about family dynamics when you’re living in a country where you constantly feel threatened by the status quo and authority,” Cadavid said. “And it does change … from one government to another government. But the problem is, in the end, things don’t change that much. It’s not that they haven’t been bad before.”

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She’s feeling that acutely at the moment, looking at the news and the debate around abortion.

“We’re dying here,” Cadavid said.

Programming A Festival During A Pandemic

Cadavid comes from a Colombian/Canadian background, perspectives she brings to her work alongside a team of festival programmers, who wade through entries to find the gems that they want to feature.

She was hired by LALIFF in February 2020 ahead of a May festival, almost immediately putting her in the position of working on virtual screenings thanks to March 2020’s COVID-19 lockdowns.

“As with the rest of the world, we didn’t know what was happening,” Cadavid said. “We knew that we wanted to be present and part of the community, and part of the conversation — through culture, and art, and film.”

In 2021, the festival moved to a mix of virtual and in-person events. This year marks the largest real-life gatherings in the festival since 2019. They’re even hosting more screenings than they had pre-pandemic.

“We’re trying to be very mindful of not forgetting the lessons of the pandemic, and some of the great discoveries in terms of ways to network and ways to be in touch,” Cadavid said.

One of those lessons has been keeping a virtual component, which lets the festival connect with up-and-coming filmmakers across the country, in Latin America, and around the world. They’ve also launched a fellowship, supporting Afro-Latino and indigenous Latino filmmakers — their second group of fellows' shorts will screen Saturday at the festival.

Back In Person After 3 Years

Cadavid brings an editor’s eye, with experience producing and editing several short films herself. She carries experience from throughout the Americas, previously working on festivals in Toronto, Miami, Panama, and Colombia.

“I didn’t know the city [of Los Angeles] before I started working at the festival,” Cadavid said. “But as soon as I started working at LALIFF, I could feel the energy of the city. Being in the heart of Hollywood has super positive, and also very challenging, connotations. You really have to be very clear on your goals when you’re in L.A.”

The film industry in L.A. doesn’t work the way it does anywhere else in the world, according to Cadavid, with so many creators centered in one place. The festival’s own goals and long-term vision reflect the city, she added, with a hope to expand people’s perspective of what LALIFF is all about beyond the city.

“We want to show this cultural and artistic richness, and that triggers conversations that we hope to be having in the corridors of the festival,” Cadavid said.

That’s the thing Cadavid emphasized as the real magic of film festivals — the in-person connection, which the festival tries to facilitate with live music after screenings, industry networking events, and more.

“Every festival is so different and unique, but there is that possibility to connect with people,” Cadavid said. “After you saw a movie, and you run into someone, and you go for a drink at a party with great music — there’s nothing like that.”

Festival Highlights

The L.A. Latino International Film Festival runs through Sunday, June 5, with all screenings at the TCL Chinese Theatre (or virtual). Cadavid shared details about some of the work in this year’s fest:

Mija

This documentary tells the story of two women, the daughters of undocumented parents, finding their place in the music industry. Cadavid said that Mija being the festival’s opening night film is a statement.

“These are our audience, these are the people we want to support,” Cadavid said.

Father of the Bride

The festival’s closing night film, this is a Latino-centered remake of the already once remade classic. Andy Garcia plays the titular father, alongside Gloria Estefan as his wife — hiding the dissolution of their own marriage as their daughter gets married herself.

My Two Voices

This movie is described in its listing as a “poetic reflection on the fluid nature of identity,” focused around three Latin American women and their experience emigrating to Canada. This film comes from director Lina Rodriguez, who Cadavid herself worked with previously.

“What I love about that film is the aesthetic approach to the story is fantastic. The film premiered in Berlin, so it has more of that quiet tone,” Cadavid said. “It’s an exploration on immigration, but done in a very unique way. In a way that you haven’t really seen before, in the way she reveals these women.”

Borrowed

Cadavid was reluctant to share details about this film, due to some big surprises, but gave it a big recommendation.

Borrowed is a complete departure from [writer/directors Carlos Rafael Betancourt and Oscar Ernesto Ortega Cuba’s previous film], in terms of their filmmaking,” Cadavid said. “This is a film based on a play, and I don’t want to spoil it, so I can’t say much. It’s one of these films that stars a very sensual drama, and has a thriller-type twist. But because it’s based on a play, it also has a more dramatic tone.”

All Sorts

The festival isn’t all seriousness and tone pieces. Cadavid cited All Sorts, a film in the tradition of movies like Office Space about office workers who end up in an illegal competition of championship document filers.

Pepe Serna: Life is Art

This film tells the story of Mexican American character actor Pepe Serna, who appeared in more than 100 films and opened doors for generations of Chicano actors.

“This is important because we don’t want to not talk about legacy, and the beauty and the ugliness of the past, and how it connects with us,” Cadavid said. “What is Chicano art? What is Chicano cinema? What does it mean now? Because it means something completely different. And I think that’s a conversation that a lot of artists are wanting to have in here.”

Animation

The animation programming submissions deal with some heartbreaking material, such as Chilly and Milly, which explores chronic illness, and The Weight Of It, which deals with surviving breast cancer.

“At some point, we were like, these stories are so dark,” Cadavid said.

But they managed to find a balance with other lighter fare, such as a pro wrestling-inspired adventure in Rey Mysterio Vs. The Darkness, and the animated rom-com/sexual awakening story My Year Of Dicks.

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