News & Updates

  • How Diversity Initiatives Are Changing the Film Industry

    Posted by on July 09, 2016


    Non-profits are fighting to stay on top of the film industry's big priority. It's no easy task.

    Queen Sugar

    “Queen Sugar” Courtesy of OWN

    Diversity” may be a big buzzword for the film business these days, but for a lot of organizations, the challenges implied by the term are nothing new. While the Academy announced last week that it was inviting 683 new members—many from diverse backgrounds—to their vaunted club, the independent film side of the industry has long been fighting the good fight, with programs, grants and foundations focused on creating a more equitable entertainment ecosystem.

    But how well are such initiatives working? “If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to realize there are a lot of well-meaning programs out there that are not having an impact,” said Film Independent’s Josh Welsh. “I’m at a point of great frustration. I am proud of what we’ve accomplished, but at the same time, these studies continue to come out every year that say the numbers in the industry are, as a whole, not really budging.”


    “Whose Streets?”

    This year’s first ever Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity, for example, stated that ethnic minorities constituted only 12% of film directors and only 9% of broadcast TV directors, while over half of all films and TV shows failed to include a single non-white character.

    Despite many of the indie sector’s recent breakouts, from Ava DuVernay to Justin Lin to Nate Parker to documentarian Roger Ross Williams, there is still a lot more work to be done, say funders and filmmaker development organizations.

    Don’t Just Open Your Arms; Do the Legwork

    One significant problem is simply a matter of outreach.

    “I have been disheartened by the lack of African Americans that have been applying to us,” said Sean Flynn, director of the Points North Documentary Forum, which recently announced the launch of its new umbrella organization, the Points North Institute.

    Dedicated to nurturing the careers of “diverse nonfiction storytellers” through fellowships, grants, retreats, residencies, and its annual flagship event, the Camden International Film Festival and the Pitch Forum, Points North is yet another organization interested in tipping the scales.

    But Flynn recently learned an important lesson about the diverse filmmakers they seek to support. “We can’t just sit back and hope these filmmakers come to us,” he said.

    Last year, Flynn actively sought out projects by filmmakers of color, asking around to friends and colleagues, which eventually lead him to Damon Davis and Sabaah Jordan’s Ferguson documentary “Whose Streets?” which received initial support from Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith’s Firelight Media.

    The project ended up at the Points North Pitch Forum, and like many films which have found themselves anointed by one organization, it has since gone on to be supported by numerous others, including Macarthur, the Ford Foundation, the Sundance Institute, the Tribeca Film Institute, Cinereach, the Chicago Media Project, and Chicken and Egg Pictures.

    But the first “get” is always the toughest. “There’s always just the basic problem of the social networks of the industry,” explained Flynn. “They don’t necessarily extend to a black filmmaker based in St. Louis.”

    “Whose Streets?” co-director Sabaah Jordan admitted that when she set out to make the project, she and her fellow filmmaker Damon Davis “didn’t know how we were going to fund it or what we were going to make.” Fortunately, producer Flannery Miller knew about Firelight and submitted a proposal. “And that opened our eyes to what was possible,” said Jordan.

    Similarly, Filipino-American filmmaker Jeff Unay was working totally under the radar until he applied and won the Tribeca Film Institute’s ESPN Prize for his project “Greywater,” which has since received support from a range of institutions, including the Sundance Institute, the Filmmaker Fund, Cinereach, the Gabriel Figueroa Film Fund, and the Points North Pitch Forum.


    “Appropriate Behavior”

    “I had zero contacts in the industry,” said Unay. “One organization that supported us said, ‘We always wondered where are the Asian filmmakers?’ And that’s when I realized that’s kind of sad, because I know there are a lot of Asian filmmakers out there.”

    Jenni Wolfson, executive director of Chicken and Egg Pictures, which supports female non-fiction filmmakers, agreed that funders can’t wait for people to find them. “We do an incredible amount of outreach,” she said, connecting to organizations like Firelight, to look for African American filmmakers, and Greenhouse, for women from the Middle East. “We believe the storyteller is just as important as the story.”

    According to Wolfson, Chicken and Egg boasts an impressive track record of supporting filmmakers of color—a goal that is incorporated into “our DNA,” she said. In addition to significant diversity within its Accelerator Lab, Chicken and Egg also has a specific Diversity Fellows Initiative, which brings together non-fiction projects helmed by first- or second-time filmmakers.

    IFP New York also emphasizes geographic and racial diversity, reaching out to communities of color around the country, although it doesn’t have any specific programs based on race or ethnicity. “We want fair representation across everything we do,” explained IFP NY president Joana Vicente, “whether it’s filmmakers in the lab, or the slate of projects in Independent Film Week.”

    Indeed, the numbers are promising. For IFP NY’s most recent Independent Filmmaker Lab, 55% of participants were from diverse backgrounds, and for the Screen Forward Labs 46% were “diverse voices.” Achieving that goal, IFP NY works with a range of partners, including industry colleagues, film festivals, film schools and fellow non-profits (such as NALIP, Film Fatales, and Blackhouse). Recent fellows include Chloe Zhao (“Songs My Brother Taught Me”), Desiree Akhavan (“Appropriate Behavior”) and Chanelle Aponte Pearson (“195 Lewis”).

    Not Just Mentorship, But Money

    On the West Coast, Film Independent’s Josh Welsh is proud of the organization’s 22-year-old Project Involve initiative, which focuses on filmmakers of color and touts a long list of distinguished alumni, including Effie Brown, Terence Nance, Cherien Dabis, Jon M. Chu, Jennifer Phang, Justin Simien and Nekisa Cooper, among others. While the program has given selected fellows a mentor and master classes, Welsh touts a relatively new addition to the program: money to make short films, which are often shown at Film Independent’s Los Angeles Film Festival.

    “To amplify the effectiveness of the program, it comes down to money and resources,” he said. “They need community, access, and mentorship, but they also need money.” To double down on this belief, Film Independent will now give six filmmakers additional $10,000 unrestricted grants.

    And they shouldn’t just be supporting directors and producers, according to Welsh. He sees immense value in Project Involve’s “Industry Track,” which boosts the next generation of distributors, programmers and publicists. “They are going to be the future gatekeepers,” said Welsh, “and the industry wants to hire these people.”


    “Queen Sugar”

    Welsh points to the ways in which Ava DuVernay has leveraged her position in the industry to bring about diversity to her own projects; on the new OWN original show, “Queen Sugar,” for example, DuVernay hired a bevy of black female filmmakers, including Neema Barnette, Tina Mabry, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Tanya Hamilton, and Victoria Mahoney. Says Welsh, “At the end of the day, it comes down to who can hire and greenlight shows and films,” added Welsh.

    Not Just Diversity, But Inclusion

    Producer and engagement strategist Jennifer MacArthur, who is working on “Whose Streets?” and recently organized a two-day diversity forum at AFI Docs, told IndieWire that one of the problems of such initiatives is that they oftentimes become ghettoized and are not thought of “holistically,” she said.

    While diversity programs can obviously help, Macarthur believes we need to move towards inclusion, “making it possible to think about women or people of color as representing a universal perspective, so it’s the same as a white male’s.”

    But there’s more to it than that. “The hidden truth of it all,” continued Macarthur, “is that most successful filmmakers either have hidden trust funds or are married to people have money, so they can have a professional career as artists. So we have to rethink everything to be more inclusive, and that means people from those communities should also be helping shape these artists services programs.”

    Non-profit support can also have an unexpected residual effect on filmmakers. Consider the freedom of self-financed filmmakers verses those that are loosely beholden to outside supporters. No matter how benevolent and generous non-profit advocates and funders can be, it can add another layer of challenges.

    As Sabaah Jordan admits, “When you’re filling out all those applications and doing all that networking, the drawback is finding the creative space to actually do the work on the project,” she said. “It’s definitely a problem I am happy to have, but how do you balance all those relationships and how do you protect the creative nucleus of the project with all those eyes on it?”

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  • Why the second movie is the biggest hurdle to becoming a filmmaker — especially for women and minorities

    Posted by on July 09, 2016

    by Rebecca Keegan

    Royalty Hightower as Toni in \Newcomer Royalty Hightower plays Toni in the coming-of-age girl drama "The Fits." (Anna Rose Holmer)

    As a first-time director, Anna Rose Holmer is in an elite group. Her movie, “The Fits,” about an 11-year-old tomboy trying to fit in, was one of the fewer than 1% of submitted features Sundance Film Festival programmers chose last year, an acceptance rate tougher than that of an Ivy League college. She received some of the best reviews of the festival, and secured a distribution deal, a manager and an agent.

    And yet, amid this success, Holmer, 31, now faces what is possibly the greatest barrier to a sustainable career as a filmmaker -- her second movie.

    “Right now, it’s tough,” said Holmer, speaking by phone from Brooklyn, where she lives with her husband, a public school math teacher. “It is scary and daunting, and the pressures start to build the longer you’re in this phase.”

    First films are often made in a democratic fashion — on low-cost cameras, with crowd-funded budgets and crews made up of college friends. But second movies typically rely more on the machinery of Hollywood, a machinery that has often excluded women and minorities. That exclusion has received new attention lately thanks to both the diversity controversy around this year’s Oscars nominees and a government investigation into gender bias in hiring.

    Holmer is one of 12 directors participating in the Sundance Institute’s FilmTwo Initiative, a program launched this spring to offer filmmakers, especially women and directors of color, tactical and creative support on their second pictures. Others in the program include actress and writer Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”), Ethiopian New York Univeristy grad Yared Zaleke (“Lamb”), Korean American L.A. filmmaker Andrew Ahn (“Spa Night”) and New York-based documentarian Crystal Moselle (“The Wolfpack”).

    “There’s this myth of getting your film into Sundance and being instantly successful,” said Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam. “It’s worth busting that myth. For first-time filmmakers, getting in is just the beginning.”

    Some independent filmmakers end up waiting an awfully long time for their follow-ups, despite auspicious debuts: “Boys Don’t Cry” director Kimberly Peirce took nine years to make her second feature, “Stop-Loss”; black British director Amma Asante took nine years to follow up her first film, “A Way of Life,” with “Belle”; and African American director Gina Prince-Bythewood had eight years between “Love & Basketball” and her second film, “The Secret Life of Bees.”

    As studios have contracted their specialty divisions and shrunk their development deals, the opportunities to step up from a small first film to a moderately budgeted second one have gotten scarcer for all directors.

    That has implications not only for filmmakers but also for the studios seeking to broaden the pool of talent from which they hire. For Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley, whose studio is financing the FilmTwo Initiative, the hope is to nurture talent that might otherwise slip through the cracks. Four of the FilmTwo fellows will be designated as NBCUniversal fellows, receiving development grants and getting meetings with key Universal executives.

    “I was interested in where women drop off in their careers,” said Langley, who in recent years has hired female directors Angelina Jolie, Sam Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Banks. “OK, so you’ve done this thing, you’ve gotten some exposure at festivals… now what? Directing is a rarefied business. And you see very few women pass that Rubicon.”

    White male directors who have passed from low-budget first features to big-budget studio films include Marc Webb, who went from directing the 2009 indie romance “500 Days of Summer” to a Spider-Man movie, and Colin Trevorrow, who leapt from his $750,000 2012 comedy “Safety Not Guaranteed” to the $150 million-budgeted “Jurassic World.” Women and minority directors are less likely to make that leap, Putnam said.

    “There seems to be a lot of imagination about how a small first film by a white guy can lead to a bigger film,” Putnam said. “We don’t see that same imagination extended to women and filmmakers of color.”

    There are other obstacles too for filmmakers working in the increasingly complex business of independent film. Just as new opportunities are coming a first-time director’s way, there are new demands on them to play an entrepreneurial role in the release of their pictures. Though sometimes empowering, these tasks take time away from the second film.

    Five months after her Sundance premiere, Holmer, who also co-wrote and produced “The Fits,” estimates she spends at least 60 hours a week on it. On a weekday in June, she was fielding questions about music rights for a foreign TV channel, maintaining the movie’s website and Twitter feed and handling decisions about press and promotions. She had recently returned from a trip to L.A., where she’d met with a mix of producers, executives and potential collaborators -- a fulfilling experience, but not one that immediately pays the bills.

    I talk to filmmakers who are sleeping on couches, focusing on getting a job and preparing for a big meeting,” said Stephanie Allain, an advisor for the FilmTwo fellows who produced the movies “Beyond the Lights” and “Hustle & Flow” and directs the L.A. Film Festival. “You start to get weary. Six months goes by. You need to pay your rent. For women and directors of color especially, this period can last a long time. You’re already a long-shot hire. How long can you afford to wait?”

    In recent years, television has begun to fill the gap. “Queen Sugar,” a series running on OWN this fall produced by Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay, hired female directors to helm all 13 episodes. For some, like African American director Tina Mabry, whose first feature, “Mississippi Damned,” came out in 2009, television is a way to continue in an industry where directing opportunities are rare.

    The challenges for filmmakers are not only economic but also creative. As part of FilmTwo, fellows participate in a writing intensive designed to help them hone their projects amid the new distractions. They also are coached on how to prepare for a pitch and how to assemble the right team around them.

    “I hear it from almost every filmmaker that the second film is tougher than the first film,” said Michelle Satter, director the feature film program at the Sundance Institute. “They often experience a lot of noise, a lot of meetings. It’s a difficult moment for a filmmaker to get creatively inside themselves. Most filmmakers want to do something more ambitious, maybe a bigger budget. They’ve had their first group of collaborators, but now they’re trying to navigate an entire industry.”

    Holmer is working on a screenplay with Saela Davis, her editor on “The Fits.” In the spring, as part of the FilmTwo Initiative, she participated in a screenwriting intensive with “Nashville” writer Joan Tewkesbury. Other creative and industry advisors to the fellows include Annapurna Pictures’ head of development,  Priya Swaminathan; Plan B Entertainment Co-President Jeremy Kleiner; and Netflix’s  director of content acquisition, Ian Bricke.

    “It’s very daunting to be a female filmmaker at this time,” said Holmer. “The idea of waiting eight years for my next film just isn’t sustainable. I want to build a career. It’s about every day saying, ‘This is what I want to do and I’m doing it. I’m here. I’m a director.’ ”

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  • Fifth Annual PBS Online Film Festival Features Two NALIPster Independent Films

    Posted by on July 09, 2016


    PBS announced the 25 films that will be part of the fifth annual, Webby Award-nominated PBS Online Film Festival on July 11-29, 2016. NALIPster filmmakers Evan Apodaca and Eli Jimenes are among those featured in this year’s Festival for their films Que Lejos Estoy and Capoeira.

    Beginning July 11, the festival will be available via PBS and station digital platforms, including, YouTube and PBS social media channels. The films will also be available via the PBS app on iOS, Android, Apple TV, Roku and FireTV devices.

    Viewers are encouraged to watch, vote and share their favorite film by going to The film with most votes will receive the “PBS People’s Choice” award.

    Additionally, for the first time ever, viewers can vote for their favorite film by logging onto their Facebook or Twitter account and sharing their favorite film titles using the #PBSolff. For updates on the festival, follow #PBSolff on Twitter.

    Check out the NALIPster films and vote!

    Que Lejos Estoy


    The PBS Online Film Festival showcases powerful and engaging stories from filmmakers across the country. The festival has become a popular annual online event, attracting more than 1.5 million video streams over the first four years, as well as nominations in the Webby Awards.

    “PBS and its member stations are proud to be the home for independent filmmakers and to provide a platform for diverse voices to showcase their unique stories and talent,” said Ira Rubenstein, Senior Vice President and General Manager, PBS Digital. “Through the PBS Online Film Festival, we are giving a national audience the opportunity to watch 25 engrossing, high-quality independent films on-demand and, for the first time, vote for their favorite film through social voting.”

    PBS, with 350 member stations, offers all Americans the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television and online content. Each month, PBS reaches nearly 100 million people through television and nearly 33 million people online, inviting them to experience the worlds of science, history, nature and public affairs; to hear diverse viewpoints; and to take front row seats to world-class drama and performances. PBS’ broad array of programs has been consistently honored by the industry’s most coveted award competitions. Teachers of children from pre-K through 12th grade turn to PBS for digital content and services that help bring classroom lessons to life. PBS’ premier children’s TV programming and its website,, are parents’ and teachers’ most trusted partners in inspiring and nurturing curiosity and love of learning in children. More information about PBS is available at, one of the leading dot-org websites on the Internet, or by following PBS on Twitter, Facebook or through our apps for mobile devices. Specific program information and updates for press are available at or by following PBS Pressroom on Twitter.


  • Aubrey Plaza, Rita Moreno, and Tony Plana Took Over the Home of the Oscars to Honor Latinos

    Posted by on July 02, 2016


    For the past 17 years, the National Association of Latino Independent Producers has been gathering the most prominent voices in Latino media and offering a chance to newcomers to interact with them and feast on their knowledge and expertise. While this event, known as the NALIP Media Summit, is always held in a professional environment, this year the organizers stepped up their game and packed the Dolby Ballroom and its adjacent spaces with hundreds of Latinos content creators.

    Instead of your Angelinas, your Brads, and your Meryls, the halls were invaded by Juan Joses, Ritas, and Justinas, and the sounds that permeated the venue were a blend between English and Spanish in the most organic way. For most of us, NALIP is like an impromptu reunion where people get to catch up in between sessions and share their side hustle with others in similar circumstances. The hardships of creating content in what’s still a difficult industry to navigate become more tolerable surrounded by such a huge support network. At NALIP we are all basically primos, with different accents and shades, but primos nonetheless.

    If you make it through the three days and still have energy for one last parranda, the summit culminates with the Latino Media Awards, where a group of talented overachievers in the community are recognized in front of their peers. “The home of the Oscars is today the home of Latinos,” said NALIP’s Executive Director Axel Caballero during his opening remarks. The symbolic importance of this fact was reciprocated with whistling, cheers, and clapping from an enthusiastic audience that understood how crucial it is to think of our creators as being on the same level as those praised by the mainstream. That night the Dolby was Latino: cumbias, reggaetón, and rancheras included.

    LMA_awardees.jpgJohn Sciulli/Getty Images for NALIP

    “We are here and we are here to stay, and not only that but we are here to change the industry,” continued a visibly moved Caballero, whose leadership has been hailed as a defining factor in the growth and visibility the organization has achieved in recent years. Panels that ranged from Latinos in festival programming and film criticism to those revolving around new technologies and platforms prove that Latino content creators are occupying every space possible whether the rest of the industry has noticed or not. “I know that today and tomorrow you will create with us,” he concluded, alluding to the resources and programs that NALIP offer year-round for its members. His passionate speech was followed by singer-songwriter Irene Diaz who performed a couple of mellow tunes as guests dug into their food.

    Each of the award recipients delivered strong messages about the importance of community and the Latino narrative on screen. Honorees included Puerto Rican actress Aubrey Plaza (Life After Beth, Parks and Recreation), Argentine director Juan Jose Campanella (The Secret in Their Eyes, Son of the Bride), Brazilian actress Alice Braga (Queen of the South, City of God), Cuban actor Tony Plana (El Norte, Ugly Betty), and Time Warner Foundation’s Lisa Garcia Quiroz.

    Lisa Garcia Quiroz on NALIP’s Unique Role

    I am blessed to work at a company of storytellers. The DNA of Time Warner is to tell the stories, but when I came into this job about 11 years ago it became evident that we weren’t really world’s stories and that when I asked around and said, “Where are the stories of Latinos, where the stories of African Americas, where are the stories of people abroad,” this was something that the company was just beginning to explore. Our journey at the foundation was to actually move hand in hand with the company and to our best to identify the best cultivators of talent in the US. Naturally went to places like Sundance, Tribeca, Film Independent, but we also came to NALIP because it is the only organization entirely devoted to Latino storytellers.

    Lisa Garcia Quiroz on Owning Our Narrative

    If the political diatribe isn’t an example of how we as a community must own our narrative, there is no other time that will prove that more than now. We are 57-million strong, we are the largest ethnic minority group on this country, but are nowhere near as represented in the media as we should be. I know, our foundation knows, Axel knows, we all know, that great Latino talent exists but needs the doors to be open, needs the resources, needs the support, and the help of each and every one of us here in this room to open doors for you.

    aubrey_speaking.jpgJohn Sciulli/Getty Images for NALIP

    Aubrey Plaza on Lupe Ontiveros

    I feel like I don’t deserve this award yet, but I’m so honored. Thank you so much for having me. It’s so cool to get an award in the name of Lupe [Ontiveros]. She was such a badass. For so long she was subjected to playing stereotypical roles, but she always transcended them and she always play her parts with such depth and nuance. I can only hope that I will do that as I go. I will try to that for her.

    Aubrey Plaza on People Not Believing She Is Boricua

    I’m so grateful to be part of the NALIP family and thankful to receive this award from an organization that continually makes efforts towards for advocacy and advancement of diversity in media. I’m proud to join the cause, and I’m proud to be part of this community. I dedicate this award to my family, my culture, and this beautiful community that I’m a part of. It’s yet another thing that I can use to prove to everybody that I am Puerto Rican. That’s where I got my crazy shit from. People have to recognize that and I will continue to accept any award that allows me remind people, “You must recognize that this is what’s up, and we are to stay and we are going to fuck some shit up.

    juan_speaking_.jpgJohn Sciulli/Getty Images for NALIP

    Juan José Campanella on Feeling Like an Outsider

    I feel like the new kid on the block here. Everyone has worked together and loves each other, and I’m the newcomer here. I don’t know if I should speak English or Spanish, if everyone speaks Spanish except for one or two people. It’s when Spanish-speaking people get together and someone brings their girlfriend who speaks English and everybody has to speak English. Thank you for this award, it surprised me when they told me very much. I have worked in Argentina and the United States extensively but I always consider myself to be a little bit of an outsider here and I wanted to thank NALIP for correcting that.

    Alice Braga on Brazilians Being Latinos

    I’m Brazilian and a lot of people say, “Brazilians aren’t Latino” but we are Latinos! Thank you for bringing more awareness to our talent and being on this stage for me tonight is really special because of that. I really would like to thank NALIP because it’s an association that I really admire especially because of the workshops and all the investment into people that are struggling to make their projects happen. I think all of us know how hard it is and how lonely it is for all of us to achieve what we want.

    alice_braga_speaking.jpgJohn Sciulli/Getty Images for NALIP

    Rita Moreno on Tony Plana’s Legacy in the Film Industry

    This is a man that has advanced the visibility and capabilities of the Latino community for the past 40 years challenging stereotype after stereotype and changing the face of and narrative for how characters can be constructed and who can end up portraying tem. When we think of lifetime achievement we automatically think about someone who has achieved a high level of success, someone who has made a lasting impact in this industry, someone whose name is considered timeless and legendary, well Tony Plana represents that and so much more. This is a man who has taken success as an actor and director and applied to helping enrich the lives of those who hope to reach great heights also, volunteering as a spokesperson for comprehensive immigration reform, and using his powerful storytelling powers to raise the voice of a community that longs to be heard.

    Tony Plana on Half-Time Achievement Awards

    This is my third lifetime achievement award. I guess they are trying to say goodbye and I’m not listening. All these lifetime achievement awards are going to be changed to “Half-Time Achievement Awards” because, just like Rita, we are not done. I’m so thankful because whenever you receive a lifetime achievement award, whether you like it or not, you have to reflect on where you come from and what you have accomplished. This year is 40 years since my first paycheck, and you will laugh because it was 900 dollars in 1976 and I guest-starred on a show called What’s Happening! …. In those 40 years I’ve played every Latino stereotype except for the pregnant teenager, but being a character actor I’m ready for that challenge.

    Tony_and_Rita_speaking.jpgJohn Sciulli/Getty Images for NALIP

    Tony Plana on Being Mistaken for Other Actors

    When you go into Latino communities people know you are an actor but a lot of them don’t know who you really are, so I’ve gotten very bizarre recognition moments. Like when someone came up to me and said, “Excuse me but are you George Lopez?” and I said, “Yeah, maybe after Weight Watchers.” But I did have a very good experience when someone came up to me and said, “Excuse me but are you Antonio Banderas?” and then I had a very different reaction. I just stood there and soaked it in. I enjoyed the moment and I finally said, “Yes, what can I do for you?” [Spanish accent].

    Tony Plana on His Immigrant Parents

    When I think back I think about the fact that I’m an immigrant.I came here when I was 8-years-old. My parents sacrificed everything for freedom, for a change for me to do what I’m doing now, I don’t think that I would have that kind of love to sacrifice so much for my children. They gave up their lives, and you only get it once. I want to honor them tonight. They are here. They are not here physically, but they are here.

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  • 3 of Latin America’s Top Directors Share Their Secrets to Getting Films Made

    Posted by on July 02, 2016


    Filled with insightful knowledge about the filmmaking craft, bilingual humor, and lots of truth bombs, the Directors’ Master Class organized by the National Association of Latino Independent Producers was one of the best sessions at this year’s NALIP Media Summit. Three of Latin America’s most successful directors, all of which have made films in their home countries and in Hollywood, dissected their careers and shared some of their most intimate experiences with an eager audience.

    For over an hour, Oscar-winning Argentine auteur Juan José Campanella (The Secret in Their Eyes, Son of the Bride), Venezuelan storyteller Jonathan Jakubowicz (Secuestro Express, Hands of Stone), and Mexican powerhouse Patricia Riggen (Under the Same Moon, The 33) candidly dished about influences, obstacles, and the joys of directing. The conversation was moderated by Guadalajara-born filmmaker Fernando Lebrija (Sundown).

    From the on-screen stereotypes which fuel the negative images of Latinos that Trump has infamously popularized, to the tribulations female directors encounter in a field crowded with male voices and sexism, and even the political implications of making a film that doesn’t sit well with authoritarian regimes — the wisdom shared by the illustrious panelists made for an unforgettable event.

    With no clear trajectory to achieving a successful career, filmmaking is one of the most improbable professions out there. These three storytellers know that sometimes the hurdles become almost too much to bear, so they shared their secrets to taking a vision that starts on paper to its completion.

    Here are some highlights from the impassioned conversation.

    Campanella on Growing Up Loving Movies More Than Futbol

    The director inside me rose without me knowing it. I was maybe the only Argentine that is not crazy about soccer and when I was a kid there were movie houses in every neighborhood, there was no VHS, but there were two or three movie houses in my neighborhood that had a different double bill everyday, so we went to the movies a lot. One day I went to see All That Jazz, I was studying engineering, and it’s one of those experiences that you remember everything about the day because that’s when I decided that I had to study [filmmaking].

    Riggen on Growing Up as a Mexican Girl

    I was born and raised in Guadalajara and at the time there was no film school there, as a Mexican girl my mom didn’t let me go anywhere [else] to school. She was like, “Choose whatever you want in Guadalajara. You are not going anywhere [else].” So I chose Communication Sciences because it had one semester of film in the fourth year.

    Jakubowicz on Going from Journalism to Dealing with Harvey Weinstein

    I went to university for journalism in Venezuela. In the summer, I did a course at the New York Film Academy. Then after I graduated from university in Venezuela, I went to the Masters Program at UT Austin. It’s a three year program, but I only did one year because during the summer vacation of that year I went home to make a short film on a kidnapping, and the guys who were playing the kidnappers told me, “What the hell is a short film? Isn’t this a movie?” So that became Secuestro Express. It wasn’t a flop. [audience laughs] The movie became very successful in Venezuela especially, and then I was lucky enough to premiere here at the AFI Film Festival. Harvey Weinstein saw it and ended up releasing it worldwide.

    Director Juan Jose Campanella. Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for NALIP

    Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for NALIP

    Campanella on His Two Forgotten Flops

    [When] I started working in the United States my first two films were huge, huge, huge flops. They may be the only two films in American history that never came out on DVD. I’m almost positive. Then I went back to Argentina in 1999 and I made my movie there, the movies that I wanted to make. That got me here.

    Jakubowicz on What He Learned in Film School

    What I did learn in school was definitely helpful, especially in building confidence. I think at the end of the day when you are directing and you are behind the camera, if you didn’t go to school you are probably thinking, “I wish I had gone to school cause I would know how to do this,” but when you went to school you know they are not going to teach how to do this. At least you know it’s not because you didn’t go to school that you don’t know.

    Campanella on the Movie He’s Always Been Trying to Make

    It’s a Wonderful Life is the movie I’ve been trying to make. In my movies you can see from inspiration to plagiarism of It’s a Wonderful Line.

    Jakubowicz on the Movie He Ripped Off

    I remember the time I said I wanted to be a filmmaker, it’s less poetic of a movie than Juan’s, it was Natural Born Killers. I remember walking out and seeing the entire audience rooting for the bad guys and I said, “This is what I want to do for a living.” Secuestro Express is my rip-off of Natural Born Killers. You are always imitating the things you like.

    Director Patricia Riggen. Photos by AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

    AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, Remezcla

    Patricia Riggen on Her First Cinematic Role Model

    When I met Mira Nair, it was the first time I saw a woman director and I was very impressed. “I want to be like her,” that’s what I thought. That’s why I do these things. Sometimes I’m very tired and I don’t want to go to the panels, but I always try to do it so that all the women out there see that there are other women that are doing this. I’m kind of a latecomer to film. I could have gone 10 years earlier if I had seen one. If I had seen one I would have known exactly what I wanted to do, but I never saw one so it never occurred to me. I just want more female directors out there.

    Jakubowicz on Working Alongside Robert Rodriguez

    I worked on Once Upon a Time in Mexico, in San Miguel de Allende. I was a PA, and it was great because I got to spy on Rodriguez. I was the worst PA in history because I was always looking at what he was doing. I was lucky that Rodriguez’s wife at the time was from Venezuela. She had seen a documentary I made and that’s how she invited me to be on set. Working with him was another film school in a way.

    Riggen on Wanting Other Women to Have a Chance at Directing

    I’m very prolific. I don’t know if I’m the best female director from Mexico, but I’m the most prolific fortunately. But I’m fighting for all these other women around me from Mexico, from Latin America, or from anywhere in the world to have the opportunity that thankfully I’m having.

    Jakubowicz on Why We Need to Declare a State of Emergency

    When I hear some people think that what Donald Trump says is not racist, I think it’s because they are reacting to the stereotype [they see]. Those are the Latinos they have been perceiving their entire lives because a lot of them haven’t met one. You see Donald Trump on CNN saying that and then you change the channel and you watch a movie where Latinos are doing exactly what he is saying. There is nothing wrong with telling those stories, but there are other stories. Because of the moment that we are living, when one of the two potential presidents of this country is so clearly going against this community, I think we need to declare a bit of an emergency and work on changing the stereotypes.

    Director Jonathan Jakubowicz


    Riggen on Using Trump as a Reason to Unite

    NALIP should make a call to all its members and find a way for all Latinos to unite because that’s really what we are missing and it applies to the film industry and our whole culture. The African American people have figured out how to make movies. They have their stars, not three but 30. They have a system. They have an audience. They come out and watch their movies. That’s why all the studios greenlight several African American movies every year in every studio. We haven’t been able to do that as Latinos, and it has to do with all of us uniting somehow. Maybe Trump will help us unite.

    Campanella on the Lack of US Latino Directors

    Look at this panel, the three of us were born and bred in a different country. I don’t consider myself part of a real community here because I think that the ones that are really having problems are people that were born here, that are American, and who have no country to turn to. This is their country and they are treated like a minority and different people. I am different. I make my movies somewhere else. I wouldn’t know what it is to grow up in East LA or [be] Tex-Mex. But I think that the fact that the three Latino filmmakers that are here were born in a different country tells you a lot about the state of the filmmaking community.

    Jakubowicz on Robert De Niro Being an Ally on Hands of Stone

    I dedicated seven years of my life to make this movie, the mentor during those years, believe it or not, was Robert De Niro. He was extremely close. At the beginning we went to him and we supposedly had a financier who was going to put the money and the financier didn’t have a penny. The movie fell apart, and I thought De Niro was going to leave but he called me. I thought he was calling me to tell me goodbye, and he called me to say, “I’m really worried about you because what just happened to you must be very tough. You have a movie with this cast and you worked on it for so many years and then it fell apart in pre-production.” He said, “Just know that I’m there. I’ll help you out it together. You should go to Panama and try to put it together. This movie is very important for the world but is for sure the most important movie in the history of Panama. Money has to have a reason to be invested in a movie, and in Panama you are more likely to find people with reason to put money in your movie.” I moved to Panama without a dollar and raised $24 million. De Niro worked very close on the script, he helped us raise the money, he wrote letters to the government of Panama, he hosted a dinner in New York for the president of Panama, he called John Turturro every day for a month until John said, “OK I’ll do the role.” It was really amazing how he became a mentor to me.

    Patricia Riggen and Eugenio Derbez on set of 'Miracles From Heaven'


    Riggen on Dealing With Latin American Actors’ Sexist Behavior

    When I did The 33 I had to cast 33 Latino men and I feel that some of those Latino actors not from the US still have a lot of issues with a woman giving them direction. That was a very painful process for me. It made me turn to my American Latino actors who have no problem.

    Campanella’s Advice to Young Filmmakers

    One shouldn’t make films thinking that you are making a film that’s going to be successful or the one that’s going to win the prize. It has always been the opposite for me. The films I thought were going to be hits were absolute failures, and the one that I felt we needed to save money on because nobody was going to watch it won the Oscar. “No one knows anything,” is the best phrase of them all. A producer said once that if he had said yes to everything he said not to, and no to everything he had said yes to, he would be in just about the same place. Do your best in every film, and also have “piel de rinoceronte.”

    Jakubowicz on Fighting the Idea That He Made a Hollywood Film

    All of our crew were Latinos. A lot of people think this is a Hollywood movie, but this is Latino movie with Hollywood guests.

    Riggen’s Advice to Women in the Industry

    Believe in yourself because no one is going to ever believe in you. You are the only ones that are going to believe in yourselves. Don’t let anyone make you feel that you are less, or that you are dumb, or that you have no talent, because you are more intelligent than men.


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  • Rita Moreno & the Cast of ‘One Day at a Time’ On Making Netflix’s First Latino Family Comedy

    Posted by · July 02, 2016


    Earlier this year, we learned that Netflix is dipping its toes into the Latino representation boom with a remake of Norman Lear’s revolutionary seventies sitcom One Day at a Time. Switching out the show’s original Italian-American single-parent household for a family headed up by a Cuban abuela and hardworking Cuban-American mom, the One Day at a Time reboot promises to take the original show’s boldly honest portrayal of modern womanhood into the 21st century, with a distinctly Latina twist.

    To give us a sense of what we can look forward to when the show finally premieres across Netflix’s global digital empire, the National Association of Latino Producers brought together showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett along with actresses Rita Moreno and Justina Machado as part of their NALIP Media Summit held in Los Angeles last week.

    Unfortunately, the team wasn’t able to reveal much in the way of plot details, but attendees were treated to a scene reading that had Moreno’s character laying down some authentic abuela logic (“I need to look nice in case I die in my sleep,”) before wading into a hilarious and thoughtful discussion about the show. And, as we can expect from Hollywood’s OG Latina spitfire, Moreno pulled no punches.

    Here are a handful of gems we plucked from the conversation, so you can feel like you were in on the action.

    Actors Rita Moreno and Justina Machado and writer Gloria Calderon. Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for NALIP

    Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for NALIP

    Gloria Calderón Kellett on Why She Chose a Cuban-American Family

    Because I’m Cuban. It’s really interesting because I have waited a very long time to write my family for this reason. I grew up in San Diego so I have a lot of my Mexicanas who are my family too, but we’re different. We’re all different. So they always come to me since they’re concerned about representation, and they want to get as many eyeballs as possible. And Cubans apparently don’t watch TV or something. I dunno. I just want to represent Latinos, and that’s the most important thing to me. I feel like the most authentic story I can tell would be mine. So I don’t want to dilute, I don’t want to insult somebody else’s thing when I can make fun of Cuban’s because I’m Cuban, and I can make fun of my mom and my cousins and my tío, because that’s my experience. So it just felt the most authentic for me.

    Rita Moreno on Drawing From Experience for Her Role

    There’s really a lot of me [in the character]. As long as it’s Latina, she’s got to be me. She’s a very opinionated lady, who’s very strong and powerful, she adores her family. That’s one of things that’s so special about this show is that it’s very authentically Latino, unlike some of those pathetic attempts that we’ve seen. And a good part of that is Gloria — Gloria is our head writer. I’m just doing my mami, I’m just doing my mami in the show.

    Justina Machado on Channeling Her Inner Latina Mother

    I just think growing up in the family that I grew up in, there was always so much warmth, so much love. And whenever we had parties — and I know every Latino knows this — the kids were there, and if they fell asleep you put them in the coat room. That’s if there’s coats. When you come from Chicago there’s coats. And then you have to go into the coatroom and be real quiet because there’s a kid in there. And when I got here, the separation of children and adults was very bizarre to me, it’s not the way that I grew up… So growing up in a family like that, always being around younger cousins, older people, the mother instinct just comes up.

    Rita Moreno on Co-Star Todd Grinnell

    Handsome, cute butt. De todo! I’m a dirty old lady, okay. It’s no news to them.

    Actors Rita Moreno and Justina Machado. Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for NALIP

    Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for NALIP

    Gloria Calderón Kellett on the Importance of Representation

    I feel like representation is everything. I grew up and Rita was the only Latina I saw on television and in the movies. And thank God it was somebody so incredible and so wonderful and that we could all look up to, but I just felt like I wanted more of that. And to watch shows like Growing Pains — and those are great shows, but I felt like, “Well that’s me, but they don’t look like me.” And then all you see is drug dealers and hoochie mamas, and I think it really does affect children to grow up and not see yourself represented.

    And beyond that I also hope that other people of all ethnicities will watch and go, “Oh, my family’s like that. That’s just like my family.” But we’re just different colors: different hair colors, different eye colors, that’s it. Because this is just about love, about people that love each other and care for each other and that’s it.

    Rita Morena on Casually Shooting the Shit With Dolores Huerta and Norman Lear

    I ran into Norman Lear at a Latino event, and we were sitting with Dolores Huerta, and he said: “There’s a show I’m going to do that I want very much for you to do.” That’s all I needed to hear. I didn’t know what it was, I had no idea. I said, “If it’s for Norman Lear…”

    First of all, that’s a goal I always had. I said, “Someday I’d like to work with Norman Lear.” And suddenly he’s now 93, I’m 84… Who would have thunk? I’m gonna say no to Norman Lear? Hazme el favor!

    'One Day at a Time' original TV show

    ‘One Day at a Time’ original TV show/Remezcla

    Justina Machado on Taping the Show in Front of a Live Audience

    I love it. But sometimes I have to remember that I’m doing a show too, because I feel like I have to entertain them all the time. So I’m like, “Oh we have to go back. They’re going to be bored!” No, they’re not going to be bored, they like this!

    So I love it, I come from the theater so I… That sounded so pretentious: “I come from the theater.”

    Rita: You’re only saying that because you’re Latina. Why should you not come from the theater, coño!

    Rita Moreno on Molesting Her Co-Stars

    Justina and I only molest the kids. We love them! We’re always kissing and hugging them!

    Justina Machado and Rita Moreno on Charo and Latina Role Models

    Justina: I love Charo.

    Rita: I don’t love Charo.

    Justina: But she was so funny!

    Rita: She did not do us any good, sorry. Actually, when I was a kid there were no role models. Nobody. Nobody! So Elizabeth Taylor became my role model and that was it. We had nobody.

    Rita Moreno on the Video Drone Circling Over Everyone’s Heads

    Are they taking videos of us? They want all your faces just in case, you know what I mean? That’s Donald Trump! He wants our names and our faces! Pendejo!

    Watch the video:


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  • Televisa Prexy Jose Baston Mulls Future TV, Telenovelas

    Posted by · July 02, 2016


    Seeking to make more U.S. Hispanic-targeted content, evolving the telenovela

    Televisa’s BastonTalks About The Future Of

    Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for NALIP

    Televisa is aiming to craft more U.S. Hispanic-targeted content and further adapt its telenovelas and other content to the fast-evolving multi-platform landscape, said Televisa prexy Jose “Pepe” Baston.

    “The U.S. Hispanic market is the most important one for us, after Mexico, and when you observe its rapid pace of growth, it has undoubtedly become the number one priority for Televisa’s content development business,” he told Variety. Televisa has a reported 35% stake in U.S. Hispanic media giant Univision, which plans to launch an IPO later this year, and has a long-term programming licensing pact that gives it exclusive U.S. broadcast and digital rights (albeit with some limitations) to Televisa’s telenovelas, sport programming, sitcoms, reality series, and feature films.

    This year, Televisa collaborated with NALIP, the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, to participate in a TV incubator program at NALIP’s four-day Media Summit, which wrapped June 26. The idea is to train, fund and develop content for Televisa and other participating networks, re-imagine current shows, said NALIP executive director Axel Caballero.

    Televisa producer and content innovation director Rosy Ocampo was on hand to serve as a mentor. “We hope the Latino ‘Empire’ comes out of this program,” said Caballero of Fox’s top-rated musical drama series.  “‘Empire’ is a telenovela,” Baston pronounced.

    “There have been stratospheric changes in the television business, and if you don’t evolve, you die,” said Baston who pointed out how new telenovelas no longer run for 160 episodes, if not half that or even less, to accommodate fast-changing viewer habits. As part of its Telenovela 2.0 strategy, Televisa has just unveiled a 16-episode telenovela, “Sin Rastro,” which will air for three weeks from Aug. 1. “Sin Rastro” (Without a Trace”) turns on a woman who vanishes just before her wedding and returns five years later to seize back the life she lost.

    While speaking at the NALIP Media Summit last Saturday, Baston summed up the conundrum facing today’s television industry: “Technology poses the biggest threat and the biggest opportunity,” he said. “It’s scary. We’re not only competing against other media but also user-generated content,” he added. Like counterparts worldwide, Televisa has invested in the latest technology from HD to 4K, and is creating content for a multi-platform universe.

    He sees Blim, the OTT streaming platform Televisa launched some three months ago, as a complementary offer to market leader Netflix, pointing to Televisa’s threefold advantage: the “biggest Spanish-language library in the world,” original local productions and a spectrum of promotional platforms in the vertically integrated company. “Our results for Blim have been higher than expected,” he said, while declining to specify subscription figures. Baston added that they were currently focused on fine tuning the search tools on Blim.

    While Televisa has been devoting more efforts to the digital sphere and seen high traffic from its partnerships with YouTube, Google, Facebook and other social media platforms as well as its second-screen applications, “The profits with non-lineal content are not there yet,” he warned. “We haven’t been able to truly monetize it yet.”

    But his faith in the power of the telenovela genre has not wavered. “A good telenovela will work everywhere,” said Baston. “It still delivers the best profit margins, the best returns and the best ratings.”

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