The New York International Latino Film Festival (NYILFF), which runs August 13th through 19th, is the premier urban Latino film event in the country. Launched in 1999, the festival's mission is to showcase the works of emerging Latino film talent in the U.S. and Latin America, offer expansive images of the Latino experience, and celebrate the diversity and spirit of the Latino community.
Calixto Chinchilla, NYILFF's founder and Executive Director, is a 34-year-old second generation Latino of Puerto Rican/Honduran/Dominican descent from upper Manhattan. He came up with the idea for the festival while working on a short film of his own in college and recognizing a need for a platform for fellow Latino filmmakers and artists. Chinchilla created NYILFF to support them, as well as develop audiences for their work.
“The Latin population was exploding in 1999, and we were asking how we could get control over our images before somebody else did. We wanted a stake in how we were represented in the media,” says Chinchilla. “That was the fuel for the film festival.”
NYILFF has grown in prominence over the last 13 years, last year attracting over 25,000 attendees.
“We're similar to other film festivals like Tribeca and Sundance, but we're specific - we're targeting the second generation,” says Chinchilla. “We want this event to be diverse and reflective of Latinos in New York City and in this country.”
NYILFF kicks off with Filly Brown, the story of a tough L.A. street poet and aspiring rap artist whose life becomes a roller coaster when she tries to get her mother out of jail. This film is set for wide release this fall and was met with much acclaim earlier this year at Sundance - particularly for Gina Rodriguez's breakthrough performance as the title character. Edward James Olmos, Jenni Rivera, and Lou Diamond Phillips also have starring roles.
Because Chinchilla saw a need to support Dominican filmmakers, the festival also features Dominican Night. This year's selection is Elliot Loves, the moving story of a Dominican-American boy's life in two phases: as a young boy trying to bond with his young mother, and as a gay 21-year-old looking for love in New York City. Coming out in theaters this fall, this is the festival's first U.S. Dominican production.
The Girl Is In Trouble, from executive producer Spike Lee, will premiere at NYILFF. Starring Wilmer Valderrama and Columbus Short, this thriller is about a Lower East Side bartender who becomes entangled in a murder mystery involving a desperate woman, a missing drug dealer, and the scion of a powerful investment firm.
NYILFF features several other domestic films, as well as international features. Among the international selections are El Médico: The Cubatón Story, the true story of a Cuban doctor-turned-rapper whose communist ideals collide with his capitalist dreams, and Esperando a los Bitles, about the subculture of Beatlemania in Mexico.
The festival will close with the documentary Lemon, the story of Puerto Rican-Norwegian slam artist Lemon Andersen, who was born to drug-addicted parents, did time in prison, and won a Tony for his performance in “Def Poetry Jam on Broadway” - then lost it all and landed back in the Brooklyn projects. This film follows Andersen as he struggles and ultimately triumphs in reviving his artistic career.
One of Chinchilla's primary goals for NYILFF is to have these films be seen on the big screen, for distributors to see how audiences react to them and help them reach a wider audience, and to inspire more Latino talent to get involved in the film industry.
“We really want this to be a collaborative space where we can present the best that's out there,” says Chinchilla.