This Short Film Contest May Help Latino Directors Get Oscar Nominations

'Spark' short film

During the annual NALIP Media Summit, the National Assocation of Latino Independent Producers organized a showcase of short films and works-in-progress created by some of the organization’s members. Highlights from the selected works included Blast Beat by Colombian-American filmmaker Esteban Arango, Spark by Mexican-born director Juan Martinez Vera, and the documentary short Through the Wall by Chelo Alvarez. Following the screening, the two-hour event featured a lively discussion of the important role that short form content still plays in emerging careers.

Carter Pilcher of Shorts International moderated the panel and explained a new contest created by his company and the Hispanic Heritage Foundation: The Hispanic Heritage Short Film Award Competition. The two organizations formed a partnership for this initiative to help recognize the best short films by Latino filmmakers in the US.

Interested participants have until August 26, 2016 to submit a narrative live action short no longer than 40 minutes. One selected winner will be qualified to compete for the Academy Award for Live Action Short, along with $10,000 and a trip to Washington D.C. to see his or her film screened on September 22nd, the night before the Hispanic Heritage Awards.

Pilcher explained that the initial idea came after witnessing the difficulties experienced by the filmmakers behind the film Contrapelo, a Spanish-language short shot in Los Angeles by Mexican director Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer. With Shorts International’s help, the film gained visibility and eventually made it to the Academy’s ten-film Awards shortlist — just a step away from an official nomination. With that it became clear to Pilcher and his colleagues that US Latinos making films in Spanish have a hard time qualifying for an Oscar because they are often considered international.

Centered on the sometimes life-changing opportunities that a short film can bring emerging filmmakers, the conversation included John Bloom, Chairman of the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch of the Academy; filmmakers Carmen Marrón (Endgame) and Ricardo De Montreuil (La Mujer de Mi Hermano, Máncora); Charlie Gonzalez, Hispanic Co-Chair for Hillary Clinton; Monica Villarreal, Talent Manager; Ben Fast, Indigenous Media; and NALIP board member and talent manager Jairo Alvarado.

It’s a great time to make short films and the industry is eager for Latino content. As Pilcher noted, “If you want to be a really hot director you either have to be Hispanic or make a lot of short films.”

Here are some informative tidbits from this short-centric session.

Jairo Alvarado on the Business of “Show Me”

This is a business of “show me.” It’s no longer a business of “trust me.” I think that a lot of the time people are talking about, “What’s a diverse voice?” or “What does it mean to have a Latino story?” There is no more powerful way to answer than to show that. Shorts are a more attainable goal, to actually be able to do that on their own means, especially with today’s technology. I think NALIP wants to be at the forefront of that.

“Making a short film is a very valid and viable way to get some attention and begin the long process of breaking into the industry.”

John Bloom on Breaking Into the Industry With a Short Film

Making a short film is a very valid and viable way to get some attention and begin the long process of breaking into the industry. I say “the long process” because it never ends. Even now, as a filmmaker myself, you are always working on the next thing. So that’s just the nature of beast. But having an Oscar nomination is a good start. I’m fortunate to have had one myself back in 1983. I made a live action short and it got nominated. It got me in the Academy and is probably the reason I’m standing before you today.

Ricardo De Montreuil on How a Short Opened More Doors for Him Than Two Features

I shot my first film in Chile ten years ago and it was called La Mujer de Mi Hermano. It became a commercially successful film. It had wide distribution in Latin America and in the United States. At the time it was the biggest opening for a Spanish-language film in the States. At that point I thought, “I think I had a career now.” That really didn’t happen. I made my second film, Mancora, which was an Official Selection at Sundance Film festival. At that point I thought, “OK, now I’m going to have a career.” It didn’t happen. I was having trouble because those were two dramas and Hollywood wanted action.

Then I made a short film called The Raven five years ago, which was basically a chase sequence with a little bit of CGI. It went viral very fast. Literally, three days after I put it on YouTube I got a development deal from Warner and they said, “Don’t sell it. Mark Wahlberg wants to produce it and he is going to meet you on Monday.” Finally we sold it to Universal. They introduced me to Brian Grazer. Last year I made a film for Universal called Lowriders. It’s ironic how a short opened so many more doors for me than two features.

Carmen Marrón on Why She Wishes She Had Made a Short

I made a feature, I never met a short, but in hindsight I remember doing the festival circuit and I remember that there were so many doors that opened for the short filmmakers that I thought, “Gosh I should’ve made a short.” It took me five years, really almost close to seven, to make my feature. I thought, “If I would have made a short I would have started earlier.” Making a short for learning the ins and outs, the ropes, and really expressing yourselves without worrying about losing your livelihood, you don’t have to come up with a million dollars.

Charlie Gonzalez on Learning From Politics

The political life will teach a lot of things: it’s about networking, it’s about access, and it’s about who you know. You need a business plan too, but you need to know who you take that business plan to. You guys are creators of content, and content is king doesn’t matter what the medium is. If you are lucky enough to create something you still have to distribute it, get recognized, and it has to have value. That’s called inclusion in the big picture. That’s where I hope the advisory board will be able to assist in promoting short films. Short films are a means to and end, and it’s probably one of the most effective means to get to that end. That’s really about inclusion. Start with short films. Maybe that’s your whole career, but it may lead to other things weather you are the writer, the actor, or the producer.

Monica Villarreal on What Actors of Color Are Looking For In a Director

One of the things that we are seeing is that talent, for the most part, wants to have somebody that understands and is supporting the stories that they want to tell. Often times in the material that’s out there they are not often seeing fully 360 degree authentic human beings, and what we are finding is that it matters to have a director that is making and creating content that is resonating with the images and the words that they signed up to be an actor for.

When you look at someone like Alfonso Gomez-Rejón, who did Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and was a Sundance darling. There was so much buzz behind that movie. What we saw was there was an infrastructure set up at a place like Sundance that supported this person that made a movie. It was just about telling a wonderful story and leading from a place that really resonated with people from a human standpoint. That’s what actors of color are looking for too, but for some reason there is a blockage somewhere and things just aren’t connecting.