Puerto Rican Cinema Is Alive and Thriving at This NYC Film Fest

Lead Photo: Behind of the scenes of 'The Vessel'
Behind of the scenes of 'The Vessel'
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Just a few years ago, the idea of an International Puerto Rican Heritage Film Festival could have been brushed off as a quaint nod to a proud ethnic community; but with film production booming on the island, the upcoming sixth edition of the showcase is shaping up to be something like a glamorous stateside coming out party for a very exciting generation of filmmakers. This year’s edition will run from November 9 – 13, and centers around nightly screenings at the newly minted Cinépolis Chelsea theater; but there’s much more to look forward to for celebrity watchers and industry up-and-comers alike.

On hand to receive a lifetime achievement award will be Lauren (Luna) Vélez, who is currently at the top of her game with a recurring role in How to Get Away With Murder, while actor JW Cortés of Gotham will accept the Humanitarian Award. Plus, a full day of workshops and panel discussions with industry insiders and avant-guard media makers like William D. Caballero will help form the next generation of Boricua creators to guarantee the fest’s relevance well into the future.

To kick off the five day showcase the IPRHFF has selected international festival sensation Antes que cante el gallo, which also turned into an unprecedented box-office hit when it premiered on the island back in September. The feature drama from husband-wife duo Arí Maniel Cruz and Kisha Tikina Burgos tells the story of a young country girl on the cusp of adolescence who is left to live with her grandmother after her mother leaves for the United States. The girl’s rebellious nature and pre-teen curiosity quickly put her at odds with her abuela, but things get thrown for a loop when her estranged father returns to town and awakens conflicted feelings of sexual attraction.

Another outstanding island production comes in the form of the spiritual drama The Vessel, directed by Cuban-American Julio Quintana and starring Martin Sheen. The Vessel tells the story of a Latin American seaside community stricken by tragedy when a tsunami takes the lives of the town’s schoolchildren. Years later, as members of the community continue to process the events, one survivor uses the wreckage of the fallen schoolhouse to build a mysterious structure that captivates the townspeople.

Finally, the Nuyorican experience will get its moment in the spotlight with Luna Vélez’s indie vehicle Adrift. Helmed by young Dominican-born director Christopher James Lopez, Adrift takes us into the dark underbelly of the suburban dream with the story of Cecilia Fernandez: a dedicated mother fighting desperately to save her son from the heroin trade, and sacrificing her own relationships in the process. When her son finds himself in the crosshairs of one of Long Island’s top kingpins, Cecilia’s left with no choice but to fight back.

The International Puerto Rican Heritage Film Festival runs November 9 – 13, 2016. Check out the entire lineup here.