NALIP 2010: 'Navigating in a Sea of Change'
Latin people...we are very expressive, we like to talk about our work with much energy. We enjoy hearing about our achievements or our struggles. In the entertainment media, it is relatively difficult for everyone-hence, the name of this year's National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) conference: "Navigating in a Sea of Change," which fits perfectly with what took place during the weekend of April 9 through 11.
NALIP was launched in 1999 to help improve Latino representation across all entertainment fields. This year's goal was to keep encouraging Latino creators during difficult times. More than 550 registrants came, not only from the US, but from Canada, the Netherlands, Dominican Republic and other countries.
Registration began on Friday, and morning sessions included a glimpse of what would happen next, with sessions for producers and writers. By noon, delegates had a formal welcoming by CNN journalist Soledad O'Brien, writer/producer Roberto Orci and NALIP conference co-chairs Alexis Garcia, Peter Murrieta and Margarita de la Vega-Hurtado. After lunch, there was an opening plenary entitled "What Works Now," initiating the spirit of this year's conference, and then...the fun began: Networking breaks, conversations with network executives, pitch sessions and "one on one" meetings with key personalities. Of course, there was music at night, following presentations of the projects of "Nalipsters on View" and the screening of the Sony picture Mother and Child, written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, who was present for Q&A.
Attendees, including dedicated documentarians, had a great time with workshops, networking and mentoring from key industry people. Delegates described the experience as unique, not just because of the opportunities to meet well known people but because of the inspiration they were taking home.
An important day for documentary creators was Saturday. For the workshop "Anatomy of a Documentary," Greg Rhem, executive from HBO, and Argentinean Nicolas Entel, director of Sins of My Father, talked about all stages for producing and selling a documentary. Entel earned the 2010 NALIP Estela Award, which honors emerging and talented Latino/a filmmakers whose achievements show leadership, creativity and tenacity, as well as vision and passion for their craft. In the workshop, he shared how he worked on his documentary with Pablo Escobar's son and all the challenges he faced during those five years of work. But he is one of the lucky ones, because besides getting subsidized by Colombian and Argentinean governments, his film will air in the US on HBO and in Latin America on Discovery, as well as on channels in the UK, France and Spain. Entel shared that even with the fact that the economics of documentaries don't work as we want them to (which is why he also produces fiction media), that is a price he is willing to pay in order to make documentaries, "because I am the happiest in the entire universe when I am somewhere in the third world. I just finished my day of work on a documentary and I sat down for a beer at the creepiest bar in the world--that's when I am the happiest."
Following that workshop, participants moved to a session in which an evaluating panel of executives from Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB), Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), and Independent Television Service (ITVS) gave attendees some very constructive criticism. Some samples: "I didn't understand the central story"..."You created heat but no light"... "Keep it clean enough that PBS could air it"..."Your job is to try to get the audience to care"... "Don't use musical montages more than it needs to; let's get to the story." Angela Palmer, director of digital content and talent development at CPB, attends many NALIP events and sees different versions of those projects. "What I can say is that when you see them next time, they've taken the advice and it's always much better," she noted. Kathryn Galan, NALIP's executive director, agreed, adding, "This year the level of professionalism of the filmmaker was even higher, and there was another level of creation and dissemination of their stories. While last year this was an idea, this year we see inspiring successes of documentary and narrative makers that are working in that platform, that are creating, that are finding audiences, that are raising money, as a companion or as an alternative to standard broadcast and theatrical release. And I think that that's going to continue."
One example of how an attendee has benefited from this conference is filmmaker Tricia Creason-Valencia. She participated in NALIP in 2008, and this year she is participating in the Latino Media Market, in which selected people have the opportunity to submit proposals, budget, footage or other material for a completed project for distribution or an unfinished one for development. Funders have pre-selected participants because they are interested in their projects, and Creason-Valencia says, "They [NALIP] set so many meetings for me with funders. I can say from my experiences here, what [NALIP] does is help me build relationships with people that can help me with my project." And they have: She has landed a job teaching film, and she participated in the Latino Producers Academy and PBS production academy.
The early birds who could make it to the final Indie Link session on Sunday morning had a chance to meet with filmmakers Mitchell Teplitsky and Trish Lopez, who discussed fundraising and distribution. The closing plenary session featured a group of inspiring filmmakers who shared with everyone how they are navigating the sea of change. Beginning with the poor statistics of Latino presence in entertainment--2.5 percent in DGA, for example-director/producer Jesus Treviño argued that the reason why we have no presence "is because we ourselves have to hire Latinos behind the scenes." The filmmakers continued with the example of actress/producer Ruth Livier, who hired her friends and is working in the next season of an Internet series. Feature filmmaker Nestor Miranda told his story about how a big company was ready to start on his idea during the rising time of J-Lo and Ricky Martin. But then that same company released the infamous Chasing Papi, and didn't continue with his project. So, he took the lead and started to do it himself. "I just had to tell my story," he said. "My best advice is [that when you make it], pay it forward." Director Betty Kaplan noted, "Today you can do anything with technology," and gave the example of Ataque de Panico, a science fiction short that was made with $300. The filmmaker, Fede Alvarez of Uraguay, posted it on YouTube, and a couple of months and hundreds of thousands of views later, he was offered a $30 million deal with a Hollywood studio to direct a feature-length film, produced by Sam Raimi.
The finale of the NALIP Conference was a very emotional participation from all registrants presents sharing their weekend's experiences. "Ya no tenemos que pedir permiso [We don't have to ask permission to show our stories]," said one participant. Others took the opportunity to keep marketing their film or throwing ideas for next year's event. Isabel Cuevas, who has already won prizes for her short film In the Name of Freedom, was a "Nalipster on View" this year. Tearfully, she said, "It's been honestly the best business experience that I've ever had in the last decade. I think every filmmaker needs to be here...They put us in front of people every hour, people that you would [have] dreamed to be in front of, and they are accessible and they give us such amazing panels, workshops. And after the panels you can meet them and have a little talk, so that when the time is right they remember you." She was also very excited of having met people like actress/activist Lupe Ontiveros or Alex Nogales, CEO of National Hispanic Media Coalition, who shared their journeys and their struggles. "They have done a lot for us, and just hearing how hard it was for them, and they made it, inspires me," Cuevas exclaimed.
Rossy Eguigure is a writer, producer and Hispanic media consultant based in Los Angeles.