Now With Less Edward James Olmos!

Independent Latino filmmakers invade Surf City

Think the only filmic Latino depiction of Orange County are the maids on TheO.C.and ArrestedDevelopment,the invisible Rosie and acerbic Lupe? You shoulda been in Huntington Beach last weekend, then, when about 600 Latinos stormed into the city's Hilton Waterfront Hotel for the annual National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) Conference. In a hotel where even the parking attendants are white, this conglomeration of naturally tanned writers, producers, directors and studio execs busted through panels on fund-raising, dealmaking, new technologies, and effective strategies for getting non-bandoliered Latinos on the big and small screens.

There weren't any of the caricatures Señor and Señora America have appointed as acceptable Latinos: no Gregory Nava, no George Lopez, no Salma Hayek. Mega-producer/NALIP board member Moctesuma Esparaza made an appearance in which he threw down such pearls of wisdom from the mountaintop as "If you're going to play the game, you need to play to win." Antonio Banderas' karaoke meltdown during last month's Oscars ceremony was much lampooned, and one Spanish producer described J-Lo's aesthetic no-no at the Grammys as "a bad Carol Burnett skit."

No, the people here were the NuevoVagos:the New Punks of Latino media. Power brokers with Powerbooks, people like Mylene Moreno—whose documentary RecallingOrangeCountyis an unflinching examination of the 2003 toppling of former Santa Ana Unified School District trustee Nativo Lopez and will come to the small screen later this year. Rebels like SeñoritaExtraviadadirector Lourdes Portillo, who was received by conference-goers like the grand dame she is.

At the NALIP conference, there was a palpable sense the glass ceiling of yore is finally crumbling. Numbers bandied about at the conference included a Latino purchasing power that will approach $1 trillion within three years, a median age of 26.7 and an 81 percent greater likelihood of seeing a movie on opening weekend than non-Latinos. Studio execs prowled for Latino talent like Newport Beach housewives outside Home Depot—not only were they asking for scripts and ready-to-shoot projects, but they were also saying porfavor.(Full disclosure: myself and Santa Ana native Sandra "Pocha" Sarmiento scored a deal with SiTV, a new Latino cable channel. It'll be a DailyShow-styleprogram hosted by a masked Mexican wrestler called AztecGoldwithLouChalibre.Applications for a brown-skinned Steven Colbert are currently being accepted).

But, as always, the biggest sparks flew when panelists broached the subject of public funding. The tension between maintaining true independence and sacrificing some autonomy for the largess of government grants has plagued Latino filmmakers for years: legend has it that the first NALIP gathering in San Francisco featured a shouting match between Nava and Edward James Olmos on the very subject. This time around, several producers expressed concern over a perceived recent slant to the right by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), noting that their newest initiative, "America at the Crossroads," funds documentaries dealing with 9/11.

KPFK program director Armando Gudiño questioned whether PBS' commitment to diverse programming was still intact given this development. Fabiola Torres, professor at Glendale City College, was more blunt: in a tersely worded question to CPB producer-relations director Angela Palmer, Torres asked, "How vulnerable are funds at CBP under the Bush administration?" Frankly, Palmer's reassurance that nothing would change would have been more comforting had she not begun her presentation with a joke about leaving all the money on a chair in the conference room and having it disappear.

Nevertheless, the NALIP conference buzzed, and its organizers vow a bigger and better event next year. And miracle of miracles: the only place Edward James Olmos' stern, pockmarked mug appeared was on the cover of a magazine splayed out on the shwag table.

 
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