The Latino Lens

The National Association of Latino Independent Producers comes to town, allowing Tucsonans to preview a PBS series

This weekend, more than two dozen mid-career Latino producers and directors are bringing their projects to town to be critiqued by established professional Latino filmmakers. And that's not the only reason this is a good time to be a Latino filmmaker, according to the head of the organization that's sponsoring the event.

"The market is becoming a bit more accessible and responsive to true independent films, and that's good for all of us," says Kathryn Galán, executive director of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP). "Independent voices, small films, intensely personal, provocative and distinguished films can be financed, they can be discovered, and they can be appreciated by audiences. There's also absolutely an interest in Latino subjects and a Latino voice in the culture--you see that with American Family, Raising Victor Vargas, and that'll be followed up with the release of The Motorcycle Diaries."

Austin-based Hector Galán--no relation to Kathryn--has been a producer for 25 years, and he says things are much easier than when he was starting out. "In the early '80s, it was very difficult for me to try to persuade national production entities to do Latino-themed programming," he says. "I can remember trying to persuade producers at WGBH in Boston or in New York to look at Latino issues, and it was almost like a perplexing question: Latinos? Hispanics? Who are they?"

Today, PBS stations like WGBH certainly know who Latinos are, and they know all about Hector Galán, too. His new, six-part series on Latino art and culture in the United States, Visiones, will air on PBS stations across the country (including Tucson's KUAT-TV) in September and October. You can get an advance look at the series' first three half-hour episodes at 8 p.m. this Friday, Aug. 6, at the TCC Leo Rich Theater. There will also be a Q&A session with Galán and other participants, and Latino comedian Joey Medina will open the free show.

That's the only part of this NALIP Producers Academy that will be open to the public. The rest of the event is an intensive, invitation-only gathering for mid-career Latino producers working on new projects.

"This week will further those projects and put the producers in the room with other industry professionals, to help them develop that network of relationships that can help them get that next actor, that piece of funding or that distribution deal to secure their success," explains Kathryn Galán. The event is expected to involve 35 producers, about as many instructors, 14 actors and eight Tucson-based theater directors who will preside over staged readings.

Hector Galán says the biggest problem he faces today, as an established producer, isn't getting funding or distribution, but deciding whether to make documentaries in Spanish targeted specifically at Latinos, or in English for the general market. "I think we can do both," he says.

In the six half-hours of Visiones, Galán and his team of independent producers cover the Latino muralist movement of the 1960s, Tejana musician Selena, Santero artisans from New Mexico, Teatro Campesino, the Virgin of Guadalupe as a Latina icon, ballerina Evelyn Cisneros, the Taco Shop Poets of San Diego, Afro-Cuban music of Miami, Tucson-born musician Lalo Guerrero and much more. "You'd be surprised how much you can squeeze into a half hour," says Galán.

The series was in production for four years, with separate producers documenting Latino artists all over the country and digging up archival material to put new work into its historical context.

If the series demonstrates anything, Galán suggests, it's that Latino culture is incredibly diverse, not something monolithic and unified that supports easy generalizations.

"And obviously this is an American experience," he says. "It's how we come to assimilate, how we bring our own culture into this vast melting pot, but it's also how we try to stay true to our particular kinds of expression. A lot of it is rooted in movements of social change and artistic expression in the 1960s. Today, a lot of the younger artists borrow from that, but they're a separate generation and not as connected to the old country as we were. Some don't even speak Spanish. So it's a whole new mode of expression that's unique and different from the art you find created in Mexico."

Galán says he's especially looking forward to screening three of the episodes live in Tucson. As a television producer, he almost never has any direct response from an audience. "We tried to stay consistent with our style and not be too avant-garde, but the series has very tight editing, and it's visually very exciting," he says. "We pushed it to the limit, and I want people to tell me what they think of it."