The third annual Cine Latino Film Festival entertained a filled UCO CHK Central Boathouse Saturday evening.
It revealed the talents of many Oklahoma City filmmakers, actors and actresses.
A new feature of the festival this year was the addition of work by local youth filmmakers, the product of workshops held weeks before.
Organizers and those who helped start the festival three years ago were excited about the growing strength of the festival.
Rogelio Almeida told Free Press that the festival is “my baby.”
He said three years ago he had the idea of starting a new Latino Film Festival for Oklahoma City.
“Me being a Latino filmmaker, I basically just wanted to open the door for the other guys, the next generation of filmmakers.”
At the time, he worked for Tango Public Relations, a south side firm that specializes in promoting businesses and events targeting Oklahoma City’s steadily growing Hispanic population.
They got behind his idea and helped him promote it. He said their goal was to “have a platform for Latino filmmakers so we can have our voices heard.” And now, the festival has become such an outlet.
He praised Oklahoma City’s deadCENTER Film Festival for their support and advice they have freely given from the start. Their 17th consecutive festival will be in June.
“I don’t know how we would have started this and kept it going without them, especially Lance McDaniel, their executive director,” said Almeida.
An added feature this year was youth-created film.
Almeida and another experienced local filmmaker, Victor Caballero, conducted a series of workshops for local youth who were curious about film production.
Twenty youth showed up for every session and eagerly jumped into the process. They were divided up into two groups that made one film each.
The demand was so high, the two expanded their sessions from four to six “because the kids just wanted to keep coming back,” said Almeida.
The two films the youth produced were “With Closed Eyes” and “Duct Tape Boi.”
Ricardo Marquez, one of the youth filmmakers from the OKC workshops, talked with Free Press about the whole experience of film production.
He said it was “a great experience” and that he was “totally” ready to do it again when he has the opportunity.
“It’s the first time for anything close to that. It was great,” said Marquez. “Rogelio and Victor were great. In the process, they helped us a lot.”
The Tango Public Relations firm, founded by Jorge and Brenda Hernández, has played a central role in the festival from the beginning. Almeida worked for them at the time he had the idea for the festival and they quickly bought in.
“It was very rewarding to see an event that is inspiring in young students to learn more about the art of filmmaking, acting, producing – it’s just wonderful,” said Jorge Hernández.
“Any time you put together an event that inspires the youth to stay in school, to learn more and to dream is worth doing.”
The festival had strong submissions from all over the world, but films produced in Oklahoma City had a special appeal.
Some also successfully competed with the international productions in the eyes of the professional jurors who chose which films would win awards.
One of Almeida’s films, “Anniversary,” won the Best Oklahoma Short Film Award.
“Carol” was his other entry. It received the Audience Choice Award by attendees who voted at the end of the evening.
The audience seemed impressed with the local actors who delivered convincing performances in the movie about a chance encounter of a hard-working immigrant living in the U.S. illegally and an autistic young man in search of his home.
The autistic man was portrayed by professional Oklahoma City actor Ben Richardson. But, several others in the film were first-time actors who came from the community.
Donna Cervantes, director of Calle Dos Cinco/Historic Capitol Hill, and Joe Cardenas, vice president for Arvest Bank both had key roles in the film and were crowd favorites.
Cardenas told Free Press that the role was challenging from the standpoint of understanding the “two challenges the characters had.”
He said that first there was the language barrier between Spanish and English.
“But then on top of that, there was the autism part of trying to communicate and trying to get information. Patience was a big thing,” Cardenas said.
Cervantes said she was humbled by the experience and wasn’t sure if she would ever do it again. Those in earshot disagreed and encouraged her go on with her acting.
Skyler Espinosa turned in a fun performance of a street-racing, gearhead Latina in “Sky: The Bounty Saga” by Victor Caballero. The cousins were born and grew up in Oklahoma City.
Caballero said that he got the idea for the film from its star actress.
In real life, she has been into cars since she was in early elementary school. She received a certificate in auto mechanics from Metro Tech when she was in high school.
“She actually drives, builds and does it all,” Caballero said about his cousin.
Espinosa confirmed that.
“I know how to drive them, I know how to break them, and I know how to fix them,” she said.
She said that she wasn’t too nervous about her first role in a movie because she trusts Caballero as a family member.
“I was comfortable because he is my cousin and I believe in his work. That, and I knew he would be patient with me, very, very, very patient with me,” Espinosa laughed.
Almeida said that next year he plans to continue with the youth workshops and to grow the festival even more.
“This has been my dream, to help the Latino filmmakers who want to showcase their work.”
Read more about the awards on the festival’s Facebook page.