By Ricky Richardson, Contributing Writer

(Los Angeles, Ca.) – Academy Award®-nominated actor Edward James Olmos, founder of the Latino Film Institute, presented the Los Angeles International Film Festival (LALIFF), which featured both a virtual and limited in-person screenings for the 2021 edition that was held Wednesday, January 2 through Sunday, June 6, at the iconic TCL Chinese Theater.

LALIFF and the Tribeca Festival partnered as a celebration of their 20th anniversaries.

        This year’s program comprised of featured films, episodics, music, XR projects and short films, including those from LALIFF’s inaugural Latinx Inclusion Fellowship Series. The Fellowship, created to develop the extensive and inclusive opportunities for underrepresented groups within the Latinx community, selective five visionary Afro Latino directors (award- winning filmmaker Lorena Duran; writer and director Justin Floyd; award-winning filmmaker Kase Peña; director Monica Suriyage and artists, director Tamara Shogaolu.

Edward James Olmos with Volunteers. (Photo by Ricky Richardson)

        “As one of the first film festivals in the world to fully produce a virtual festival in 2020, we were overwhelmed by the support from the film industry and community for LALIFF and more importantly for our filmmakers,” said Edward James Olmos, co-founder of LALIFF. “We are committed to offer a platform to showcase the remarkable and diverse work of Latino voices, despite the current pandemic. We want to ensure that those voices are heard, that we create safe spaces online and in-person, and that our next generation of storytellers are inspired.”

        Diana Cadavid, LALIFF’s Artistic Director says “LALIFF was exciting at seeing the new content that was created this past year, as it definitely has been a period where filmmakers, musicians and artists have had to challenge themselves creatively to produce and complete their work. Like every aspect of society, the pandemic dramatically changed the way the film industry worked, and we believe it is important to be a platform that addresses this historic moment in time.”

        I couldn’t resist the opportunity to enjoy some buttery popcorn, state of the art sounds in an air-conditioned theater. I had the pleasure of being in the audience to see two wonderful films at the iconic TCL Chinese Theater.

        Fruits of Labor, directed by Emily Cohen Ibañez, United States/76 minutes/2021. The meaning of Fruits of Labor (to enjoy) the fruits of one’s labor (to benefit from) the results of one’s work.” This is a touching and heartfelt movie about a Mexican Americanteenage farm worker (Ashley Solis). The movie tells of her dreams and hopes of graduating high school, but ICE raids in her community threatens to separate her family, and she is forced to become the family’s breadwinner. Director Emily Cohen Ibañez presents an insightful documentary about Ashley as she navigates the hardships and joys of contemporary United States guided by the spirit world that lives in nature. The film pulls at the heart string movie goers as it makes the rounds of film festival circuit, SXSW, Chicago Latino Film Festival and the Latino International Film Festival to name a few.  

        Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It, Directed by Mariem Pérez Riera, United States/90 minutes/2020.

        Just mentioning Rita Moreno name conjures up greatness. Rita Moreno defies categorization. Rita Moreno has won a Peabody, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards. The documentary demonstrates Moreno’s talent and resilience as she broke barriers and paved the way for new generations of artists by refusing to be pigeonholed and fighting for Latinx representation in a variety of genres. The film interviewees include Norman Lear, Lin-Manual Miranda, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Morgan Freeman, Mitzi Gaynor, Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longoria, Justina Machado, Terrence McNally, and Chita Rivera.

        Overlapping with the days of the festival, LALIFF’s Industry Days is the festivals signature program designed to connect filmmakers and industry professionals including but not limited to Sales agents, buyers, producers, production executives, crafts people, financiers, festival programmers, film commissioners, film publicists and exhibitors for engaging conversations.

        LALIFF Music brought together phenomenal Latinx artists and music professionals to build a community of support, exploration, and celebration of the diverse art and sounds. Each evening of the festival featured both virtual and live performances. The Roosevelt Hotel was rocking during the live performance provided superbly by Chrisol, Cumbiaton, Mariposa Del Alma, Las Rakas and The Rodgar Band.

        The virtual concerts featuring the contagious sounds of Dawer X Damper, Neyva, Nosis, SVM, The Mexican Standoff and Victoria Elise enhanced their professional journey by reaching new audiences and attendees. I invite you to check out the above mentioned artist on Apple Music, Spotify, or YouTube, as well as the Instagram account of the respective musicians. Just remember to “groove/vibe responsibly.”

        One of the Summer’s most highly anticipated movie Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning, ‘In the Heights’ had its debut at LALIFF for a special screening Friday, June 4, 2021. The preview took place one week before the film premieres in theaters and on HBO Max. In the Heights was one of several in-person screening held during this year’s LALIFF.

        “We can’t wait to share this incredible film with our audience as part of this year’s festival,” says Edward James Olmos. “In the Heights celebrates the Latino culture and allows us to continue to support our mission of providing a platform of stories that are told by us and for us. We are equally excited to partner with such a renowned film festival like Tribeca and we know that this will be a partnership that will flourish over the years.

        “Congratulations to LALIFF on their 20th anniversary of extraordinary storytelling for Latino filmmakers, artists and visionaries everywhere. We celebrate this incredible partnership with a shared goal, to beautifully showcase diverse and underrepresented voices through the power of film,” said Robert De Niro, Actor, and Co-Founder of the Tribeca Festival.

        In the Heights is directed by Jon M. Chu and centers around the vibrant Washington Heights community and a bodega owned by Usnavi, who dreams about a better life. The film stars Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, Stephanie Biatriz, Dascha Polanco, singer Marc Anthony and Jimmy Smits.

        On a related note, a virtual book launch of In the Heights: Finding Home will take flight June 15, 2021. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quiara Alegría and Jeremy McCarter tell the story of the show’s humble beginning, from rehearsals in a bookstore basement to the Broadway smash (and soon- to- be-feature film!) that created an unbreakable community and a new kind of family for everyone involved.