OKCine Latino Film Festival adds a student film program in its third year 

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Rogelio Almeida polled his students, asking them to name some of their favorite films. Addressing a room full of teenagers, he didn’t expect to hear many Leonard Maltin picks.

“I was thinking they were going to say Captain America: Civil War or some of the more popular films, but no,” Almeida told Oklahoma Gazette. “They’re ages 14-18 and these people were saying names like Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, No Country for Old Men.”

Almeida teaches film workshops to middle and high school students as a program of the OKCine Latino Film Festival, which is scheduled March 25 at CHK|Central Boathouse, 732 Riversport Drive. Though it’s the third annual Latino Film Festival, this is the first year of its free student film program.

The festival features local and international film submissions, including shorts from Mexico, Spain, Portugal, Colombia and Brazil. This year’s event also has a special section for the films produced in the student workshops. After the shorts screen, the students will be available for a Q&A session.

In February, the students met for workshops and filming on four consecutive Saturdays at Oklahoma City Community College’s Capitol Hill Center. Pamphlets advertising the new program were sent to several primarily Hispanic schools. As a result, its participants arrived from Harding Fine Arts Academy, Newcastle Public Schools, Santa Fe South Schools, Capitol Hill High School, Northwest Classen High School and Dove Science Academy.

Program participation is voluntary. The young filmmakers are excited to perfect their craft, often staying for longer than the time allotted.

“Sometimes they just want to keep going and it’s hard to get them out of there,” Almeida said. “They’re eager to learn.”

Film culture

Latin American cinema encompasses more than subtitled features and foreign films available to art house audiences. Latino cinema is popular cinema.

In 2013, Mexican directors dominated the box office. Guillermo del Toro, most famous for the Spanish-language modern classic Pan’s Labyrinth, wowed audiences with the equally fanciful — but very different — blockbuster Pacific Rim. The majestic space thriller Gravity won high praise for director Alfonso Cuarón.

Alejandro González Iñárritu arguably rose to the rank of Hollywood’s best and most celebrated director with the releases of Birdman, 2014’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture, and The Revenant, which won three of its 12 Oscar nominations in 2015. Most recently, Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s Kennedy biopic Jackie’s star Natalie Portman won several 2016 acting awards for the film.

These films were not only exceedingly popular and successful; they show Latino filmmakers thriving in realms beyond the stereotypes.

Almeida, a filmmaker himself, was a driving force behind the first Latino Film Festival three years ago. Over the past two years, he noticed that the event needed more local submissions. He worked with the Historic Capitol Hill board, the festival sponsor, to introduce the educational program and foster new local talent that might one day join in the great lineage of Latino filmmakers.

“I saw the need and the necessity to have our Hispanic voices heard in the state,” he said. “There’s a big growing community of Latinos. I know there are a lot of Latino filmmakers out there; we just need to get them out all together to come to the film festival.”

Sharing experience

Almeida was raised in Mexico but moved with his family to Duncan when he was 15. After graduating high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was deployed in Iraqi combat tours in 2003 and 2005.

After his time in the Army, Almeida returned to Duncan and found himself attending Trail Dance Film Festival, an annual event held in the south-central Oklahoma community. He always loved movies, but at the festival, Almeida was able to talk with filmmakers in person and became fascinated with the idea of making his own shorts.

Almeida soon enrolled in Oklahoma City Community College’s film program. At that time, he also directed his first feature-length film, Yveete, a reverse immigration story about a Mexican-American teen who goes to live with her grandmother in Mexico. The film debuted at a festival in his Mexican home state, Zacatecas.

In 2015, years after graduating from OCCC, he worked with Historic Capitol Hill to launch the first Latino Film Festival, partly to provide a film outlet for the city’s growing Latino population.

Almeida now runs its educational program with the help of fellow instructor Victor Caballero. All student-created projects must contain Hispanic or Latino cultural themes. Participants come in with varied experience in filmmaking, but Almeida said part of the program’s goal is to give youths a well-rounded experience in the short amount of time they have together.

“It’s kind of a crash course on storytelling, writing, acting, cinematography, editing and sound,” he said.

Almeida also wants the students to learn more than just how to make a movie. He tries to impress onto the young filmmakers the importance of being resourceful and thinking outside the box. Both are skills that should pay life dividends even if they never pick up another camera after workshops end.

“You can always learn to be technical,” Almeida said, “but being creative is the major aspect of it.”

Visit historiccapitolhill.com.

Print headline: Scene setters, OKCine Latino Film Festival adds free educational programming in its third year.

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