Brooklyn nonprofit HITN works every day in their studios at the Navy Yard to produce quality educational television for the local Hispanic community — and now, for the second year in a row, they’re branching out to film, seeking entries from young Latinx filmmakers the ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth Fest.
The online festival was inspired by the disproportionate number of Latinos in the television and film industries — according to a 2019 study by USC Annenberg, fewer than 5% of characters with speaking roles in feature films were Latinx or Hispanic, and the community is also vastly underrepresented behind the camera — few directors, producers, or casting directors are Hispanic or Latinx.
¡Tú Cuentas! gives young filmmakers a place to share their work, connects them with each other and with established actors and filmmakers who have already broken into the industry and have knowledge to share, said Alejandro Molina, the festival’s director.
“The idea is that this also plays as a mentorship,” he said. “You get to ask questions. ‘What’s the biggest obstacle? How do you turn things around? How do you get your films financed?’”
Submissions must feature a Latinx person in a creative lead role in either an acting role or behind the camera, and must be 30 minutes or shorter, and can be fiction or nonfiction, in English or Spanish.
Each film must also fit this year’s theme: Representation, which organizers broke into four subcategories: participate, prosperity, collaboration, and wellness.
“I think the last two years, especially for our young people, have given them a lot … to think about and to think of the stories they want to tell, their vision of the future,” Molino said.
Incidents like the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests across the country, hurricanes and earthquakes in Puerto Rico and Mexico and political crises at home and abroad, all laid out over the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic, have certainly impacted young Latino creatives and their work, he said.
“That’s what we’re looking for, people who have something that they already envisioned, that they filmed in the last three years,” he said. “We’re not looking for unique productions for this year.”
The top three films, chosen by a panel of judges, will be awarded cash prizes of up to $4,000 and will be available to screen online. The top 20 films from this year and the 2021 festival will also be posted on HITN’s website.
Last year’s festival, the inaugural event, drew hundreds of applicants from all over the world, Molina said — but international applicants were automatically taken out of the running, leaving still more than 100 films to be screened and considered.
“We found a lot of enthusiasm,” Molina said of last year’s entrants. “The people who were new — the younger younger, and by that I mean we had entrants as young as 14 whose parents had to sign for them to submit — they were just really excited.”
The youngest participants were drawn in by the low cost of submission, which can box out teen filmmakers, while those in their 20s were just excited to have found something to do in the middle of the pandemic.
“The other thing that we found were a lot of young people who were more familiar with and comfortable with using phones and tablets as equipment to edit and to shoot,” Molina said. “It also reflects the fact that there’s a sea change in both the demographic and what they’re using to consume media in general.”
¡Tú Cuentas! is just one part of HITN’s mission to bring more young Latino creatives into the industry, Molina said. They work with local colleges to run a paid internship program, and students handle marketing, production, and more for the festival and for HITN’s programming in general.
“We want to be represented the same in the film industry, but we’re convinced it’s not just a question of saying things out loud, but if there is to be change in the industry, that the industry has to be confronted,” Molina said. “They are responsible for some of the stereotypical depictions, they are also responsible for the lack of representation behind the camera and the lack of building a pipeline for these populations.”
Film and production classes are not readily accessible for most students, especially in grammar and high schools.
“In other words, we have a lot of catching up to do,” Molina said. “And I think we’re ready to roll up our sleeves and do what we have to do to build that pipeline.”
Learn more and see the full submission guidelines for the film festival here. Entries will be accepted until Sept. 11, 2022. The festival will take place virtually from Oct. 9-16, 2022.