In the Heart of Hollywood, A Festival Honoring Mexican and Ibero-American Cinema
Reflections by Annie Berman, Americorps Communications VISTA at HOLA:
Last weekend, I caught my first glimpse of Hollywood while attending the opening gala of the Guadalajara International Film Festival in Los Angeles. A New England resident until very recently, and now car-less in LA, this city’s most iconic and mobbed neighborhood had seemed too much of a hassle to visit.
The drive over was typical: While the historic Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre stood only a few miles away, Elizabeth Curtis, HOLA’s Development Director, and I sat in a standstill. As we waited in the gridlock, Elizabeth sat impressively patient in the driver’s seat and pointed out the buildings that had been modernized and redone. “The bones of the old architecture are just visible beneath the remodeling,” she told me. “In Los Angeles, places with history are sometimes replaced with modern designs — but sometimes if you’re paying attention you can see the old architecture peeking beneath the new.”
I took this moment stuck at a standstill to reflect on what I knew about Hollywood and the FICG. A window into the world of contemporary Mexican and Ibero-American cinema, this year′s FICG in LA was taking place right in the heart of the worldwide film and entertainment industry. What I have never loved about Hollywood (as I understand it) is the kind of films it exports: white, capitalistic and patriarchal. One could imagine how happy I was that my first experience of Hollywood was attending a film festival designed for people to explore the diverse regional narratives of Mexican and Ibero-America cinema. I have spent the last month working at HOLA where our work is dedicated to leveling the playing field for children who are not born into privilege, and whose experiences and cultures are often unrepresented or inaccurately represented in mainstream film. It seemed fitting that a festival like this would have a social mission of contributing to “a sustainable and inclusive society, respecting cultural diversity and honoring the principles of social justice, democracy, coexistence, and prosperity for all.”
When we finally arrived, I was in awe of the glamour, the red carpet (a real red carpet!), and the cool confidence of the stars and producers. But while everyone else photographed the stars, I mostly photographed the photographers, more intrigued by the nature of fame than the famous themselves. The FICG coordinator Ana Angulo Umaran, who wore a beautiful yellow dress and was clearly in charge, was gracious, kind and genuine in her joy at Elizabeth and I being there.
“You all at HOLA — you are what makes this all worth it,” she told us. “When we were talking about which charitable organization to donate the proceeds of our festival this year, one of our coordinators mentioned HOLA, which she drives by everyday. Upon further exploration, we realized you were the perfect organization for us to support. We are so thrilled and humbled to be part of your work — aimed at empowering youth to believe in their own voice. When that happens, anything is possible.”
I nodded because HOLA is amazing — the kids who come here, the people who work here. But so are the festival organizers, and the artists, and Hollywood sometimes.
Upon leaving that evening, I realized this was the film industry I wanted exposure to, this was the Hollywood I wanted to know. The goal of this festival is to increase access and visibility of Mexican and Ibero-American cinema; facilitate the exchange of ideas through storytelling and socially relevant themes; create a bridge between film industries in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada; spark new collaborations among international filmmakers and strengthen the presence of Mexican and Ibero-American cinema in the U.S., as well as in other parts of the world. That essential mission was achieved that evening — for the kids I work with to have access to films with people who look like them and are not stereotypes; for Angelenos to see more of its city and its people in film.