The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF) opens this evening at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood, kicking off four days jam-packed with Latinx-led features, shorts, and episodic films. The festival will also host live performances, art exhibits, and podcasts, as well as a program called Legacy that gives school-aged filmmakers a forum to screen their own work on the big screen. By the way, Legacy is one of the only parts of the LALIFF programming that is free to the public, so if you’re in the LA area, come check out what the next generation of Latinx directors and auteurs has to offer.
LALIFF has been a fixture in Hollywood for nearly 30 years, thanks in part to the constant work that Edward James Olmos has put into opening doors in showbiz for the Latinx community. Olmos founded LALIFF in 1997 alongside Marlene Dermer, Kirk Whisler, and George Hernandez. This year’s festival, the second since a recent five-year hiatus, is under the executive direction of Rafael Agustín; Agustín worked as a staff writer on Jane the Virgin.
The opener of LALIFF 2019 is the part-documentary, part-reenactment film The Infiltrators by Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera. The Infiltrators is based on the true story of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) activists who in 2012 self-deported to a detention center in order to track down a man named Claudio Rojas who had been separated from his family in Broward County, Florida. From inside the walls of a detention center, the two young activists were privy to the conditions that the U.S. immigration system imposes on undocumented immigrants. From there, they used their positions and outside knowledge to organize against the conditions that detainees like Rojas had been subjected to.
One notable feature of the film is its usage of both real and reenacted footage to piece together the narrative of the NIYA activists. Using a hybrid format to tell the story, the directors recreated the conditions inside the walls of the detention center — cameras were obviously not allowed within the facilities — so that what would otherwise have gone unseen seamlessly integrates with actual footage taken at the time. “[Both] Cristina and I, it’s important to us as filmmakers to try to tell stories that are urgent, tell stories that are relevant to the political moment we’re living in,” said Rivera in an interview with Democracy Now, “but also to play with the form and invite an audience in to see a film that’s as weird formally and as adventurous in its form as the activists were in their actions.”
The film has been screened at Sundance and SXSW and has gotten tons of buzz since the beginning of the year. Olmos explained that it was chosen to open LALIFF because of it’s narrative’s potential to reach a global audience. “The Infiltrators represents everything LALIFF aspires to be — a film for our U.S. community by our U.S. community with international ramifications,” said Olmos in a statement. “The film was made by a Latinx duo and focuses on the real-life story of undocumented youth that sacrificed everything to help others like them being held inside migrant detention centers. Nothing can be more timely.”