Meet the ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth Fest 2021 Winners

Photo courtesy of Belatina.com latinx, belatina
Photo courtesy of Belatina.com

The ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth Fest, a month-long virtual film festival presented during Hispanic Heritage Month, hosted and launched by HITN-TV, has wrapped up this year. 

After searching for stories that resonated with the Latinx community, they found two notable filmmakers who could capture the essence of the festival’s vision. 

“Our young Latinx creators have lived a diverse set of experiences and developed unique viewpoints on what it means to grow up, live, and work in American culture,” said Lina Sands, Director of Marketing at HITN. 

The festival has given young, emerging Latinx filmmakers exposure and the opportunity to connect with award-winning industry experts for educational workshops and panel discussions and the chance to attend a series of events aimed at helping them with their craft. 

Two extraordinary Latinx filmmakers were selected. 

Translating poetry into images

The grand prize winner was Paloma Sierra, a Puerto Rican writer, educator, and curator from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her film, “I Am Soil Breaking Off,” secured the $5000 grand prize. The short film came into existence from Sierra’s poetry about the complexities of national identity and migration. 

Photo courtesy of Belatina.com latinx, belatina

Sierra went to college at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, where she completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. She’s also focused on being a writer and has written poetry, screenplays and, ultimately, has a passion for multimedia storytelling.

“So, everything that includes visuals but also music and movement; I’m always interested in exploring that kind of medium of storytelling,” she told BELatina in a recent call. 

In fact, she produced the video for the ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth Fest in response to the pandemic. Due to that unforeseeable situation, she ended up exploring the idea of video poems or film poetry. 

After discussing the key components of her film, we dove into what truly inspired her to make this film come to fruition. And she broke it down from the moment she started writing it. 

“While writing it, I was inspired by my personal experience living on the island and also in the Diaspora — living in the US.” 

The “I Am Soil Breaking Off” filmmaker started to understand the different experiences of Latinos when she moved away from Puerto Rico. Once she started interacting with Latinos born and raised in the United States, she realized that many had never been physically present in whatever their family was from or where their heritage derived from. This played into her understanding of how nuanced Latinidad and national identities truly are, hence igniting her mind to present it visually.

“I also noticed the two different experiences of living on the island and outside of it myself,” she explained. “There seems to be this kind of tension between the people that live within the island, you know, Puerto Rico and those outside of the U.S. or in other countries.” 

“So, with this film, I tried to provide a third idea of national identities as not being tied to geographic territories or to 

specific, tangible ways of expression; it’s not about being able to dance salsa or eating pasteles every Christmas — it’s more than just talking Spanish.”

As we all know, trying to decipher our own identities can be a complex process. The Latino community, especially in the United States, is often faced with various external factors that try to challenge our identity. But the reality is that how we identify ourselves, culturally, is intimately tied to our blood, our ancestry, and how our history is manifested in our everyday lives, even if it’s just a smidgen. 

Sierra echoes this sentiment. 

“As Puerto Rican, no matter where we are from or where we were raised or born, you’re able to take your island with you. We’re Puerto Rico wherever we end up.”

Filmmakers are pivotal to immortalizing cultures, which is why their work needs spaces like the ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth Fest. It allows filmmakers such as Paloma Sierra to provide a pathway for other filmmakers. 

“The legacy I want to leave is promoting. Promoting that Latinos in the Latino community are able to tell their stories in their own languages, whether that is Spanglish, English, Spanglish, Portuguese, or whatever.”

“We’re starting to have a little bit more opportunities to do that, but I feel that there’s still a lot of opportunities that should arise or that should be available for us to express ourselves in the ways that we do in our homes.”

Stories on navigating identity

As for the student prize winner, it went to the Chicana filmmaker, Yessenia Sanchez, who received a $2,000 scholarship. Sanchez’s short film, “Double Cultura,” portrays a 12-year-old serving as a translator for her family because she is the only English speaker at home. It touches upon the real experiences of the relationship between first-generation children and the psychological impact of guiding immigrant families through foreign grounds. 

The student winner was born in northern California, but both her parents immigrated from Mexico.

“I grew up in a Mexican household here in the US. So, I kind of have the best of both worlds in a sense,” Sanchez told BELatina News.

While speaking to her and some of her motivators as a filmmaker, she spoke to us about the culture shock she experienced when she moved away for college in New York. 

“I left, and I didn’t really see a lot of myself anywhere. I went to a predominantly white institution, so I think it was kind of another reason why I wanted to make films around my culture, my ethnicity, and the way I was.”

“I was stuck in this bubble for so long, and then I realized that the whole of the world isn’t really like that. So I just wanted to spread the word as much as possible.”

When we asked her what she strives to highlight when creating a film, she said she tends to focus on reflecting on real-life moments.

“Like, even the mundane moments or the little parts of life that you don’t really pay attention to because it’s a little too triggering,” the “Double Cultura” filmmaker expressed. “Maybe you don’t think about it too much because you do it every day, you know, like translating as a kid.”

But she understands that there are many challenges when it comes to expressing your culture through film. Nonetheless, she hopes that her win will inspire other filmmakers in the future. 

“Hopefully, my film allows young filmmakers to realize that we are supernatural beings because we can speak more than one language. And I think a lot of people in America might not have that. We need to be confident about the abilities that we have.”

The winners and the selection of other notable works were presented during the  ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth Fest Awards Show, which was live-streamed on October 24th, 2021. The awards show is available on the HITN GO app and the ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth Fest website and YouTube channel.  

For more information about the ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth Fest and to watch the top 20 films from the festival, visit https://cineyouthfest.org/.