Back in 1995 I wrote and directed a very successful short film, My Polish Waiter, which debuted at Sundance and went onto New Directors/New Films and many other fine festivals. I was snatched up by a top talent agency in Los Angeles and off I went to Hollywood, flush with youthful optimism, believing that the world was ready for a gay Latino artist.
And nothing happened.
My agents did nothing for me, other than meeting with me on my first day in L.A. I wrote a pilot for a television sitcom and using my own connections - voila! - I got a pilot deal with a major production company. Before long they had me pitching to a network. The network passed, the deal lapsed and...nothing happened. Being an ambitious, accomplished artist of color is a bit like the plot to Ratatouille - you may be the most talented one in the room, but at the end of the day you're still the rat in the kitchen, the thing that doesn't belong and the industry just wants to shoo you out the door.
All that changed for me back in 2000, when the glorious New York International Latino Film Festival was founded by Calixto Chinchilla and HBO. I started work at the festival as a volunteer. Then I entered the script for "Elliot Loves" into their script contest, where it won an award. A few years down the road I became staff. Meanwhile, Elliot Loves was repeatedly optioned by LA.-based companies that repeatedly went under! (Three companies that optioned "Elliot" closed their doors, in fact. This caused a friend of mine to advise, "You should make a horror film about all this. Wherein people read your script, and then they die.")
It was around 2009 that Juan Caceres, head programmer of NYILFF, and Elizabeth Gardner, Co-Executive Director of NYILFF, teamed up with me to make "Elliot" on our own (eventually we were joined by Marisa Viola), shooting on weekends and using many of our festival staff and volunteers as our crew.
And it worked! Elliot Loves debuted at the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in May and we won the Audience Award for Best Feature! We were opening night at the Philadelphia Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in July and sold for worldwide distribution to TLA. We will be in theatres in October (and can already be preordered on Amazon - sorry for the shameless plug).
So what do I feel about the New York International Latino Film Festival? It is my home and the repository of my artistic hopes and dreams. It is the place where, at last, my youthful optimism became my adult joy.