Edward James Olmos helps bring cinema to California classrooms to train lifelong learners

LOS ANGELES – In the late 1990s, actor, filmmaker and activist Edward James Olmos co-founded the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

“I have been very lucky to be able to work in schools, libraries, community centers, hospitals, juvenile centers,” said Olmos, who has a long-standing commitment to reaching young learners.

The film festival is now the responsibility of the Latino Film Institute, which is also home to the Youth Cinema Project (YCP). YCP is now a program in dozens of school districts across the state of California.

“The way the Youth Cinema Project was created is that we realized the cavalry weren’t coming. No one was going to come and save us, so we had to save ourselves,” said Rafael Agustín, TV writer and CEO of the Institute of Latin Cinema.

Two professional filmmakers supervise the students, who can enroll once they have reached the fourth year.

“It’s the full school year, and they’re learning to do all aspects of filmmaking and storytelling,” Olmos said.

Kimberly Mendiola Leon of Bell Gardens, Calif. – now in high school – participated in the program, which boosted her confidence and reignited her quest for storytelling.

“From an early age I loved to write a lot. I remember I used to write short plays and make puppets like old socks and put them on for my family,” he said. said Mendiola Leon, who said she had stopped believing she was not “good enough.”

“When I joined YCP in college I remember we had to write a screenplay, and one of the mentors told me he really liked my writing and that I should keep going and he sees he sees me be something in the film industry, ”she said. “This is what really made me come back to the cinema.”

Former undocumented immigrant aims to change false claims on TV and in movies

Rafael Agustín, now a US citizen, attributes his immigration challenges to leading him to pursue a career as a television writer. It aims to change the misrepresentation of undocumented immigrants.

“I always knew we were immigrants. I didn’t know we were undocumented immigrants,” Agustín said. “In high school, I was an overachieving immigrant student. I was the class president, the king of the ball, the top 10% in my class. Then I applied to go to college and I found out that I was undocumented, ”said Agustín, who thinks a more appropriate term is“ American without papers ”.

“Many years later, I asked my mom why she didn’t tell me directly. She said this phrase that I steal from her all the time: ‘We didn’t want you to feel different because dreams shouldn’t have borders, ”he said. “I’m grateful for all of my immigration issues because that’s how I ended up in the arts. I was in community college with no direction, not knowing how long I’ll be in limbo. immigration.”

Agustín said he saw a study that found undocumented immigrants on television to be less likely to be employed, less likely to be educated, and more likely to commit crimes than their U.S. citizen counterparts.

“It just shows us that the story of undocumented Americans on television is completely flawed,” Agustín said.

“I think Congressman Joaquin Castro put it best when he said the El Paso shooting changed everything. If people don’t see us as Americans and loving members of the community, [but] see us as each other or as invading aliens, then things like mass murder happen. And that is the exact reason why it is so important to see us represented, ”he said.

Investing in lifelong learners

“Someday I won’t need to do an International Latino Film Festival anymore. It will be the happiest day of my life because everyone will be watching films from all over the world. They will celebrate the contributions of Latinos, Latinos Africans, Africans, Asians, Indigenous people, ”said Olmos.

“Our goal is to train lifelong learners,” he said, referring to the Youth Cinema Project.

Agustín said the project also aims to send all the students they work with to the university.

“The icing on the cake would be that whoever wants to work in the entertainment industry, that we create these pipelines and platforms for them,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do as an institute, as the Latino Film Institute. We’re trying to create the pipeline, the platform and the launch pad from our community to the entertainment industry.”

From actors to activists, people share stories of celebrating their heritage, expressing their identity as Latino, Latinx or Hispanic, and representing and accepting their diverse cultures. Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with “Our America: Todos Unidos” on the streaming apps of TV stations owned by ABC and Hulu.

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