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How LALIFF's Sergio Monserrate is Helping Latino Youth Tell Their Stories

June 20, 2018
2 min read time

Much like the children he connects with today, Sergio Monserrate has had quite the journey through LALIFF (Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival), which returns this year after a five-year hiatus.

Today Monserrate, who first joined the festival as a volunteer in 2006, both manages it and coordinates its passion project, the Youth Cinema Project (YCP).

The YCP, which started in 2013, is project-based learning; an initiative that bridges gaps in both opportunity and achievement and one that creates “lifelong learners and the entertainment industry’s multicultural future,” according to its website.

It’s basically a “push-in program” that teaches children between fourth grade and high school in underprivileged neighborhoods how to make films, Monserrate said.

“[It] helps teach the students how to collaborate, be creative and to be critical thinkers.”

The idea for the project started in 2006, when LALIFF first introduced a youth program.

“We invited school buses of children to watch international films. From that, we asked, ‘how can we take that a step further?’” Monserrate said.

Starting in the Santa Ana district in 2013, the YCP spread to 16 districts across California and continues to grow.

Children participate in the project for an entire school year: During first semester, they create and write their own stories. Since only three projects are produced in each school, they must pitch their scripts to each other and select the winners. Next, the kids edit and market their films.

And YCP’s positive influence extends beyond filmmaking; students who participate naturally improve their English-speaking skills, too.

“We’ve noticed that kids who are taking these classes have improved their scores in those classes, which allows them to graduate,” Monserrate said.

The real project, though, is not the films, but the students themselves.

“We want to get those introverted students to speak out and for them to understand that their voice is important and should be heard,” Monserrate said.

As for the future of the festival itself, Monserrate says he hopes it will become obsolete; that “Latino content just becomes content.”

“Since Latinos are a huge demographic for film and TV, especially in California, I think we need to see our stories and we need to be represented,” he said.

“We are headed into the direction of inclusion, slowly and surely.”

But for now, LALIFF is a display case for Latino talent.

“You need a Latino writer or Latino director? We have them,” Monserrate said.

“So we can work with each other and collaborate together and create new things, but it’s also a place where we can expose [our work] to the industry and show that there is diversity for hire.”

Perhaps most importantly, the festival is a gathering place for a community.

“Whether it be Ecuadorian, Guatemalan or whoever … they can do their own thing throughout the year, but they know they can come here to a home,” Monserrate said.

With the YCP at the heart of LALIFF, there is a sense of hope; to celebrate the festival’s return, it’s introducing LALIFF Legacy, a student film festival that will feature projects from YCP (this year, 120 were made across 16 districts).

“With [LALIFF] Legacy, we are introducing the future, which are the students,” Monserrate said.

Final Draft is a proud supporter of LALIFF and its affiliate programs, such as YCP. The full festival schedule can be found here!

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