Dr. John Ramirez and the Reel Rasquache Art & Film Festival
In the summer of 2001, a group of students at California State University, Los Angeles approached Dr. Richard T. Rodriguez, a newly hired Chicano Studies Professor, and talked to him about the possibility of organizing a film festival. Initially imagined as a student-centered event and an opportunity to expose new Latino talent to the campus community, the idea quickly became a project that had the potential to bridge the gap between the campus and Los Angeles Latino communities.
Such a festival could enable a space for showcasing work that often was eclipsed both by “all-encompassing” festivals and festivals focusing on particular geographical regions (i.e., Latin America). Such a festival also had the potential to showcase work by and about U.S. Latinas and Latinos, a population quickly discarding “minority” status, yet still troublingly scarce, if not absent, in media representation.
California State University, Los Angeles had always demonstrated a strong student interest and support, as well as the potential to build the Department of Chicano Studies into one of the nation’s first Chicano Studies programs. Its leadership supported the idea for a Latino film/video festival from the very beginning. The response and the interest generated by the small-scale 2001 effort confirmed that there was not only a campus audience, but a community audience that would support future film festivals.
Given his shared interest in U.S. Latino film making, Dr. John Ramirez, a media studies scholar in the Department of Communications Studies, joined with Dr. Rodriguez to further develop the concept for a film festival that would provide a showcase for independent U.S. Latino film makers from across the country. Dr. Ramirez has sustained the Festival as the Executive Director since 2005, creating the only festival of its kind and scope in Southern California dedicated to U.S. Latino films and videos–the product of many hours of enthusiasm, commitment and persistence.
Since 2010, CASA 0101 has served as the community-based co-fiscal sponsor for the Reel Rasquache Art & Film Festival. CASA 0101 is dedicated to providing vital arts, cultural, and educational programs—in theater, digital filmmaking, art and dance—to Latino communities of Los Angeles. A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, CASA 0101 was founded by Josefina Lopez, best known for authoring the play and coauthoring the film, Real Women Have Curves. Playwright, screenwriter, artistic director, and film producer, Ms. Lopez grew up in Boyle Heights and created a vision to bring live theater and her educational and cultural experiences to the predominantly Spanish-speaking immigrant community of Boyle Heights–a special community with a rich history, a microcosm of the American immigrant experience. It is a place full of Jewish, Japanese, and Mexican history, art, community, and tolerance.
Reel Rasquache provides a forum to acknowledge the contributions of Latinos in the entertainment industry and the Arts. Each year the Festival presents at least one of three awards–the Career Achievement Award, the Trailblazer Award, and the Pioneer Award–to highlight the accomplishments of prominent Latino artists and industry professionals. The Career Achievement Award honors an individual whose career embodies the tremendous scope and rich diversity of Latino experience and historical contributions in the U.S. The Trailblazer Award honors an individual whose achievements in film/video advance new and challenging understandings of U.S. Latino perspectives and representations. The Pioneer Award honors an individual whose contributions embrace multiple expressive forms to enrich the field of professional, educational and entertainment media opportunities for U.S. Latino communities.
In 2005, Reel Rasquache introduced a special program dedicated to poetry and multimedia performances and explorations. Also in 2005, Reel Rasquache introduced the Youth Filmmakers’ Showcase, developing from five participating Los Angeles high schools and youth arts programs in 2005 to fifteen in 2009.
Over Reel Rasquache’s first half decade, it has enjoyed steady audience growth, averaging 5% annual increase. Demographically, the Festival’s audiences are considerably diverse, from teens to seniors, the predominant audience demographics are 25-55 years of age, fairly equal female and male attendance, working professionals, middle to upper middle-class income levels, bilingual, and college-educated. Annually, the Reel Rasquache Film Festival attracts patrons from a broad Southern California footprint.
Angela María Ortíz S., RRAFF Co-Director
Born in Colón, Panamá and a resident of Los Angeles for more than forty years, Angela is an accomplished publisher, graphic artist, designer, photographer, art and photography curator and leader in the non-profit arts arena. Angela has been part of the leadership of Reel Rasquache Art and Film Festival for five years; in 2012 she became the co-director with John Ramirez, and continues to serve as curator of the Festival’s art exhibition. Today, her own work as expanded from drawing and painting to include digital photography as well. Her work continues to be recognized; Angela has participated in more than fifty group shows since the late 70s, and is a frequent featured artist in exhibitions and themed events.
In all her work, the rich, almost overwhelming colors that are part of her Latino cultural and personal perspective spill out of the images and fill the surrounding world. Meanwhile, the images themselves, whether in color or black and white, always surprise with their simplicity and strength. Through its continuing evolution, the goal of Angela’s work has always remained the same: to recreate the images and inhabitants of our commonplace, real world, investing them with new life and power, creating “a little space,” as Angela calls it, “a window into the world of my imagination.”
In recent years, she has worked as a curator of a wide range of art exhibitions, including Shut Up & Shoot: A Photography Show of Unexpected Moments, Cityscapes, Landscapes & InBetween: A Black & White Photography Show, She is also the publisher of SeFijaOnline.com, a popular web site on Latino Hollywood. Her photographs and paintings are in many private collections.
Juan Escobedo, RRAFF Artistic Director
Juan Escobedo is an award-winning actor, director, and social entrepreneur who hails from San Diego. A graduate of California State University Los Angeles, he has peformed on stage, in film, and on television.
Escobedo’s starring role portraying a troubled veteran in the short film Soy Soldado de Irak, along with his direction of the same film, garnered numerous awards including the Swiss Cultural Programme’s Best Film Award at the Cannes Film Festival (2008), and the Cinema of Conscience Award from the Sonoma Film Festival (2008). The film was most recently nominated for the prestigious Imagen Award (2009). Other recent directorial work include Ruby, commissioned by Al Gore’s Current TV, and his signature film Needle Juice. His current work, Sexy Rubber, a collaboration with AIDS Healthcare Foundation and photographer Azul DelGrasso, is being nominated for a CLIO Award for “Best Directing Technique” 2013. He has also partnered with artist Alvaro Perez Ortiz, to develop and produce a film titled A Mexican in Paris with Juan’s production company Del Mar Films.
In 2004, Escobedo founded The East Los Angeles Society of Film and Arts (TELA SOFA), a non-profit organization dedicated to “Provoking Thought and Inspiring Solutions.” Youth who are at risk for substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, early pregnancy and gang involvement, have opportunities to redirect their energies and channel them into positive directions through film and art, thanks to the outreach, mentoring, and instruction provided by TELA SOFA. An offshoot of these efforts has been the successful launch of the East L.A. International and Youth Film Festival in 2009, something which TELA SOFA now envisions as an annual event. This festival provides a supportive venue to showcase the work of young filmmakers, and to honor their accomplishments.
Because of TELA SOFA’s efforts in collaboration with Bienvenidos’ Project SAFE, an HIV and Substance Abuse program under Escobedo, SAFE’s team has been asked to meet with The White House Deputy David Mineta to discuss the SAFE’s program model, Innovation through Art, Film and Music for the prevention of HIV and Substance Abuse Prevention for youth 12-17.
Angie Contreras, Youth Filmmakers’ Showcase Student Director
Angie Contreras is a senior at Cal State LA who majored in Communications with an emphasis in Public Relations. She has been collaborating with the Reel Rasquache Art and Film Festival for the past 3 consecutive years, volunteering in a variety of aspects, including but not limited to acting as a curator for the Youth Filmmakers’ Showcase and assisting as a reporter for press. Honored to serve as the Youth Filmmakers’ Showcase Student Director this year, she has become motivated to expand her horizons within film and event production, public speaking, television, and radio. In the future she looks forward to a successful career in event production. She enjoys connecting the youth of Los Angeles to the community and looks forward to continuing this rewarding Reel Rasquache experience for many years to come.
Gabriela Castillo, Youth Filmmakers Coordinator
Gabriela Castillo is a Chicana, activist, queer woman of color from Chino, California. She is studying filmmaking and critical studies at California State University Los Angeles. She has a passion and commitment to higher education, media, and business communications and is skilled in project development and logistics coordinating with an emphasis in community relations. For the past three years she has been a mentor for Immediate Justice; a L.A. based transnational organization that empowers working class, and young queer women of color to share their experience of reproductive justice through filmmaking. Gabriela is also a production coordinator for the Reel Rasquache’s Youth Film Festival, an annual event that centers youth Latin@ experience as depicted through film. In the future she expects to continue doing work that highlights underrepresented voices, especially youth and bridge diverse communities throughout the greater Los Angeles area. In doing so, Gabriela aims to close the technological gap in filmmaking and make youth centered narratives accessible.