When you listen to New York Latino Film Festival founder, Calixto Chinchilla, speak about the event, he sounds like a fresh entrepreneur ready to launch his first venture ever. The hustle and hunger seeps through with every word he speaks and the excitement in his voice. You wouldn’t believe that you’re listening to a man who has been successfully holding an annual, internationally recognized film festival for 15 years now. To think, Chinchilla’s idea for the festival was simply a way for him and the Latino filmmakers around him to get some recognition. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine that the film fest that he worked on with his cousins out of their parents’ apartments would be as big as it is today.

Having little to no resources to nurture his ambitions for filmmaking, Chinchilla picked up photography and later studied marketing in college. When he wasn’t hitting the books or creating images, the Nuyorican was writing screenplays for short films. He went on to direct a couple of shorts, but then the obstacle was to find an outlet for audiences to actually watch these films. Chinchilla wasn’t only looking for an avenue for his and his buddies’ projects, though. He wanted something to help out the Latino community as a whole, since at that time (the 1990s) – and some might argue still to this day – the mainstream film industry hadn’t fully embraced the growing Latino population.

“I think people didn’t quite know what to do with [Latinos]. You had an entertainment industry that was open to us but didn’t quite know how to engage us,” Chinchilla told ‘LLERO, adding, “That’s when we thought: What if we created this space that did three things: combined community, educated, and also worked with studios and with people to try to get them to understand what Latinos were doing and the talent that we had?”

With a goal in mind, Chinchilla and his cousins began knocking on doors to get some help getting the festival off the ground. “One of those doors happened to be HBO, and they took a shot. When HBO came into play, it was like, ‘Oh, shoot! This is going to happen! This is for real!’”

Although Chinchilla and his team did encounter naysayers during their prep phase, from its first year out in 1999, it was evident that the New York Latino Film Festival was pure gold, and people in the industry knew it. But, it wouldn’t have been so without the tenacity of its creators.

“Like with any entrepreneur, I went into autopilot. Once I got into that mental state, then that was it, and that’s why we got so many pictures to commit, like Girl Fight. It was this big film that came from Sundance. It was our biggest acquisition. At the time, you had this up-and-coming actress named Michelle Rodriguez that no one really knew but a lot of people felt like she was going to blow up. And, this film literally goes from Sundance to Canada, and then, to this nobody festival called the New York Latino Film Festival. That’s kind of what helped to change the game. The studios trusted us,” Chinchilla recalled.

Although preparing for a film fest of such magnitude does put Chinchilla’s own filmmaking aspirations on hold, he says that as long as he’s helping other filmmakers present their works to audiences, he still feels accomplished. “[The festival] put me in a position to influence in another way. If I can help at all to move the needle, then I’m doing something. The more Latinos that we have in any position to help move the needle, even to this day, is important,” he explained.

Find out what’s in story at this years festival after the jump…

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