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head of production and vice chair for Film, Television and Digital Media, echoes
Valdes. He says UCLA's film school "has moved away from the issue-oriented
films of the past toward a more artistic and free-spirited approach that mirrors
independent cinema as a whole. These Latino films are visually adventurous and
humanistic. They're honest and based on real stories, so they feel more universal
than the sociological work of the past." Like Professor of Theater Jose
Luis Valenzuela, who directed the critically acclaimed 2000 indie feature Luminarias,
a Latino Waiting to Exhale that focused on upwardly mobile Latinas in Los Angeles,
Gonzalez — winner of UCLA's 2003-'04 Distinguished Teaching Award —
is a big part of why the industry's most accomplished Latino artists first find
their voices at UCLA.
Carlos Avila is
a prime example. Born in Lima, Peru, and raised in Echo Park, Avila completed
his B.F.A. at Loyola Marymount University and cruised up the 405 to complete
his M.F.A. "Making narrative films with Latino themes and characters was
on my mind," Avila recalls, "and UCLA had a tradition of [racial and
ethnic] diversity with people like Victor Nunez and Haile Gerima '72, M.F.A.
'76 [from Ethiopia] who had developed their own filmmaking philosophies at UCLA.
The best possible outcome for my thesis film happened with Distant Water."
The film won an award at the Film Festival of International Students in Japan
that provided $175,000 to spend a year making another film to be screened in
Tokyo. "I approached PBS, who co-financed and eventually aired the script
for that film, La Carpa. I hired all my classmates at UCLA to shoot La Carpa!
It was my first professional film and my first association with public television."
became the first in a highly successful series Avila developed for PBS called
Foto-Novelas. Inspired by Avila's love for Mexican comic books, Foto-Novelas
was sold to PBS based on the network's history with Latino projects. El
Norte, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez and Stand and Deliver
had all preceded Foto-Novelas, and they had all been produced or directed
by UCLA filmmakers. Two more lasting connections to Avila's success came from
UCLA faculty members — Edit Villarreal, currently a professor of playwriting,
was one of Avila's "creative beacons" and co-wrote La Carpa; A.P.
Gonzalez directed Mangas, among the episodes of Foto-Novelas when that series
won the Narrative Award at the San Antonio Cine Festival and a 1998 Alma Award.
Avila calls his years at UCLA and the relationships he formed "some of
the most creatively nourishing I've ever experienced."