Last weekend, the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem hosted the internationally acclaimed Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival — a celebration of diversity and women in film. The two-day festival celebrated its 25th anniversary with a full lineup of films from a diverse array of female filmmakers from around the globe with many Latino films represented.

The Oscar-qualifying short films festival had an array of diverse films featuring not only Latino filmmakers, directors, and writers but also actors and Latino-focused stories. From the absolutely visually stunning “When We Arrive As Flowers,” to the heartfelt “Ro & the Stardust” the following films are sure to evoke emotions and enlightenment.

We got to watch the film selections at last weekends enigmatic festival. Two of the acclaimed selections, “The Blue Drum” and “Ro & The Stardust” are part of Latino Lens, a partnership with Netflix to develop and produce projects by filmmakers of color.

Here’s a recap of the films showcased:

1. Chico Virtual

Chico Virtual is a narrative short about individuality, acceptance and coming to terms with the harsh realities of immigrant status. Javier, a young teenager about to graduate from High School tries to balance being an influencer and living up to his parents' strict standards. The noteworthy drama is written and directed by Olivia De Camps. Born in the US and raised in the Dominican Republic, De Camps is an award-winning writer-director based in New York whose work explores the unheard voices of marginalized people in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The film follows Javier (Jaden Michael) as he deals with not only trying to keep his parents happy, but struggling to find his own identity, while being “more American.” The drama demonstrates toxic bullying, building an online persona for social media, and the struggles of American identity being the child of immigrant parents. The film has already received many accolades including Best Drama from the Chicago International Festival’s Cine Youth and Best Undergraduate Short Film from the Fusion Film Festival.

Chico Virtual Teaser from Olivia De Camps on Vimeo.

2. When We Arrive As Flowers

The experimental short film is a beautiful visual metaphor of self-discovery and expression. WWAAF is a collaborative project from NYC-based filmmaker Susan O’Brien and dancer Diovanna LaBeija, who inspired the poetic story. LaBeija, a dancer realizes her transfemme identity through a choreographic journey of self-discovery, celebration, and the poetic metaphor of a flower coming to bloom. When We Arrive As Flowers is the winner of the Reel Sisters Best Experimental Award.

O’Brien’s mission is to create content that amplifies and celebrates the voices of the LGBTQ community and marginalized groups. They wanted to create a film that was both artful and celebratory. The film was written, choreographed and performed by LaBeija, a Latina. The film was inspired by a conversation with her about how she viewed her “transition story as a metaphorical portrait of a seed’s growth in a garden.” The film was full of absolutely stunning visuals, vibrant colorful gardens, blooming flowers, and ravishing gowns. The imagery clearly represents blossoming into a flower and celebrating amongst other flowers. 

3. Ro & The Stardust

Earlier this year, the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) teamed up with Netflix to create the NALIP Latino Lens. One of the films selected was the short-film “Ro and the Stardust,” written and directed by Eunice Levis, which was released in October. Ro and the Stardust is the winner of the Reel Sisters Best Short Narrative Award and is the festival's Oscar qualifying film.

Born and raised in the Bronx, Levis is a first-generation Dominican-American, who combines her love of horror, sci-fi, thriller, and fantasy, through a diasporic lens. Her film “InVade” another sci-fi short made the second round of the 2020 Sundance Episodic Lab with its pilot script, while her urban gothic horror “Keep” also made the second round consideration for the 2021 Sundance Feature Development program. Eunice's latest work, a folklore horror micro short titled “Fell Ends” was an Extraordinary Selection at NYX’s 13 Minutes of Horror Film Festival and streamed on Shudder. 

The urban-fantasy titled “Ro and the Stardust,” is part of the 2021 NALIP Latino Lens Women of Color Short Film Incubator, sponsored by Netflix. The sci-fi drama follows an eclectic teenager and her terminally ill grandmother as they work together on a project that is dear to her grandmother and will honor her dying wishes. The film unveils that the grandmother's secret project with her granddaughter is to build a rocketship to launch her into outer space. While the film takes place elsewhere, it doesn’t really differentiate itself from Earth. However, the relationships are the focus of this heartfelt film. It explores motherhood, individuality, and generational differences while showing a loving family and womanhood.

Ro & the Stardust - Trailer from Eunice Levis on Vimeo.

4. The Blue Drum

Another selection from the NALIP Latino Lens was the intriguing horror-drama “The Blue Drum” written and directed by award-winning Director Angelica Mendoza. “The Blue Drum” was selected among hundreds of projects as part of NALIP’s Women of Color Incubator. Only four filmmakers participated in the inaugural program, where they were mentored from pre-production through post-production by industry leaders in writing, directing, production and other departments. The mysterious and haunting film premiered in October at Screamfest LA and was also featured at The Reel Sisters and The New York Latino Film Festival.

The film follows Leticia, a woman mourning her father's passing who begins to experience the feeling of an unnatural presence the day of her father’s funeral. Her world is turned upside down as this supernatural entity reveals secrets hidden within her family home. Scared and frustrated Leticia won’t stop until she uncovers these dark family secrets. From moving objects and quiet basements to eerie unexplained noises this short film will definitely keep audiences captivated.

TheBlueDrum_Clip_01 from VidiVici Films on Vimeo.

 

5. Nails 

“Nails” is a whimsical and uplifting coming-of-age animated short written and directed by writer, filmmaker and performer Eliana Pipes. The vibrant, playful and memorable film features rich splashy colors paired with catchy music and inspiring themes. It is a celebration of self, individuality and expression. Nails is about a young girl named Catalina who discovers that she has a crush on another girl that is part of her Quinceañera court. Her fingernails grow at a superhuman pace — by Black and Latina beauty standards it could be considered a blessing, but as Catalina develops these new feelings she begins to see it as a curse. She is nervous and scared about what people will think if they find out that she is a lesbian. The ¡NAILS! animated short is an official selection for Outfest and the NALIP Media Summit Showcase. It was also showcased at The Reel Sisters, CinemaQueer International and more.

6. Gro Up

“Gro Up” the web series premiered its pilot episode in October at the Reel Sisters Film Fest. Camille Simone Thomas and Nina Lucia Rodriguez are a part of a trio team that created the new web series, which is a recipient of the Reel Sisters Micro Budget Film Fellowship program. Gro Up was one of three film projects that Reel Sisters supported this year with a $5,000 contribution, chosen from a very competitive pool of a selection of 110 scripts.

The cute coming-of-age and snarky pilot introduces three young troubled girls that are given the option of working in a summer program at a community garden for community service hours or stay locked up. The girls, Ollie, Bk and Carmichael seem innocent enough so you are left curious as to why they are in juvie and what circumstances may have gotten them there. This will entice viewers to want more episodes. The series is written by a writing team of 3 BIPOC women (African American/Jamaican, Puerto Rican/Italian, and South Asian).

https://vimeo.com/reelsisters/grouptrailer