Earlier this year, ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth Festival celebrated the best of young Latinx storytelling talent by giving their short films a much-deserved platform in an industry that has historically excluded them. This year’s winners (whose films you can, and should, watch below) featured a stunning animated film that touches on death and motherhood in Aleya Ortiz’s Dulce, an animated film that brings life to Taíno symbolism in Jordan Fernandez’s Jayuya, and a live-action story of girlhood and resilience in Chelsea Patricia Ramirez’s Go Dani Go. This year’s festival also hit an incredible milestone: 60% of the films in the top ten were created by Latina filmmakers.
LatinaMedia.Co’s Nina Linhales Barker spoke with Shakira Barrera, one of the festival’s ambassadors and a star of shows like Glow on Netflix and Sprung on Freevee, to learn more about what makes festivals like Tú Cuentas so special. This interview has been edited for clarity, length, and consistency.
Nina Linhales Barker: Could you tell me a little bit more about ¡Tú Cuentas! Film Festival. What made you want to be involved?
Shakira Barrera: The festival is a wonderful way for our Latino community to get behind our youth. There are very little opportunities in this industry where people will take developmental talent. [To] take whatever you do on your iPhone or with your friends or from your own cameras and be able to actually get it in front of people that care and will watch it. And I think that’s what Tú Cuentas does, [as a] very small indie festival that can get your stuff noticed.
Nina Linhales Barker: Why is it important that Tú Cuentas is not only for young filmmakers but specifically only for Latinx filmmakers?
Shakira Barrera: I know sometimes people get exhausted by talking about things in the Latinx community and how we are underrepresented, but I think it is important because the statistics and the data are still coming out. You know, we are the most underrepresented group. I think that it’s important for us to see each other’s work and, get involved in these festivals… There is a formula to the industry. If we can find commonalities within our culture that can be understood [by] a wider audience, that’s a really good recipe for us to get our foot in the door.
Nina Linhales Barker: Did you have a favorite part of the festival this year?
Shakira Barrera: The top three winners, 60% were women! And that to me is such a wonderful landmark that we’ve hit at the festival. Most Latino or Latinx directors that are up there and that are big are men. I’m really excited that these young Latina filmmakers are getting this experience and this reassurance. That’s what you need in this industry. We’re really good at taking a little bit and internalizing it and going for the long haul.
Nina Linhales Barker: I was going to ask you about the fact that 60% of the films were made by women! What are your hopes for this generation of Latina filmmakers?
Shakira Barrera: We can get really wrapped up in this wonderful IP or a wonderful story that we’ve written, and I just don’t want us to forget that we have to be aware of the business and what they’re buying, what they’re selling, what’s out there… I hope that our youth can put those two pieces together, the business and the artistic, because then I think we’ll be unstoppable.
Nina Linhales Barker: Speaking of festivals, your film Huella premiered at Tribeca and Sundance. I want to ask you about your experience with that. How does it feel to be in film festivals like that compared to Tú Cuentas?
Shakira Barrera: Huella is a great example for these filmmakers. The team behind Huella really understood the long-term version of what it was. So to me, it’s been a wonderful experience to see how a short film is still being developed right now for the potential to do the feature version and I don’t want people to get discouraged by the length of that because we’ve been at it for two years.
The producers got into Sundance lab. The director did another lab in Mexico City. I think that it’s just a wonderful example of how a short film can stand out amongst the masses. It’s lifted my hopes for short films, honestly.
Nina Linhales Barker: Incredible! Congratulations as well on the success of the film! Speaking of stand-outs, did you have a favorite film at this year’s Tú Cuentas?
Shakira Barrera: Dulce. You know, the storytelling in Dulce was just like, you can understand it on a larger scale, even though it’s animation. It just plays to the strength of these storytellers. I’m excited to see what else they have.
Nina Linhales Barker: Part of this year’s submission themes were films that told political and climate-focused stories through a Latinx lens. How did it feel to watch young Latinx filmmakers grapple with the issues their communities go through using their own voices, points of view, and passions?
Shakira Barrera: You know, it makes me really emotional that they’re able to communicate their feelings and be vulnerable. We’re in a state right now where we’re seeing people speak up and be repressed for it and killed in our countries… It makes me emotional and happy and gives me a sense of hope that we have these young people [who’ we’re seeing grow before our eyes that are just a very good representation of what we’ve been fighting for.
Nina Linhales Barker: I love that, that’s really beautiful. And what would you say to Latinx filmmakers who want to apply to be a part of next year’s festival?
Shakira Barrera: I would say to not wait! Find some inspiration from the filmmakers and some of the winners this year and study it. See what they did to capture your eye. If you were a judge, what would you want to see?
Nina Linhales Barker: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Shakira Barrera: The power of social media is here and whatever you post doesn’t go unseen. So, if you liked what you saw at the festival, or, feel compelled to share, I would do that on your socials and spread the word because the more you give, the more you’ll get back. That’s my idea of success. Hopefully, our Tú Cuentas audience can grow a little bit more thanks to their help.