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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 5:21AM   |  19 comments
Soldanela Rivera

Blog written by Rodrigo Brandao, director of publicity, Kino International

Soldanela Rivera was born in Puerto Rico.  Moving to New York in 1990, she attended Sarah Lawrence College, receiving a BFA with a concentration in dance, and in 2005 received an M.A. in arts administration from Columbia University.

In addition to her performance and research experience, Soldanela has worked extensively in production and marketing in the Latin music industry. For 15 years, she and partner Blanca Lasalle, founder of Creativelink, was responsible for publicizing a broad roster of clients, including corporations, non-profit organizations, and well-known figures in Latin music.

Soldanela was recently hired to oversee the new Hispanic Division for Falco Ink ( ) and is preparing to launch Alquimia Films, an initiative sponsored by the Puerto Rico Film Commission and founded by Roberto Busó-García, that will focus on seeking Puerto Rican screenwriters in the United States and beyond.

In this exclusive interview for Latin American Spaces, Soldanela talks about the challenges and future of Latin American and Latino film distribution (and marketing) in the United States.

RB: In recent years, we’ve seen a drastic reduction of press coverage, at least in the printed media, for foreign cinema. Film critics have lost their jobs, art sections were either closed or greatly reduced, and writers are now being asked to write shorter and more celebrity-based stories. Is the Latin media going through a similar shift? Would you say that in comparison, the so-called Latin/Latino media is more or less attentive to Latin American cinema?

SR: At certain times, the Latino media is more or less attentive to Latino cinema, and less so towards Latin American cinema. It depends on what the "mainstream" festivals are highlighting - because unfortunately, Latino/Spanish outlets follow what the mainstream is highlighting in relation to our films and filmmakers. But in general, I get a sense that the Latino press is beginning to be more attentive towards Latino cinema in the United States, at least in New York - I really feel that. It's harder to get editorial in magazines than in newspapers and television, I think mainly because they have the biggest pressure to sell their magazines and celebs are the bait. But to be a bit cynical and go into a tangent, who makes a celebrity a celebrity or a film star a film star? The great thing that is happening is that Latino Film festivals are popping everywhere and that just builds the Latino film industry, forcing the local press to go and cover them. So the attentiveness or awareness is slowly building, slowly picking up.

RB: What are some of the toughest challenges in terms of promoting cinema to readers of Latin media in the US? Can you talk of a unified Latino audience or is this still a widely diversified and fragmented audience, with very different class backgrounds and cultural interests?

SR: It is still very much a widely diversified and fragmented audience, with different classes and language backgrounds. I think the language and education differences widen the challenges to develop audiences for Latino films more than cultural interests because a marketing and publicity effort has to be targeted at different levels, it doesn't work to go at marketing and publicizing a film in the same way that the Hollywood standard has established. Not because its wrong or bad, it's just there are a lot of niches and pockets and Latino film audiences haven't been developed or cultivated at a grass roots level, so there's a gap in the way films are getting to their target audience. The message is fragmented on the whole. Promotion efforts are going after the "making-it-big" story without having reached a core audience, face-to-face. It's hard because I am not saying that the standard is bad or wrong at all, it is there, and it works, and it is our guide, but the Latino demographic has changed dramatically in the last 20 years and I do think the moment to re-think how we are reaching our audience is incredibly important. It's a time to take risks and that is scary place to be for most people. Above all this is the fact that Latino films and Latin American films have come in and out, nothing consistent and have been placed into many categories (i.e. art house, foreign, Mexican, etc). Now we have more consistency and that is why I think about risking and opening ourselves to rethinking how to market, publicize and distribute these films. Using the standard as a guide, but looking outside the box for other possibilities.

RB: How did you get interested in working on the field? Do you consider yourself more of a film connoisseur or a publicist?

SR: As far as film is concerned I consider myself a film lover first. I am not a film connoisseur, although I've seen a lot of films. But I would say as they say in English about a "well read person," that "I'm a well read film person." I got involved in Latino film publicity a few years back when I, my friend Mariem Perez, and her husband Carlos Ruiz, were traveling the festival circuit with their first film Maldeamores. When that happened all around me friends were doing films and I started to work and then, Blanca got the El Cantante film and I was brought in to be part of her team and it was a great experience. I was hooked! I really love that we have so many Latino filmmakers and artists and crews willing and committed to creating films.

RB:  The total population of Hispanic and Latino Americans comprised 46.9 million or 15.4% of the national total in 2008, and yet, Spanish-speaking films, or films mainly dealing with issues related to the Latino population, are still rare and mostly delegated to the art house circuit? Why is that? Is this mostly a problem related to the availability of films?

SR: I think this relates to what I was saying before about re thinking how to market, publicize and distribute Latino films at this time in our history. Right now is a new time for the Latino/Latin American demographic so, that is one reason. And sure, availability also has an impact: because it hasn't been consistent. I also think the more Latino press supports our filmmakers the more chances Latino and Latin American films have a chance to generate an independent industry (for lack of a better term), where we can celebrate our own filmmakers and actors outside the standard, and not limit our film celebrities to the Latino celebrities that are in Hollywood. And I am not saying that Latino Hollywood celebrities is a bad thing at all, I am saying we can have great talent that just needs to be supported by our own people.

RB: Would you say that the Latino/Latin population in the United States is underserved as far as audiovisual products go?

SR: I think this is more of an issue of representation on mainstream TV and film sure... The Latino film industry in the United States is growing now more than ever before, so it is new ground.

RB: And if so, how do you think we can slowly change this picture and develop audiences for these films?

SR: This is the conversation we are beginning to have right now Rodrigo about thinking outside the box. 

RB: I think you and I agree that the films exist... They just have a hard time getting to the public. Do you agree with that? 

SR: Yes I do, there are less platforms and opportunities for our filmmakers. Do we need traditional film houses to open films? Do films need to open in big cities? Is opening in a big city the only reason a film should get reviewed or the only way to present Latino/latin American film? Where are we choosing to take these films? Should we be going to schools, community enclaves or local theaters before movie houses?



Interesting read. The situation for Latino cinema is a lot similar to what's happening in Singapore (where I live) right now, in terms of finding a wider audience especially those living in the heartlands.

Quick questions, how have Latino/Latin-American films fared in international festivals?

Thanks for your comment, Junaini. I'd say Latino films are doing much better on the international film festival circuit than they are doing on the US market. Latin films gets hundreds of awards in film festivals (in Latin America and outside) and are always part of the top Cannes, Berlin, and Sundance. However, a very small percentage of these films are released on DVD in the United States - and even fewer get a theatrical release.

This is all very tricky - the conversation about marketing and distributing films that normally have a smaller and very specific audience. I recently had the opportunity to travel into the deep south where I visited a church, which began making films about ten years ago. Their films have done very well nation wide; they are distributing them specifically to a Christian audience, and this audience has shown up with full support. They made the first film for next to nothing and now on their fourth or fifth film they are working with a budget of a million dollars. During my visit, I was amazed to hear all this information, and their success is not that surprising. This church has created films which are not only directed toward American Christian audiences, but they celebrate the most central ideas and beliefs that make that audience distinct. When I spoke to people who worked on these films, they were excited - making movies is fun for the congregation, and they seemed to be "family efforts". That all said, I think their celebration of the core values behind this American subculture has helped in the success of their films.

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