By Polo Munoz, Managing Editor/Publisher

“This is an opportunity to tell all people how you see the world,” is the message the creator of the Official Latino Film and Arts Festival and powerhouse photographer Danny Hastings tells those that decide to be part of the 5 year old shorts film festival launched in New York and now expanding its roots to Los Angeles and to the Coachella Valley in California.

His unique perspective is one of entrepreneurship molded by his lifetime in the center of one of the most important cultural musical landscapes, Rap, as it developed and evolved into the story platform for the disenfranchised and defiant it has become. Some of the most notable album covers Danny has photographed include Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, Big Pun’s Capital Punishment, Nas’ I am, Eminem’s Slim Shady Special Edition Cover, among 150 album covers and 50 music videos he has produced and directed. His understanding of cultural politics is personal and deep and continues to drive his entrepreneurial sensibilities to not only reinvent himself constantly but also to bring others with him on his artistic journey. Danny’s deep sense of concern that those that want want to tell the invisible stories of communities abandoned intentionally, and in many cases targeted by the current political establishment, face obstacles that feel insurmountable, and at times those obstacles are created by people in power that come from those communities, continues to be a driving force that was an incentive for creating this multi-city festival.

Danny not only wants to remind new storytellers that they can do it, he also wants show them how to do it. This is a unique perspective in a business where many would prefer to exclude those that may take their place. This film festival grew out of Danny’s desire to help others accomplish as much as he has in his career as a photographer and now as a filmmaker and festival founder and curator, and to accomplish much more. The idea for the festival came from his desire to help fund at least one up and coming filmmaker to make her first project. As he researched some of the websites used for submitting to film festivals, he studied the process and realized that his idea was unique and although a lot of work would be required, he decided that by launching a festival that he would curate and guide, he could support more storytellers and help create a community that could celebrate and develop new, ignored stories that were not only passed on but in essence rejected by gate keepers that did not see relevancy to themselves because the characters were not relatable to them regardless of the audience those creators were speaking to.

The Official Latino Film and Arts Festival requires that “All films created in the United States written, directed OR produce by a Latina or Latino including Latino Cast member or members should submit to the following categories: U.S. DRAMA, U.S. COMEDY, U.S. DOCUMENTARY, U.S. EXCEPTIONAL ARTISTRY (Animation/Stop Motion/Experimental), U.S. MUSIC VIDEO, U.S. WEBISODE, U.S. SKETCH COMEDY, U.S. VIDEO BLOG AND U.S. OUT OF THIS WORLD AWARD (Horros and SCI-FI).” The festival also has a unique inclusion space for non-Latino films, the “AMERICAN DIVERSITY” category, and although the festival focuses on American Latinx filmmakers it also has a “CORTOMETRAJE INTERNACIONAL” Category for all films produced outside of the U.S.

The avenue that is being created through this festival is broad in spectrum, it not only allows for opportunities to present talent that is ready for the commercial world but also talent that needs to develop and grow. The competition design allow for those that are looking for raw talent to “discover” it. The driving through line and main characteristic of the films are the stories that are being told. Story is the focus.

From “Idyll,” the story of  abuse in a same-sex relationship, to “Wilmas,” a story of how families are devastated by violence in  communities like Wilmington, California, to a child deciding to take matters into her own hands because she feels she has no one to protect her in “Florence USA.”  “Slipping in to Darkness,” is a story that is very much in the spirit of poet and writer Luis J. Rodriguez seminal book, “Always Running,” its an insiders view on a life style that we vilify. What is exciting is that some of these young filmmakers are mingling with seasoned story tellers and creating a new ecos-system that Danny hopes will lead to a sense of community that is less jaded and more authentic and with his guidance, more business savvy.

The Official Latino Film Festival continues in Los Angeles and will move to the finals in the Coachella Valley where it opens on Holloween Night, October 31.