Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson with James McNamara, the Chairman of Pantelion Films.

Even though there are more Hispanics in the US than Canadians in Canada and that in the U.S. Latinos comprise 30% (the largest demographic) of all Americans going to movie theatre, Hispanics are the most under represented ethnic group in front of and behind the camera.

Filmmaker and activist Moctesuma Esparza

This past weekend, hundreds of Latino filmmakers and major TV/movie studios executives descended upon Newport Beach to explore new opportunities in Hollywood that will empower Latino content makers with the tools and the voice they need to tell their stories at the the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) 12th annual gathering, “The New Now: Defining the Future Together”.

Filmmaker and activist Moctesuma Esparza presented the Lifetime Achievement in Advocacy Award to Nobel Peace Prize nominee Governor Bill Richardson who built the foundation for the film industry in New Mexico by creating more than 80,000 new entertainment industry jobs resulting in more than 140 major film and television productions with an estimated economic impact of more than $3 billion dollars.

Wilmer Valderram

Friday’s keynote speaker James McNamara, the Chairman of Pantelion Films, the Lionsgate and Televisa joint venture dedicated to creating more mainstream Latino content ,set the tone of the NALIP gathering by encouraging the crowd to create content that is forward thinking and revenue generating. McNamera stated, “The mainstream needs to get with the new reality. Latinos go to the movies 20 – 50 times per year! The market must react to changes!” McNamera also stated, “The lack of Latino presence in the studio system is Your opportunity to make a change!”

Saturday’s keynote speaker was Gerry Lopez, CEO and President of AMC Theatres. Lopez remarks focused on AMC’s ventures in helping independent filmmakers but he also took the time to remind Latino content producers why the movie theater experience remains vibrant: “There is something magical about the theatre experience that you can’t replicate at home; people want to be entertained. I haven’t found a studio exec that can tell me how this is healthy for the movie business. If I put on my Harvard MBA hat, the business model doesn’t make sense. It puts our business model at risk. It puts the entire (film Industry) business model at risk. I don’t care how good your iPad is, it can’t replace the movie going experience.“

Rudy Beserra, Vice President of Latin Affairs for the Coca Cola Company chaired the confab which consisted of ‘conversations with’, how-to panels, producing opportunities, breaking into the business workshops and other vital tools to help bi-cultural, bi-lingual Latinos connect with and creating mainstream media.

The event ended with a star studded gala where “Modern Family” star Sofia Vergara was honored with the Outstanding Achievement Award for her tireless work creating positive Latina images, especially in regards to 21st century families that include Latino characters and culture. Vergara stated, “I am so honored that NALIP would give me this award for always fighting to play positive Latina roles television. Thank you for this great honor!

Celebrities and filmmakers that attended the weekend included: Wilmer Valderrama, Nicholas Gonzalez (“Off the Map”), Jason George (“Off the Map”), Josefina López (Real Women Have Curves), Yance Arias (América), Rosa Blasi (“Make It Or Break It”), Jason Manuel Olazabal (“Make It Or Break It”), Emilio Rivera (“The Sons of Anarchy”), Lisa Vidal (“The Event”), Yareli Arizmendi (Like Water for Chocolate),), Jeremy Ray Valdez (La Mission), Valerey M. Ortiz (“America Latino”), Catalina Rodriguez (“Cougars, Inc.”), Luis Lopez (Beyond the Blackboard), Joe Hernandez-Kolski (HBO Def Poet Francisco Bello (Salim Baba), and Sundance World Audience Award winner Javier Fuentes-Leon (Undertow)