By Tara Kyle
MANHATTAN — The New York International Latino Film Festival begins in Chelsea Tuesday night, celebrating 11 years of bringing films from locales including Mexico, Brazil and the Dominican Republic to the city.
The cast of the opening night selection, “The Dry Land,” includes America Ferrara (“Ugly Betty”) and Wilmer Valderrama (“That 70’s Show”), as well as non-Latinos stars Jason Ritter and Melissa Leo. The premiere is at the School of Visual Arts Theater at 333 West 23rd Street.
“Our population has been growing, we have really become much more influential in American culture, and that’s really reflected in our film festival,” said Gabriel Reyes, a spokeswoman for the festival.
In its early years, NYILFF was populated primarily by small independent films. The presence this year of large studio films and stars like Ferrara demonstrates its growth, Reyes said.
Although “The Dry Land” is an American-made film covering a subject matter not specific to the Latino experience — a soldier’s reintegration into society after a stint in Iraq — it was selected for opening night to display the crossover success of Latino actors.
“We felt that it really exemplifies how far we’ve come,” Reyes said.
Other highlights include a Dominican night featuring “Trópico de Sangre,” a story of life under 1950s Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo, starring Michelle Rodriguez (“Lost”).
NYILFF’s 2010 film slate includes over 100 features, documentaries and shorts. Celebrities invited to attend red carpet events include Ferrara, Rodriguez, Jimmy Smits and Martin Sheen.
The broad criteria for films included is that they were either written or directed by a person of Latino heritage, or feature a predominantly Latino cast.
The festival is also hosting a series of panels on empowerment-themed topics including financing and distributing your own films, and how to become a “hyphenate,” such as an actor-director.
“For many years, Latinos have complained that the studios don’t pay attention to us, they don’t green light our films,” said Reyes. “The movement now is, do your own.”
NYILFF is sponsored by HBO and runs through Sunday, August 1.