LALIFF was founded in 1997 when Edward James Olmos and co-founders Marlene Dermer (1997-2014), Kirk Whisler and the late George Hernandez joined forces with the City of Los Angeles to form the first-ever Latino focused International film festival. Recognized for its discovery of emerging Latino talent, LALIFF has been home to first films by Academy-Award winning directors, Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro G. Iñarritu, and Pablo Larrain, as well as home to the first films by Golden Globe-winning actresses, Gina Rodriguez and America Ferrera.
Throughout its history, LALIFF has bestowed the Gabriel Figueroa Lifetime Achievement Award to such industry icons as, Raul Julia, Pedro Almodovar, Carlos Sauza, Maria Felix, Anthony Quinn, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Federico Luppi, Rita Moreno, Ricardo Montalban, Antonio Banderas, Ignacio Lopez Tarso, Gustavo Santaolalla and, of course, Gabriel Figueroa himself.
The LALIFF Youth Program, a screen education program that took place at the festival, set the groundwork for what would eventually become the statewide, public school educational film program known as, the Youth Cinema Project.
The Academy Film Archive houses all of the past LALIFF Collection.