Time for another round up of exciting new films MADE BY LATINOS.
This list is exclusively Latino writers and directors and the spotlight is on their brand new fiction films. The goal is to 1. Support these indie films 2. Continue to build this site as a trusted source of exciting Latino talent to watch and promote 3. Make the case as to why these Latino storytellers should be considered and hired by the film industry which theatrically releases some 100+ features annually, plus Netflix who is now churning out 80 original features this year.
I turn to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to see how dismal the number of Latino directors hired to direct the 1100 popular films they surveyed from 2007-2017. Their research reveals the low percentages of Black/African American and Asian/Asian American directors (see below) but no information on Latino directors. They did however track the percentage of Hispanic characters at 6.2%. That is half of Black characters’ at 12.1% and just under Asian characters’ 6.3% representation. Looking at the percentage of each minority’s U.S. population and their media representation underlines the startling level of marginalization. For instance, if ‘Hispanics’ are 18% of the U.S. population and are only 6.3% represented, that’s like a two thirds exclusion rate. Annenberg research suggests POC behind the camera increases POC in front of the camera. So it’s safe to say including more Latino filmmakers would organically raise the number of Latino cast and characters. Considering that in the state of California, home to Hollywood, Latinos outnumber whites in population, its hard not to make a case for straight up exclusion if not discrimination.
Latino filmmakers should be allowed to tell any story they are good at telling. That’s why I make an effort to identify each filmmaker’s genre and strength. It’s incredibly narrow-minded and it unnecessarily limits slots to only think of hiring Latinos for a “Latino” story, whatever the fuck that means.
It’s also problematic for any studios to assume that making a “Latino” story will successfully target the Latino market. It’s an outdated and faulty metric to use, and combined with the history of “Latino” driven movies not getting much marketing spend, its a guarantee the film will be D.O.A. Here is an idea, just treat the Latino movie like a white movie and spend that healthy general market budget to reach audiences based on the film’s genre, content and characters. Finally, there is a lack of belief. Yep, that old subjective thing. It’s the most obvious but never talked about factor in hiring. The studio executive has to BELIEVE a writer or director is right for the job. Since belief is personal and familiar, its natural that only someone from your tribe will SEE YOU and believe in you the most. And since there is a relative lack of Latino film executives, its yet another obstacle keeping Latino writers/directors from getting hired.
One more caveat about my list. I don’t include international filmmakers. While I deeply respect Alfonso Cuaron and am excited to see Roma, not on this list. Alfonso is not Latino. He does not live his life as a person of color. He has not had to contend with the systemic racial wealth gap and discriminatory creative hiring practices POC in the U.S.A do. If you are taking notes that means Latino/a= POC.
Looking at the directors who have directed the approximately 400 films that cost $100 million dollars, not a single one of those hires include a Latino director in the 28 years since True Lies, the first film to have crossed the $100 million dollar budget. Never has a Latino been hired to create at the highest level this feature game has to offer…..until now.
Of course I’m speaking of Robert Rodriguez. He’s got a new movie coming out this December and its worth noting that for the FIRST TIME EVER, a Latino director will be at the helm of a $100M+ movie (*Roberto Orci has WRITTEN and PRODUCED films in this range. Chris Weitz I’ll claim, but Operation Finale is under $100M).
20th Century Fox is releasing this heavy special effects driven blockbuster that has a price tag more in the $200M range. Directed by Rodriguez, it’s produced by James Cameron because of course a major studio would not have signed off on a POC without a “White Witness”.
Robert made his $7k Mariachi twenty-six years ago and has managed to sustain a career making action and family films 1300 miles from Hollywood since. I wonder if that would have been possible without the Weinstein’s financial support? (ok, tangent, sorry) Alita is based on the 1990 Manga series Gunnma by Yukito Kishiro, Rosa Salazar stars as Alita, the punk cyborg lead who loses its memory. By the way, Cuban American Rosa Salazar recently wrote and directed a short film called GOOD CRAZY. Check it out here. Hopefully she got the bug and is setting her eyes on making her feature debut!
And now onto the wild, and the wildly original independent film space where auteurs are born and grinding every day.
I’LL SEE YOU AROUND written and directed by Daniel Pfeffer
This is Daniel’s feature debut following the festival success of his short film WHILE I WAS GONE, the entrancing short (watch below) which this feature expands on. References to Moonlight might be unavoidable given the rare sensitive portrayal of a man wrestling with his unresolved and highly internalized issues of inhabiting his Black skin and perception it comes with.
Inspired and created alongside Daniel’s friend Lucas Monroe, who turns out to be a revelation as a first time actor, the story is set in Ithaca and follows Lucas’s increasing anxiety and resentment towards his older addict brother who recently stole his laptop jeopardizing Lucas’s academic studies. Mexican-American Danny and his Director of Photography Ryan Emmanuel, who I think is the next Bradford Young, imbue the film with a quiet magnetism and deep compassion. Check out the short below and follow the film’s IG here and Facebook page.
EL CHICANO written and directed by Benjamin Hernandez Bray
About to make its world premiere at the LA Film Festival next month, this gripping and action fueled crime thriller stars the smoldering Raul Castillo as a cop who discovers his brother’s death was murder, leading him down a dangerous rabbit hole mystery behind the street legend known as El Chicano. Ben has over 120+ stunt coordinator credits on some of the biggest tentpoles ever made so its no wonder this film has the most thrilling motor vehicle chases and crashes ever. Ben has recently been racking up directing credits on Warner Bros Television shows including Lucifer, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. This is his feature debut backed by producer Joe Carnahan. Surrounding the sexy, sensitive alpha Raul Castillo are George Lopez, Aimee Garcia, Marlene Forte, Sal Lopez and Emilio Rivera. A little Ghost Rider but more “The Crow” type of neo urban vigilante vibes, check out the trailer below and come through Saturday, September 22nd at 9:15pm Arclight Cinemas CC. Ben is managed by Circle of Confusion’s Jairo Alvarado.
THE INFILTRATORS written and directed by Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the long-gestating, recently wrapped new feature by #BrownExcellence filmmakers Cristina Ibarra, (Las Marthas) and Alex Rivera (Sleepdealer). Their previous work is nothing short of brilliant and masterfully executed so their first time collaboration is obviously anticipated especially by the social justice community. They’ve received some critical funding from Tribeca and Rauschenberg for their doc/fiction hybrid which is a full-on thriller of two young immigrant-activists who get themselves deliberately apprehend and detained by Border Patrol to expose the abuse and help free others. You wont want to miss this one.
TEJANO written and directed by David Blue Garcia
Texas native David Garcia’s feature debut won both the coveted Audience Award and Best Film in competition at the Dallas International Film Festival earlier this year. David graduated from UT Austin film school and worked as a cinematographer on four features before tackling directing on his own. This no doubt gave him the experience to produce such stunning landscapes and of course a huge pro-tip advantage of having a Red dragon 6k and 5k with a drone shot or two on otherwise a a micro budget raised in part through IndieGoGo. The story follows Patrick who takes the biggest leap of his life when he decides to smuggle cocaine (in quite an ingenious way) in order to save his grandfather’s ranch. What makes the perspective so fresh is that Patrick can be mistaken for a white boy which makes him the perfect foil to pass through on one side, and be underestimated by another because he’s got his grandfather’s cowboy salt of the earth Mexican blood running through him. It’s a gorgeously shot journey and drama/action thriller with a nuanced representation of Texans with deep roots in Mexico.
Follow the film on its Facebook page here
INITIALS S.G. written and directed by Daniel Garcia and Rania Attieh
Speaking of Texans, Daniel Garcia is back with his fourth feature co-written and co-directed with his partner in crime and life Rania Attieh. Their films are straight up masterpieces that have flown under the radar for far too long. Since being featured on Filmmaker Magazine’s 2011 New Faces after Okay Goodbye Enough set in Lebanon, they’ve become festival darlings for each of their films including Recommended by Enrique set in Texas and H. set in New York and which you can watch on iTunes here. Each of their films couldn’t be more different in story and world. The unifying factor is their uncanny ability of making the audience relate to weird, flawed characters in the midst of an unexpected crisis. That and their thoughtful use of the medium for each distinct story. ISG is set in Argentina and marks their first Spanish language film. It follows an aging Serge Gainsbourg wannabe played by Diego Peretti who struggles with an acting career he can’t seem to get on track, an affair he doesn’t want and a dead man he didn’t mean to kill. The couple were among the chosen ones by Sundance to go up to Skywalker labs to complete their sound and score. Watch for this gem sooner than later.
VANDAL written and directed by Jose Daniel ‘Jaydee’ Freixas
Cuban-American Jaydee produced the indie feature Magic City Memoirs back in 2011 which later Andy Garcia boarded as producer and won the Miami Film Festival’s Pursuit of Perfection award. Vandal marks his directorial debut and is set in Miami’s Little Havana and Wynwood neighborhoods. Born in the 305 and a graffiti artist himself Jaydee’s story is about a bourgeoning artist who finds his voice just as he breaches the crossroads between the street art world and illegal bomb graffiti world. It drips with the kind of vividness, self-discovery and desperation that only someone who has lived it could bring to it. The grounded urban drama is shot by talented cinematographer Caleb Heyman (He is also the cinematographer of the beautiful and tragic As You Are by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte). It also features two incredibly talented Latino film and TV actors that need to be on your radar if they aren’t already; Daniel Zovatto who can be seen in Alan Ball’s Here and Now series, and Otmara Marrero from Crackle’s Start Up series. The film also features a handful of Miami’s finest, including cameos by Ahol Sniffs Glue, mi favo. Many other badass street artists contributed like Pedro Amos, Kelly Graval aka RISK,and Nicole Salgar.
WHEN SHE RUNS written and directed by Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck and Robert Machoian.
When She Runs world premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year. This is Peruvian American Rodrigo’s 3rd feature with film school day one homey Robert. Their work is so remarkable for their compelling verite and the artisan, collaborative degree they approach all their work and like artisans. When She Runs for instance is credited as a”A Film By” the two and Kristin Anderson who stars and co-writes and producer Laura Heberton. The story is described, ‘Unable to shake her dreams of competing in the Olympic Games, 20-something runner Kristin sacrifices everything—including precious time with her husband and their young son—to pursue her passion.’ In 2016, their feature, God Bless the Child, won the Copenhagen International Documentary Festival and was nominated for the Cinema Eye Honors and Film Independent Spirit Awards’ Kiehl’s Someone to Watch prize. These guys are master minimalists who combined with their meticulous level of craft result in the most remarkably unfettered gaze.
Follow the film on its Facebook page
THE BREEDING directed by Daniel Armando
The Breeding just world premiered at the HBO NY Latino Film Festival. This is Daniel’s fourth feature in as many years. Since 2014 he has been churning provocative realness into dramas centering gay and lesbians of color and screened widely in the LGBTQ festival circuit. While this feature starts off fairly unassuming, its his most provocative to date. Thomas, an artist who likes to draw erotica is going through some kind of malaise and not really into his partner or excited for an upcoming show. But when he comes across a white financier, the film veers into unexpected territory when Thomas explores the fetish and sexual taboo side of erotica by submitting himself to it. There is an unexpected profundity showing what THAT looks like when you are a gay man of color playing within the fine line of consent…… game changing. Follow Daniel’s film work here.
SHINE written and directed by Anthony Nardolillo
No this isn’t Step Up like the trailer says below, however if you are a fan of impressive dance choreography driven heartfelt movies that lead up to a a jaw dropping and emotional finale then this is for you. This sentimental drama took home the Audience Award at the Urbanworld Film Festival last year. Produced by Sandra Varona, it is the first feature for real life dance choreographer and salsero, Nardolillo, Puerto Rican/Italian. The tale is about two brothers who grow apart after their father passes and must learn to reconcile when they are pitted against each other when a development project threatens their East Harlem neighborhood. With the salsa, bachata, hip and booty shaking soundtrack you’d expect, the film also stars Gilbert Saldivar from East Los and Stomp the Yard (who happens to have been JLo’s dance captain). Coming to theaters October 5. Check out the trailer below.
Related and for a later deep dive post, I want to give a shout out to Alejandro Montoya Marin and Scarlet Moreno, the two Latino filmmakers of Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network’s competition where five young filmmakers were given $7k to make a feature length film. Its called Rebel without a Crew because you ain’t paying ANY crew for work on that dime. Props for what they were able to accomplish!
Lastly, it hurts that of this list of 10 films, only one is made by a Latina (Cristina Ibarra). WTF I know. If you are reading this and know of a Latina directed or written fiction feature coming soon get @ me. I’ve recently gotten familiar with many more Latina writers working in television, and know of some rad Latina directors currently developing and shooting webseries and documentaries so I’ll plan future posts highlighting their work.