10 Outstanding Movies Made by Latinos COMING SOON

Time for another round up of exciting new films MADE BY LATINOS.

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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.

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 3.23.19 PMIt’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  It’s an outdated and faulty metric to use, and combined with the history of “Latino” driven movies not getting much marketing spend, its a guarantee the film will be D.O.A. 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.

Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 2.41.03 PMOf 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).

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

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”.

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originally created by Yukito Kishiro

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!

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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

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DP to watch: Ryan Emanuel

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.

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Daniel Pfeffer

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

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oh hey Raul Castillo
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Ben 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.

Follow @chicano_the

THE INFILTRATORS written and directed by Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera

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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.

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Two consummate filmmakers joining forces = Watch Out!

TEJANO written and directed by David Blue Garcia

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 2.05.15 PMTexas 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

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INITIALS S.G. written and directed by Daniel Garcia and Rania Attieh

IMG_0087 2Speaking 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 IMG_0017of 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.

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They are as wildly talented as they are cool. Daniel Garcia R and Rania Attieh L

VANDAL written and directed by Jose Daniel ‘Jaydee’ Freixas

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Jose Daniel 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 AmosKelly Graval aka RISK,and  Nicole Salgar.

Follow the film’s IG @vandal and check out its website.

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Otmara Marrero
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Daniel Zovatto

WHEN SHE RUNS written and directed by Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck and Robert Machoian. 

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Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 4.32.25 PMWhen 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

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THE BREEDING directed by Daniel Armando

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If I don’t write for people who look like myself, who will? – 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

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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.

Follow @shinefilm2018

 

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.

8 Movies Made by Latinos to Watch Out for in 2018

 

Here’s the inside scoop on some cool upcoming indie films written and directed by U.S. Latinos. Thanks to the long holiday weekend and Black Panther for inspiration I finally put together this hot list.  For more context read my rant about why American Latinos haven’t gotten their Black Panther moment.

All of these films are brand spanking new feature-length fiction films. Some may still be in post and some have yet to premiere at a film festival.  Check it out.

iGILBERT written and directed by Adrian Martinez

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Adrian with his actors Dascha Polanco and Raul Castillo

Comedy character actor Adrian Martinez wrote, directed and stars in this touching drama about an overweight and extremely shy man pushing 40 who still lives with his mom in the Harlem brownstone building she owns.  Gilbert struggles with low self esteem which prevents him from having any real friends let alone a romantic relationship.  He is more comfortable and slightly obsessed with sneaking pictures and videos of women on his iPhone.  When Gilbert notices one of his tenants and secret crush, an aspiring dancer played by Orange is the New Black’s Dasha Polanco, having to deal with an abusive boyfriend, Gilbert starts to come out of his shell and show his mom and those around him the man he really is. Echoing the unlikely heroes of Charlie Kaufman or PT Anderson films, iGilbert is a better late than never coming of age, and nuanced portrayal of a man who struggles to be seen.

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Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 12.38.29 AMAMALIA written and directed by Omar Rodriguez Lopez

Who knows how many films Omar and his producer Adam Thomson have churned out in the last ten years.  The Sentimental Engine Slayer bowed at Tribeca in 2010 which was followed by Los Chidos which premiered at SXSW in 2012.  But even before and certainly after these films the ORL gang regularly gets together to make guerilla style films. The prolific music artist always has a lot to say in them, and now he has refined his skills as storyteller and director with this latest spell binding film called Amalia. First of all, the film is led by the absolutely mesmerizing Denise Dorado whose face dominates and hypnotizes onscreen. Amalia is the story of a woman who has recently lost her mother and is trying to manage her  grief when she learns that her partner has been having an affair. His mysterious death only days later sends her into a spiraling obsession with his mistress.  All the while on this quest for answers, whispers and bizarre sightings start to bleed into her scrappy existence, luring her to an alternate reality that may or may not hold the answers.Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 12.40.42 AM

PERFECT written and directed by Eddie Alcazar

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About to make its world premiere at SXSW, and executive produced by Steven Soderbergh, Eddie Alcazar’s first feature length fiction film is visually bold and enigmatic.  Eddie recently produced the acid trip that was Kuso directed by Flying Lotus.  Per the SXSW description: Perfect is about a young man with a violent past who enters a mysterious clinic where the patients wildly transform their bodies and minds using genetic engineering. A boy in a cold and stark modern house, in a vaguely science fictional world, is seduced by advertisements of perfection to install implantable characteristics directly into his body. The implants heal his dark, twisted visions, but come with a corporeal cost. He persists on applying them, hoping to reach perfection, but ultimately he discovers that purity of mind is not exactly as he’s imagined.

Eddie’s documentary feature Tapia continues to haunt me for how it cinematically portrayed the story of ABQ boxer Johnny Tapia and that was like 2012.

Trailer:

EVERYTHING IS FREE written and directed by Brian Jordan Alvarez

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Following up his hilarious web series The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo, actor and creator Brian Jordan Alvarez wrote and directed his first feature length film last year.  The film is being called ‘a psychosexual beach comedy. ‘

Included in Variety’s Comics to Watch in 2017, Brian does not hold back on the super sex-charged lunacy and heightened emotions of obsession, jealousy and utter confusion that swell when you mix young and naive gay and not-so-gay girls and boys together.  This theme running through his work is what makes it so fun and addicting to watch. That and the super improv like feel of his and his actors’ performances. Not sure what the deal with the release is.

MONSTERS AND MEN written and directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green

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This is Reinaldo’s first feature film for which he won a Special Jury Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  Neon picked up the film for distribution and will be releasing the film sometime this year.   Anthony Ramos stars as Manny one of three young men affected by a police shooting in this Brooklyn set drama.  The film wisely eschews what could have easily been melodrama.  Grounded in realism through and through, the film’s most unforgettable moment comes near the end when time seems to slow down, as if drawing a deep exhale, which captures how suddenly life can become surreal.   This feature could have easily been a superb limited television series it’s so rich and complex with storylines.  Very excited to see what he directs next as he is somebody who can cohesively tell an epic kind of drama robust in multiperspectives.

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DUCK BUTTER written and directed by Miguel Arteta

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 9.45.54 PMMiguel hasn’t directed a feature he’s written since his first film, Star Maps back in 1997.  He co-writes Duck Butter with Search Party TV star and indie darling Alia Shawkat.  Shot in 9 days and called an experimental comedy, Alia has described it about two girls who meet and decide to spend 24 hours together, and they have to have an orgasm every hour.  Really excited about this one!

**update**

Duck Butter will premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.  Trailer below

 

**** The next couple filmmakers were not born in the U.S. but their voices have been significantly shaped within the U.S.

ALL ABOUT NINA written and directed by Eva Vives.

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Nina with the Sundance Kid at the labs

Barcelena born Eva Vives co-wrote Raising Victor Vargas in 2002 with Peter Sollett as their thesis film.  After writing and directing a couple shorts herself including Join the Club which played at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Eva applied and got into the Sundance Screenwriting lab with the project then called Nina. She later joined forces with rising producer Natalie Qasabian, a producer who got to hone her producing chops with the Duplass Bros Rainbow Time and is now killing it on her own having recently produced the online thriller Search directed by Aneesh Chaganty which won the Audience Award in the Next Category at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and Miguel Arteta’s upcoming Duck Butter.  The amazing Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as Nina, a comic standup who impulsively decides to move out to LA only to confront the deep seated trauma she can’t run away from, and ultimately reckon with how to find success and truth in her creative self expression.  Also starring Common, Kate del Castillo, Clea DuVall.

**update**

All about Nina will premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.

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I think of a Nora Ephron when I think of Eva’s knack of being funny, relatable and heart-breakingly real.  This is a film that should pop up later this year.  Watch her short film below.

BLINDSPOTTING directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada

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The director busting out a cameo in Blindspotting

You may have already heard about the film that was co-written and stars Hamilton Star Daveed Diggs.  It opened the U.S. Dramatic Competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It is one of a handful of films like Monsters and Men which went into the festival without distribution and came out with a major distribution release.  Lionsgate has picked up the film and announced a June release!

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 1.10.55 AMCarlos was born in Mexico and moved to the states as a teen before enrolling at Chapman University for film school.  Influenced primarily by the music videos he grew up watching here, he ended up directing many award winning videos including a majority for Daveed’s band Clipping.  2016 was the year he made the leap into more narrative long form.  First, directing the digital series High and Mighty for Warner Bros Digital Network Stage 13, and then directing this indie feature Blindspotting.

Carlos has an eye for a gritty hyper realism, an inventive flair and dynamic visual aesthetic that elevates the humor and resonant drama of both Blindspotting and High and Mighty.  Like Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Eddie Alcazar on this list, I would die to see him direct a big genre film to unlock his creative prowess at the highest level of the game.

When will Latinos get our Black Panther?

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There’s nothing like a fit of jealousy and frustration to get me motivated in a positive way.  The recent uproar of the Latino community calling out Hollywood about the lack of Latino representation, juxtaposed with the Black community’s successful mobilization towards increasing their representation  – which is undoubtedly fueling Black Panther’s record-shattering box office this weekend – has jolted me into posting a new edition of 8 Indie Movies Made by Latinos to Watch out for. But first, I want to dig into this question of what we in the Latino community CAN do if we ever want to SEE A SUPERHERO LIKE US.

nhmcI started this blog over ten years ago to raise awareness for American Latino film writer/directors.   I was confused and angry as to why there was a staggering lack of authentic Latino representation in mainstream films when I was discovering a number of Latino writers and directors in the independent film festival space.  Not as many as I thought I would find, truth be told, but definitely a steady number of filmmakers whose storytelling sensibilities reflected a culture I related to. I wanted to use this blog to yell “Yo, there are hella talented Latino writers and directors out here”. As if identifying them would be all it would take to make that change.

27021617_1688915677842179_4209939431460812473_o(1)It was around that time I kept hearing that ridiculous claim from studio execs and agents that while they would love to champion more Latino creators, they just don’t know of of any.  This statement persists today and is qualified with…’who are good enough’, or my favorite; ‘high profile enough’ (Insert fit of frustrated fury and bittersweet irony for that last part).

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 8.14.00 PMNewsflash: it takes years and lots of money to develop a creator and build the credits necessary before major studio executives come calling and that Oscar stage beckon.  Which is why, at the risk of sounding like I’m disparaging the National Hispanic Media Coalition’s valuable advocacy, I don’t think that their picketing the Oscars to attack studio heads over Latino exclusion is a fair argument or the most productive use of resources.

Beatriz-at-Dinner-2017-movie-posterIt’s not like there is a consistently eligible pool of Latino writers/directors who the Academy has been overlooking all these years.  Don’t get me wrong, its a damn shame that Miguel Arteta who directed Beatriz at Dinner was technically eligible for a Best Director nomination this year but did not get the campaign needed to make it happen.  Or what about Lemon, written and directed by Afro-Latina Janicza Bravo?  It’s true “For Your Consideration” campaigns are wildly expensive for indie distributors to take on. But we have to ask for the sake of that argument, what other American Latino writers and directors were even eligible for an Oscar nomination?

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Lalo Alcaraz, before he was hired on Coco

Representing the Latino diaspora in the Oscars this year is Pixar’s animated feature Coco.  But seriously, don’t play yourself!  Disney’s long-time-coming co-opt of Dia de los Muertos strategically and conveniently leveraged the co-directed and co-written credit of  Latino Adrian Molina ONLY when talking to Latino outlets and to legitimize its Mexican authenticity. Because oh wait a minute, Molina’s name is visibly missing from the official nominee announcement.  All I have to say is they better bring his ass up on stage and let him get some words in if they end up winning.

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Tengo Nagendo EVP at Disney

Lets take a page from the Black community and create our own machine, and do less of that old guard-led raging against The Machine.  While there are a number of film organizations aimed at supporting Latino writers and directors to help develop their voices, its critical to support mid-career storytellers so they may continue to master their craft and realize their #brownexcellence.  We also need to shift a lot more support towards raising savvy producers.  After all the producer is the most critical role for a writer/director to be able to execute their vision.

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Nate Moore, producer at Marvel

The biggest challenge is how to infiltrate the overwhelmingly white agency and studio system. Real change will come when there are Latinos in decision-making executive roles because then we’ll have someone on the inside naturally considering, relating, and understanding the value of bringing in more Latino creators to pitch original ideas. Besides Paul Perez who came to Warner Bros from Pantelion, I don’t know of any Latino executive at a major film studio.  If I’m wrong please point it out to me.

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Rictor, a Marvel character created in 1987 about a Mexican-American from San Francisco who has seismic powers.  Character made a cameo in Logan. More here.

As we know there is a systemic tendency inside Hollywood to reboot proven franchises and IP. So we need to make sure Latinos get the shot to put their spin on them.  Just see the African-American community with Tendo Nagenda at Disney backing Ryan Coogler with Black Panther.  By the way, I’m not saying that opportunities should be contingent on creators asked to tell some version of the ethnicity they represent.  They should be included and have the opportunity to tell and pitch whatever story they can tell the shit out of.

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Super Villain El Diablo played by Jay Hernandez in Suicide Squad

Regarding Latino talent on screen, I concede that hiring practices in major motion pictures are more affected by who is on screen rather than the talent of the storyteller. Still, it doesn’t diminish the overall long play strategy of focusing behind the camera to position Latino writers/directors/producers. Because as the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study discovered, the outcome of hiring more underrepresented directors will organically translate into more opportunities for underrepresented casting choices.

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Powerhouse Producer Stephanie Allain with Mel Jones producer/director

Lastly, supporting Latino culture writers and film critics is vital like Vanessa Erazo of Remezcla has pointed out with her twitter thread, because again, those who have a connection or reference to a specific culture can more likely respond and champion the business value of supporting that voice.  This kind of holistic approach from within is more productive than pounding at the gates to demand from a system that does not include our community and one we have already called out as broken be that agent of change. Only then will we see our Barry Jenkins, Ava Duvernays and Ryan Cooglers flex their creative muscles at that next level to gain high profile recognition, and ultimately move the dial on reflecting what our representation actually looks like in this country.

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The truth is I’m getting chills watching the African American community’s cathartic joy in celebrating Black Panther’s unprecedented success.  They have shepherded their own industry leaders from multiple angles and in turn have made the impact necessary to create this unstoppable ripple effect which is only going to gain more speed with Ava Duvernay’s upcoming Wrinkle in Time. Will and Jada Smith have donated one million dollars to Sundance Institute which will yield more black creators in the indie-to-studio pipeline.  Forest Whitaker has lifted up many new and fresh black voices by producing alongside Nina Yang Bongiovi through their Significant Productions including Fruitvale Station, Ryan’s first feature, Dope directed by Rick Famuyiwa, Roxanne Roxanne directed by Michael Larnell coming soon to Netflix and this year’s wild Sorry To Bother You by Boots Riley which was just picked up by Annapurna Pictures.

Charles King’s WME background and connection to high profile talent got him to convince investors to get Macro, responsible for producing Dee Rees’ Oscar nominated Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 1.29.25 PMfilm Mudbound, off the ground.  The undeniable and thrilling result of this ecosystem is that more young black kids are beginning to identify with mainstream media heroes!

When will Latinos, who per Forbes will be 30% of the country in 2060, experience that feeling and similar “Defining Moment”. For a hot second in the 80s, wide release films La Bamba and Stand & Deliver gave our community that sense of validation through representation. Its going to take a lot more to pump up the volume so that more than one American Latino writer/director gets the chance to be considered to helm a blockbuster, or make a film eligible and backed with the money to cinch a nomination for an Academy Award.  As terrible in reflecting the diverse American reality as those traditional institutions are, they are still key influences in defining mass culture and inspiring the next generation of artists who might suddenly see the viability in pursuing their storytelling art if they see people like them.

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Aurora Guerrero, filmmaker who has recently directed Queen Sugar, Ava DuVernay’s  television series on Oprah’s cable channel.

In case you are like ‘but wait there’s been many Latinos who have been nominated or have won Academy Awards’.  Don’t get it twisted. Keep in mind when I use the word Latino, I make that unpopular distinction between those folks born or raised here who have Latin American and or Caribbean roots and those born and raised outside of the U.S..  That’s not to diminish the amazing work of Mexicans like Alejandro Gonzalez Iñnaritu and Guillermo del Toro, or Chilean filmmakers like Pablo Larrain with their recent English language films, but 1. They ain’t Latino because 2. there’s a disparity of class and resources between aspiring filmmakers born here and those born outside of the states, and unlike their international counterparts Latinos have been profiled and marginalized as ‘people of color’, a U.S. context that comes with very distinct barriers that keep them from global recognition.

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Eddie Olmos

Here is a reality check: The only Latinos nominated in the headliner writing/directing/producing categories has been Gregory Nava in the Best Original Screenplay category for El Norte in 1983 and Lourdes Portillo in the Best Documentary category for The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in 1985.  In the Best Animated Feature, Jonas Rivera won in 2015 for Pixar’s Inside Out which he shared with Pete Doctor.

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Jonas Rivera

We damn right will claim the Weitz brothers’ nomination for Best Adapted screenplay for About a Boy in 2002. Their grandma Lupita Tovar was a Mexican actor who starred in the first ever Mexican ‘talkie’ Santa.

In the Best Actor/Actress categories the first ever Latino was Jose Ferrer nominated in 1949 who won in 1952.  Since then its only EVER been OG Chicano Eduard James Olmos in 1982 who was nominated for Stand and Deliver. That was twenty six years ago!

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Benicio Del Toro

In supporting roles, nominees include Benicio del Toro –  two time nominee who won for Traffic, Rita Moreno who won for West Side Story, Anthony Quinn, four time nominated, two time winner, Mercedes Ruehl who won for Fisher King, Rosie Perez and Susan Kohner.  That’s it folks. More than a minute ago and over the course of 90 years of Oscars. WTF.

machete-kills-castOutside of the Oscar world but definitely more of a pop culture mainstream influence our highest profile Latino writer/director/producers is Robert Rodriguez whose success in capturing a wide audience is due in large part because he likes playing in the genres big studio films generally traffic in.  Machete (2010) is a film that cost under $20 million dollars to make.  And its box office made double that (unfortunately the sequel did not do nearly as well).  Whether its the characters in Frank Darabont’s Sin City, the beloved Mariachi character, Machete or Spy Kids, Rodriguez has always tapped into his own type of super heroes and world building.  Yet this guy hasn’t made a film over $40 million – which is considered low-mid studio movie).  If he hasn’t proved it time and time again, he can do a lot with a little, so just imagine what mind-blowing next level cinema he can do with a $100+ million dollar film.  And at the very top is Roberto Orci.  A writer and producer of the most expensive television and tentpole projects in Hollywood.  That’s it right?   1.  that’s two people 2. dudes 3. who can create (write/direct/produce) at the highest scale of this  business.

A WRINKLE IN TIME
ALL THE WAY UP!

Needless to say all of this galvanizes me. We need more Latino CREATORS. I feel the pressure to reach out to my community and do more.  I’ll post more frequently about American Latino storytellers. I’m also doing what I can to bring in and develop more Latino voices in my current role as Creative Executive at Warner Bros Digital Network’s Stage 13.

And don’t forget to check out my latest post 8 feature-length fiction films currently in post that I’m excited for the world to see because they are wildly defiant, visionary, and unique perspectives created by Latinos.

WTF is Latino at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival

The 2017 Sundance Film Festival is officially underway, and its a special one for me because it marks my 10th year with the not for profit.  I started working for the institute in 2007 and ever since, every year from from August to November, I screen submissions as a Programming Associate, primarily Latin American and Latino films.  More than ever, I feel priviledged to watch such a volume and diverse array of perspectives.
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As for my personal mission on this blog,  I choose to talk about Latino representation in a laser focused way:  highlighting the writers and directors who are out there telling the stories they want to tell the way they want to tell it, and emphasizing the U.S. context.  As much as I love to talk about international films, the real void in the U.S. media and therefore urgent need to support, are stories created by first, second, third, multicultural generation Americans.

Overview:  Boricuas dominating. Puerto Rico most definitely repping.  Also, we got a healthy presence in Digital and Virtual Reality which makes sense beause it (WE) are the future.   Without further ado, a rundown of WTF is Latino at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
In the U.S. Documentary Competition

DOLORES AKA Woman in Motion directed by Peter Bratt

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Executive produced by none other than Carlos Santana and supported by the San Francisco Film Society’s Documentary Fund, this long overdue celebration of Dolores Huerta’s achievements over the course of her 60something years in civil rights is reverent, timely and galvanizing. Peter Bratt is an alumni of the festival.  He wrote and directed the San Francisco set, gay coming of age La Mission which played in the 2009 festival. Armed with a rich archive of footage, banging soundtrack and one-on-ones with Dolores herself, the film chronicles one woman’s boldness in tackling the obstacles she faced on the sociopolitical battlefield along with the personal challenges of being an absentee mother.  It encourages all women to seize claim to their often overlooked contributions to society.

Also in the U.S. Documentary Competition

DINA directed by Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles

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screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-1-08-25-pmNew to the festival, Puerto Rican Antonio Santini’s first documentary feature co-directed with Dan Sickles, MALA MALA about the trans sex worker community in Puerto Rico, premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.  Like the intimate access of that film, Dina also has a striking sense of intimacy, unpresumptiousness and ultimately delivers an unexpected and very honest connection to someone as authentically unique as Dina.
In the high profile out of competition Premieres section

BEATRIZ AT DINNER directed by Miguel Arteta

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31343311256_1f1f040a94_zThe Sundance Film Festival showed Arteta’s very first film, Star Maps back in 1997. Ever since he’s made a career of crafting indelible characters across film and television.  He reteams with Mike White (Chuck and Buck, GoodGirl) on this deliciously wicked tale of a fateful dinner encounter between a humble holistic healer and a mega brazen successful business developer.  The two opposing forces are embodied by the superb Salma Hayek and immense John Lithgow.  Thought provoking, unpredictable and utterly engrossing, the dark comedy is produced by Killer Films. Watch an exclusive clip here.

In the bold Next section

LEMON written and directed by Janicza Bravo

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Co-written with her star and partner in crime, Brett Gelman, Janicza’s striking  feature length debut boasts an insanely big and comedically gifted cast including Michael Cera, Judy Greer, Gillian Jacobs, Martin Starr.  Along with a background in design, Bravo has a knack for capturing characters lost in flight with a tragic humor and heart. An alumni of the festival, Gregory Go Boom with Michael Cera and last year’s Woman in Deep with Alison Pill, Bravo is a busy woman.  Last May she debuted a Virtual Reality experience at Tribeca Film Festival, called A Hard World for Small Things about a day in the life of South Central, and also directed an episode of the Golden Globe winning show, Atlanta.

In the Shorts Competition

KAIJU BUNRAKU directed by Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva

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Marking their 12th project (features and shorts) at the festival in 7 years, multimedia mischievous artists, Jillian and Lucas bring a japanese inspired marionette short this year which like all of their work is eye-grabbing, provocative and is about more than meets the eye.  The Miami full time Borsht Corp is a nonprofit which supports Miami filmmakers, they recently supported 28 filmmakers with cold hard cash all of which are poised to premiere at their festival which has been listed on Moviemakers 25 Coolest Festivals in the world.  For more info on this February’s event click here.

GOOD CRAZY written and directed by Rosa Salazar

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Making her directorial debut, actor Rosa Salazar stars in this short shot around the hipster rising area in LA named Frogtown. The logline: A complex chick deals with a vanilla beau, a shitty brunch, and a dead coyote all in a Los Angeles day. Heart.  Excited to see more of her writing and directing.

In the newly minted, Short Form Episodic

GENTIFIED written and directed by Marvin Lemus

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Marvin Lemus who made a short film with Project Involve called Vamonos which I loved (you can watch it on PBS online) will be premiering 3 episodes of this series that takes place in Boyle Heights.  Each episode features a resident trying to pursue their living/art. Lemus hits a chord/funny bone here as most of the tension and strife is intergenerational; old school mexican generation clashing with millenials.  The series is backed by Mr. Charles King and his company Macro.  Lemus is in good company.  Macro also produced Denzel Washington’s Fences, and at the festival Dee Ree’s WW2 period Mudbound.
In the animation spotlight

VICTOR Y ISOLINA by William Caballero

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screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-11-43-57-amIts only three years ago that William popped up on the radar with his animated series Gran’pa Knows Best, a really funny and sweet series in which he used 3-D printed miniatures of his Puerto Rican grandfather over real voicemails that his grandfather from would leave for him. Initially an independent short, it was quickly snapped up with HBO.  Victor y Isolina introduces his grandma to the mix, who is the perfect foil to his unapologetic grandpa.  Produced by Elaine Del Valle who produced her own webseries, Reasons y I’m Single.  Check out his website for more info.

In the New Frontier (the future) section

NEUROSPECULATIVE AFROFEMINISM

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screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-9-47-55-amI don’t know much about this one but the description sounds super fascinating; a beauty salon of the future’. Fingers crossed I get an opportunity to experience it while I’m here.   Also I’m dying to meet one of the artist/engineers, Carmen Aguilar y Wedge who founded Hypen-Lab, an international team of women of color working at the intersection of tech, art, science and narrative.

IF NOT LOVE by Rose Troche

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I been crushing hard on Rose Troche for as far back as I can remember.  Go Fish changed my life.  No joke.  She was a producer on Concussion, and has since come back to the festival in the New Frontier program with a series called Perspectives, which puts you in the shoes of a person caught in a situation a result which shatters any idea of black and white and makes you swim in the gray.  Per the description:  IF NOT LOVE challenges the viewer to contemplate another difficult subject—a mass shooting at a nightclub, but this time with the question posited: is another outcome possible?

OUT OF EXILE: DANIEL’S STORY by Nonny de la Peña

I mean, she’s been called the Godmother of Virtual Reality.  Nonny de la Peña also returns to New Frontier with this piece that recreates Daniel Ashley Pierce’s coming out video that went viral.  If you don’t know the heartbreaking and inspirational story read here This experience puts your body into the middle of the action around audio that Daniel recording during that encounter.

For deeper coverage on Latino and Latin American talent at the festival check out REMEZCLA.  For a closer look at all documentaries at the festival head over to What (not) to Doc.   Livestream the festival’s panels and watch select shorts from home. And follow my BTS on Twitter @IndieFindsLA and insta ChicanafromChicago.

WTF is Latino at SXSW FILM?

3026402-inline-i-17-an-oral-history-of-sxsw-interactiveI’m getting all psyched up just thinking about this weekend when I’ll finally be seated at the Alamo Ritz on 6th street, ordering my refreshing Paloma cocktail, and sitting back to watch some wildness that SXSW Film selected. Yep, its the 2016 SXSW rodeo.

Of course I’m talking about the mega mega South by Southwest Interactive/Film/Music Festival and Conference kicking off this Thursday from March 11-20 in Austin, Texas.

So what’s the Latino presence?  Lets go wide for this one. For the past two years SXSW has tagged its Ibero and Latin American programming across film, interactive and music, under the umbrella SXAméricas. This year, Brazil and Spain have the biggest presence in the film program (3 features for Brazil, 5 films/filmakers from Spain).  For the first time in the festival’s history there is a film from Ecuador, UIO: Take Me for a Ride (although back in 2014 Austin based Ecuadorian-American filmmaker Alex R. Johnson had his film Two Step in the fest) which is notable for its rarity.  Major KEY alert, Uruguayan filmmaker  Fede Alvarez will be dropping his mysteriously under wraps untitled Ghosthouse Thriller.

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bad cop, bad cop

Personally I cannot wait to see WAR ON EVERYONE by the wicked Irish hooligan John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, Cavalry, also his brother wrote/directed the savagely entertaining IN BRUGES).  War on Everyone which premiered in the fancy Berlinale last month is a black, pulpy buddy cop flick filmed in ‘Burque’ New Mexico. The film stars Michael Peña, Alexander Skarsgard, Tessa Thompson and Miss Bala/Bond girl Stephanie Sigman.

 

 

I usually try to focus on only U.S. Latino writers/directors, but I’ll expand and be global for this edition as there is just too much cool filmmaking and stories coming from South America and Spain.  Also, this is by no means a definitive list of WTF is Latino but a pre-curtain look. More once I’m on the ground!

PET directed by Carles Torrens

One of five directors Vice says is going to save Spanish Cinema, Carles Torrens’ second feature film, Pet is premiering in the Midnight section. From Barcelona, Torrens graduated from Chapman University. A psychological thriller in which Dominic Monaghan plays a man who runs into an old high school classmate he use to have the hots for. His creepy attempts to romance is met with rejection. Naturally, he takes her prisoner at the dogpound he works at to teach her a lesson, only to find that she is not who she seems. Torrens’ first directing feature was Apartment 143 written by Rodrigo Cortes (Buried with Ryan Reynolds). Previously Torrens directed shorts like the twisted thriller Sequence, which has played over a hundred festivals. Pet teaser below.

12828500_1070131749697280_3048930164827168970_oOVARIAN PSYCOS directed by Joanna Sokolows and Kate Trumbull-LaValle

The OVA’S ARE COMING!  It’s so rad to see this documentary about the badass cycling brigade, Ovarian Psycos get its world premiere at South By. I have been talking about this one on here since its first Kickstarter, and last year’s Top Docs to Watch Out for list.  The filmmakers managed to successfully crowd-fund a second time on Kickstarter in order to fly and put up members of the collective from the Eastside  EL-Lay in Austin and represent at the world premiere.  Don’t be surprised to see the sisterhood ride through the street raising awareness for social issues that affect all women. In fact I’d follow them on Twitter so you can join in. Austin has a great rental bike program.

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 7.54.00 PMUNTITLED GHOST HOUSE THRILLER written and directed by Fede Alvarez

With no confirmed title yet nor film stills out there, this second original film from Alvarez is about “a group of teens break into a blind man’s home thinking they’ll get away with the perfect crime. They’re wrong.”  This is the guy who six years ago caught fire when his 5 minute short film Panic Attack made the rounds and ultimately got him the gig to helm the 2013 Evil Dead reboot which is bananas.  Only info that is clear on this one is that Jane Levy stars, its from Sony Pictures and Sam Raimi produces. It’s been referred to and on IMDB its listed as A Man in the Dark.  Fede has also been rumored to be director of Warner Bros’  Dark Universe. Fede has also directed episodes of Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Til Dawn TV series.

TRANSPECOS co-written and directed by Greg Kwedar

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“The border is a shifting line.”

A thriller set in the dry outposts of Texas in which border patrol men, two of who are played by Latinos, Clifton Gonzalez and Gabriel Luna, stumble onto evidence that may lead to a plot between the cartel and one of their own. I read the script a while ago and remember vividly visualizing the filmmakers’ cinematic western noir intent. Given the score is co-written by The Revenant composer, Bryce Dessner, and it the film shot by Jeffrey Waldron, a versatile commercial, documentary and indie film D.P, it will surely deliver on that front.  Kwedar, who previously produced the documentary Rising From Ashes, about Rwanda’s first ever cyling team, teamed up with Texan filmmaker, Clint Bentley to write his feature directorial debut. I’m eager to report back on this one.  Last border fiction tale I saw that flexed its thriller genre (unfortunately over story) was El Desierto from Mexican Jonas Cuaron which ultimately suffered from oversimplistic storytelling.

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From-Nowhere-Photo-1FROM NOWHERE co-written and directed by Matthew Newton

In Narrative Spotlight, From Nowhere is the film adaptation of the play, No One Asked Me written by Kate Ballen, whose 10 year experience as a counselor at a Bronx high school where she helped undocumented students navigate the college admission process became the basis and inspiration to tell this story.  Australian director/actor Newton directed No One Asked Me as part of Fringe NYC festival last fall.  Newton previously directed Three Blind Mice which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.  Julianne Nicholson ostensibly plays Kate as the teacher and the students are played by J. Mallory McCree (Quantico, We Need to Talk about Kevin), and newcomer Octavia Chavez-Richmond.

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INSATIABLE directed by Brett A. Schwartz

Homaro Cantu was a goddamned trail blazer.  Legend has it that he came to Chicago with $300 in his pocket and camped out at famed master chef Charlie Trotter’s until he gave him a job.  He shortly thereafter became his sous chef. In 2003 he opened up his avant garde restaurant Moto which became a prized Michelin star rated restaurant and blew up Chicago on the culinary map. He was a beloved figure in the chef community so the news of his death last spring at age 38 rocked everyone’s world.  My sister, Diana Davila who is a chef in Chicago idolized Cantu so much that she had her engagement dinner there.  Apparently filmmaker Brett A. Schwartz was granted a fair amount of access for the three years he followed him. The aptly titled film focuses on Cantu’s game-changing culinary practices, mad passion for the intersection of science, art and health, and deep imprint he left as a molecular gastronomy pioneer.

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Twitter

SHORTS

THE SEND-OFF by Ivette Lucas and Patrick Bresnan

I previously wrote about Ivette’s film Mexican Fried Chicken. Her new documentary short with filmmaking partner Patrick Bresnan premiered at Sundance earlier this year.  The film is a fly on the wall look at a group of seniors from a Central Florida high school as they they prep and dress for the big prom affair which includes their local block party show where the royally dressed young couples pose for snaps.

PHIL’S CAMINO directed by Jessica Lewis and Annie Oneil

A first film, and a really moving half hour doc short about Phil who has stage four cancer and decides that to ‘heal’ himself he is going to trek the 500 mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain.

International films

EAT MY SHIT written and directed by Eduardo Casanova

You know you want to watch.  Here is the full 3 minute shit.

The 23 year old filmmaker’s bio: Cinema is what I truly believe. Cinema is the cause and solution for every trouble I have. Cinema to me is like morphine to Bela Lugosi, like Richard Burton to Liz Taylor, like red lights to Dario Argento, like big boobs to Russ Meyer, like Lynch and the dwarfs.

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VICTOR XX written and directed by Ian Garrido Lopez.

Trailer above for the 20 something min short from Spain which was incubated and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.   The film’s synopsis: “Victor likes to experiment with his gender. He doesn’t know if he feels like a boy or a girl.”  The actor who plays Victor, Alba Martinez is magnetic. Bravo to Ian, a 27 year old transgender filmmaker from the south east Mediteranean coast of Spain for directing the performance and bringing this story to the fore.

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Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 11.18.32 PMSEMANA SANTA written and directed by Alejandra Marquez

I previously wrote about this first feature in my last Mexican film roundup post. Making its U.S. premiere after playing Toronto up north and Los Cabos down South, the film is a keenly felt and compelling story set in a run down Acapulco during Easter holiday.  You might recognize Tenoch Huerta from Dias de Gracia, Gueros, Mozart & The Jungle.

56babbf32109cUIO: TAKE ME FOR A RIDE co-written and directed by Micaela Rueda

LGBT film from Ecuador, a co-production with Mexico and Colombia. Michaela has spent the last five years working on her first fiction feature debut, working from a script by Juan José Valle.  You can see the trailer on the film sales agent site M-Appeal

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 11.30.55 PMKILL ME PLEASE written and directed by Anita Rocha da Silveira

First premiering at the Venice Film Festival this impressive next level teen angst tale is a first feature from Brazil/Argentina. Set in a newly developed city in Rio de Janeiro the story’s backdrop is a wave of murders which calls 15  year old Bia’s attention. The filmmaker says, “Bia is someone who wants to kill herself yet wants to carry on living, experiencing everything to the edge – she wants to be killed but also wants to kill, wake up the next day, and do it all over again.”  Sounds dope.

DEAD SLOW AHEAD co-written and directed by Mauro Herce

The hums, deep waves and barge ship motor noises makes for a really hypnotizing minimal film from Spain. Check out the trailer here. Born in Barcelona in 1976, Mauro Herce graduated in engineering and fine arts before enrolling in top film school Cuba’s San Antonio de los Baños.

JULES AND DOLORES cowritten and directed by Caito Ortiz

Selected in the Visions section, the more ‘audacious’ filmmaking section, this 1983 set Brazilian caper about stealing the world cup trophy looks like pure boogie down fun.  You can see trailer here.  Caito Ortiz is on the director roster of slick advertising and entertainment company Prodigo Films.

THE SPACE IN BETWEEN – Marina Abramovic and Brazil

Directed by the Sao Paulo cinematography artist, Marco Del Fiol.  All you need to know is that this is Marina’s trip and we are along for the ‘hardcore and spiritual’ ride.

 

COMING SOON: 10 EXCITING INDIE FILMS BY AMERICAN LATINOS

No better time than Oscar week to post my annual list of new films made by Latinos. I hope reading about these cool flicks inspires you to seek and consume the stories you value outside the super exclusive corporate media. Before we get to the list, my 3.63 pesos on the #HollywoodSoWhite convo.

I appreciated Dennis Romero’s recent LA Weekly article called “Hollywood’s Diversity Emergency is not Black” in which he gives big ups to the Black community for doing the ‘heavy lifting’ in making the diversity conversation trend. Romero essentially calls on the Asian and Latino community to take part in the dialogue because we stand the most to gain in moving the dial considering the wider gap that exists between Asian and Latinos’ population and their respective media representation compared to African Americans’ numbers.

Using the framework of proportion, USC’s Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity reveals that across the 309 episodes and 109 films they covered, 15% were directed by women (50% population), and 13% were directed by underrepresented racial/ethnic groups (38% non-white).

It makes sense that the percentage of on screen underrepresented characters increases (17.5%) when an underrepresented director is at the helm of a scripted episode or film.
I’m not sure what to make then of a recent phenomenon I have seen within the Latino community; an overwhelming desire/shift to tell stories UNRELATED to their Latino identity. Don’t get it twisted,  I respect the artist’s prerogative and agree that just because you are from a certain ethnicity, you shouldn’t feel obligated to tell that ‘ethnic film’. But if the rationale is that in order to tell a universal story you can’t be ethnic specific, I totally take issue with that, and would argue on the contrary, we just haven’t done it enough to prove it’s not true.  Along these puzzling but no less real lines, I was startled to read in the report, “As (female) power increases, female presence decreases. In film, television, and streaming executive ranks, 46.7% of Senior Vice President-level executives are female.”  What’s up ladies?

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Part of me gets it though, both artist and gatekeeper is faced with the obligation, pressure and responsibility to succeed in a business of mediated platforms.  Unfortunately that usually means don’t stick your neck out, less risk.  But what if we made it our goal to seize and create as many chances to allow ourselves to FAIL, at least as much as the rest get to, because that is how we get to the next level.

Okay enough rant!  Here is my curated list of brand spanking new feature length fiction films written and directed by filmmakers in the US of A who have Mexican/Caribbean/Central/South American roots. Many of these films are in post-production but might be making their world premiere at a film festival or VOD later this year.  As you can tell, some filmmakers clearly chose to tell a story from a specific Latino character/experience, while others drew from their culture in a more abstract, no less personal route.  One thing is for sure though, each of these artists have been hustling their craft for years outside the studio system which is why you can see a distinct genre and aesthetic in their work.  Make sure to check out the links to their previous work.  It is one thing to say there we be underrepresented and quite another thing to be overlooked.

BETWEEN US written and directed by Rafael Palacio Illingworth

From Caviar Content, a multi media company that financed last year’s Diary of a Teenage Girl by Marielle Heller, comes this intense romance drama made by Mexico/Colombia raised AFI grad Rafael Palacio Illingworth.  The film features two incredibly talented actors Olivia Thirlby (Juno) and Ben Feldman (Ginsberg in Mad Men!) as a couple navigating a tempestuous “post-honeymoon phase” while trying to hang on to the chemistry that first made them gravitate towards each other. Rafael starred in his own first film MACHO ( see here,) which like The Force, also tracked a relationship through the initial meet-cute high.  Macho landed with IFC after premiering at the Raindance Film Festival in London in 2010. The film just announced its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

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antibirthANTIBIRTH written and directed by Danny Perez

Danny is two for two, his first and second films have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Raised in Virginia in a Cuban Catholic family, Danny cut his visual teeth while collaborating with avant garde music group, Animal Collective for years.  His first film, Oddsac is in many ways a sensory album for the band. It screened in Sundance’s experimental New Frontier section in 2010. Taking his skills for phantasmagoric imagery and folding hyperreal narrative and social commentary Perez shot the wasteland USA set Antibirth which stars none other than the coolest indie queens, Natasha Lyonne and Chle Sevigny.  The film got rave reviews, having premiered in the much talked about Midnight section at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  A film that’s been called “a debauched progeny of Cronenberg’s classic, The Brood, it has without a doubt the wildest, most bat-shit crazy ending I have ever seen. Must-watch. Stay tuned to hear where it lands more fests and distribution.

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HEARTS OF PALM written and directed by  Monica Peña

Following her first feature, the experimental street docu-fiction film, Ectotherms, which drew comparisons to Harmony Korine’s work, Monica Peña is back with her second feature, Hearts of Palm. The fable like film follows a romance en route to decay between two sentient beings. Peña brings to life her distinct vision with her previous collaborators Brad Lovett aka Dim Past who stars and is behind the sonic pulse of the film, and Jorge Rubiera, cinematographer who beams an otherworldly yet unmistakable Miami vibe. The Cuban American filmmaker is a Sundance Institute/Knight Fellow.   Watch Ectotherms here.  Hearts of Palm is world premiering at the upcoming Miami International Film Festival.

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Lupe21LUPE UNDER THE SUN written and directed by Rodrigo Reyes

Since the debut of his 2012 highly acclaimed and visual border documentary, Purgatorio, Rodrigo Reyes has been developing a number of projects, including this evocative tale called Lupe Under the Sun. Originally planned to be a documentary set in Merced, his hometown, Northern California, Reyes let the story evolve into a hybrid  film about an old Mexican man who has spent his entire life working in the California fields.  When he attempts to get back in touch with the family and life he left behind, he finds out that his absence did not stop them from moving on.  Shot by Justin Chin, his D.P. on Purgatorio, the film casts a neorealist, tinge of black humor aided by the real world surroundings of the agricultural desert suburb.  Lupe Under the Sun was selected to participate in IFP Narrative Lab last year and is expected to finish the film in 2016.

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MARIGOLD THE MATADOR, written and directed by Kenneth Castillo

The prolific independent LA born and raised Chicano filmmaker, Kenny Castillo is currently finishing his 7th feature.  Known for his popular short form series, The Misadventures of Cholo Chaplin which he is currently developing into animation, Castillo has since successfully specialized in urban films led by multi dimensional characters. Marigold the Matador focuses on a single mother from the perspective of an 11 year old girl who deals with her feelings of loneliness and isolation by imagining herself as a Matador in the world of the Day of the Dead. Most of the story  was shot unscripted and the result is a very authentic and emotionally engaging film.  He is currently raising funds to finish the film. The true blue indie filmmaker entrepreneur he is, you can head over to his website and buy a cool Cholo Chaplin shirt, check out his complete body of work, and donate to his film.

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FUGUE written and directed by Jorge Torres-Torres

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I know, not FUGUE, but no film still avail yet
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Artist known as Torres

I only recently discovered the work of this enigmatic filmmaker who’s been lurking along the coolest fringes of art genre.  Among his previous films, 2014’s moody verite, Shadow Zombie won a prize for best “documentary-sh” film at the renowned Chicago Underground Film Festival. Sisters of the Plague starring Josephine Deckker screened at last year’s  New Orleans Film Festival and Outfest.  Back in 2011 Jorge was the cinematographer on Jonathan Caouette’s Cannes documentary, Walk Away Renee.   Yes , he also directs music videos, including this neat Modest Mouse Strangers to Ourselves track.  The Puerto Rican born filmmaker has also produced and shot a number of random videos you can find on his Tumblr.  Upcoming films include a documentary about the Slacker esque Athens, Georgia music scene called A Peculiar Noise, premiering at this year’s Atlanta Film Festival, and Fugue, which follows a woman (Sophie Traub) who wanders around an island lost and out of place.  Having binged on his work recently I can safely say that he casts spells of mad intrigue and strange  dream-state feels.  Definitely an indie auteur you should know.

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greenghostposter_twitchTHE GREEN GHOST directed by Michael Olmos 

Michael Olmos goes family superhero action film in The Green Ghost, his 4th feature film.  It is not surprising that Olmos is collaborating with Marco Zaror; back in 2006 Marko made noise in the Chilean street action thriller, Kiltro which premiered at LALIFF, the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival headed by Michael’s father, Eddie Olmos.  Michael’s underrated first film, Splinter in 2006 was shot on the streets of LA and displayed his stylish and gritty directing chops. Olmos went on to co-direct and produce the 2012 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Competition film  Filly Brown which catapulted Gina Rodriguez pre-Jane the Virgin.  Zaror has many fans around the world having carved out for himself a string of martial arts action flicks, many of which have played Fantastic Fest where incidentally he and Michael sneaked some footage of the Green Ghost last year.  The film is about a man having to overcome his insecurities to transform into a superhero and defeat the dangerous bruja Lechusa who plans to bring back the wrath of Moctezuma.   Currently in post.

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DADDY’S BOY written and directed by Daniel Armando

Daniel’s first feature What it Was made the Latino/LGBT film festival run.  The story about an actor coming to terms with a recent family loss and her marriage breakup returns to her home in Brooklyn where she runs into an old college girlfriend. The film has raw verite scenes interlaced with poetic close up cinematic imagery.  He has not one but two films premiering at this year’s Cinequest Film Festival next month.  He directed a film called When I’m With You, and wrote and directed an erotic swoon and slow dance film, Daddy’s Boy which indulges in its queer cinema throwback and music interludes as it follows four young men behind the closed doors of a burlesque studio, shedding more than just their clothes and inhibitions.  Daniel has said that he likes films that wander throughout space.   He’s been quoted as saying, “A lot of my favorite films don’t feature characters like this, and I feel I have a responsibility as an artist of color to tell everyday stories from a perspective rarely seen.”

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DON’T KILL IT directed by Mike Mendez

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Dolph, demon hunter

From the director of Big Ass Spider which played at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, comes this supernatural action thriller, starring none other than 80s movies action icon, Dolph Lundgren.  Mike Mendez, born to Salvadorean and Mexican family parents, born and raised in LA has been busy.  After Big Ass Spider he did Lavalantula about giant lava spewing tarantulas. Last year he put together an anthology of scary shorts, Tales of Halloween directed by various filmmakers including Lucky McKee (2002’s May is one of my long time cult faves).  Mendez doesn’t show any signs of slowing his roll which is a good thing for his loyal fans.  His love for genre is evident in his filmmaking, and his action/horror genre is mixed with a  pure sense of humor.

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 FROZEN PEAS written and directed by Alonso Mayo

A real bi-cultural American who spent his formative years in between Lima, Peru and Lawrence, Kansas, Alonso Mayo first moved to LA to attend AFI where he made his thesis short film, Wednesday Afternoon.  In 2013, Gravitas Ventures picked up his first feature, The Story of Luke starring Lou Taylor Pucci, Seth Green, Cary Elwes and Kristin Bauer.  His sophomore effort, Frozen Peas is a funny and honest film about a husband and father to three kids finds himself in the throes of a masculinity panic attack when pressured by his wife to consider vasectomy.

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First Features Alert

To round up the list here are three special mentions of directorial debuts to watch coming soon; Bruising for Besos written and directed by Adelina Anthony, the queer chicana poet who wrote the story for one of my favorite short films, You’re Dead To Me.  A critically acclaimed and beloved solo artist performer, she stars herself in Brusing as Yoli, a smooth talker whose game is put to the test in pursuit of romance. Varsity Punks written and directed by Anthony Solorzano is a high school comedy following a tight knit rambunctious cross country team shot in El Monte starring Efren Ramirez as the coach.   H.O.M.E by Daniel Maldonado which is premiering a the Queens World Film Festival stars Jeremy Ray Valdez as a young man with Aspergers. See trailer for H.O.M.E. below.

WTF is Latino at Sundance 2015? – A closer look

We are only a week away from the avalanche of discovery that will unfurl at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, so let me give you a heads up on everything Latino.

First, a slew of qualifications, caveats and disclaimers; I like to differentiate between U.S. born artists of Latino heritage and international artists. Second, keep in mind “Latino sounding last names” does not indicate who is Latino behind a film (and a Latino sounding last name does not necessarily indicate that person identifies as Latino and or tells Latino stories). I mention this to emphasize Latino identity is often subjective and always complex.  Lastly, these are not reviews or spoilers but a quick reference for those interested in tracking emerging Latino talent and topics.

Left Tony Revolri is of Guatemalan descent
Left Tony Revolori is of Guatemalan descent

Perhaps more ubiquitous to spot are the Latinos in front of the camera; J-Lo plays Lila opposite queen bee Viola Davis in Lila and Eve. John Leguizamo has a role in The Experimenter, the late Elizabeth Peña has a wicked cameo in Grandma opposite Lily Tomlin. Tony Revolori (Grand Budapest Hotel) plays the Latino kid in Dope. Scott Mescudi is Christopher Abbot’s friend in James White.

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Robert “Beef” Lorie

Exciting acting debuts to watch out for include Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Sean Baker’s pulsing Tangerine and Robert Lorrie in The Strongest Man by Kenny Riches, both in the indie gem Next section.

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Cartel land

There are eight films that have Latino subjects. Two films in U.S. Documentary Competition are about the U.S./Mexico border, which makes me very happy (not the anguishing realities portrayed in the films but the fact that Sundance recognizes the urgency of the conversation and supports these filmmakers novel perspectives in tackling the complexities of the ongoing drugwar.

U.S. WRITERS/DIRECTORS

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon in the U.S. Dramatic Competition with Me, Earl and the Dying Girl. This successful television writer has been quoted  about his bordertown childhood; “Laredo is in my DNA, as much as Nuevo Laredo (Mexican state across the border) is in my DNA”.

Kyle Alvarez who has Cuban roots, is at the festival with his third feature, The Stanford Prison Experiment.

Daniel Garcia who recently was named “Filmmaker to Watch” at the Independent Spirit Awards co-directed the enigmatic film, H. in Next. He is from Texas and has family from Mexico.  Check out the trailer:

10891650_10153504452223761_1003665519324158567_nIn the shorts program we got Reinaldo Green with the powerful Stop, Ryan Gillis with animated short film Palm Rot and Ronnie Rivera and Bernardo Britto are the co-directors of The Sun Like a Big Dark Animal.

If we are including writers/directors born and raised in another country but based in the U.S. let’s add:

Rodrigo Garcia – The Colombian born Mexican long time LA resident is back in Premieres with Last Days in the Desert shot by Mexican Oscar winner DP Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity).

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Kristen Wiig and Sebastian Silva

Sebastian Silva from Chile based in NY returns with Nasty Baby featuring another juicy dramatic performance from Kristen Wiig following last year’s Skeleton Twins.

And two international filmmakers who are making their English language debuts:

Claudia Llosa from Peru wrote and directed Aloft starring Jennifer Connelly and Cillian Murphy which premiered at last year’s Berlin Film Festival.

J.M Cravioto makes his English language and fiction narrative debut with horror midnight movie, Reversal.

It’s worth noting not one of these films feature Latino actors with the exception of Silva who stars in his film, and Reinaldo Green’s Stop. And I will take a step further to comment those films do not have a storyline that reflects a Latino experience (I know, we can debate what qualifies as a Latino experience).

PRODUCERS AND MORE

Mimi Valdes – the former editor of Latina and Vibe Magazine and now creative director of Pharell Williams’ multi-media company is a co-producer on Dope with Nina Yang and Forest Whitaker (Fruitvale).

Felipe Marino of Occupant Entertainment produced creature feature, The Hallow. Named “Producer to Watch’ by Variety, the U.S. born of Colombia descent producer previously brought The Wackness to the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

The Borscht Corp powerhouse are behind shorts Papa Machete shot in Haiti and the previously mentioned, The Sun Like a Big Dark Animal.

Nicolas Lopez (Aftershock) co-wrote Eli Roth’s Knock Knock starring Keanu Reeves showing in Midnight.

Mexican cinematographer Lorenzo Hagerman shot Rick Alverson’s Entertainment.

SUBJECT/THEMES

Cartel Land by Matthew Heineman. Senior Programmer David Courier’s description is on point; “Brilliant, dangerous, and provocative, Cartel Land is a chilling meditation on the breakdown of order and the borderline where life trumps law.” Here’s an interview with the filmmaker that includes clips of the movie:

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Western

Western by Alex and Turner Ross. If you saw their previous film, Tchoupitoulas you are familiar with their beautiful, observational and visceral style.  Motivated by finding the real iconic cowboys of the dusty old frontier, these two consider this part of their American trilogy.

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The Angulo Brothers of The Wolfpack

The Wolfpack by Crystal Moselle – Its best if you know nothing going in and I will wager that this one will be one of the most talked about films at the festival. I will only mention the pack are the children of a Peruvian man.

The Strongest Man –The lead character’s thoughts and voiceover is uttered in Spanish throughout the film.

Royal Road by Jenni Olson talks about the Mexican land before it became the United States.

Fresh Dressed by Sacha Jenkins– documents the shift from when cats started settling beefs on the dance floor and on the mike instead of violence. Fashion and hip hop style created by urban (read: blacks and Latinos)

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Venus Extravaganza in Paris is Burning

Paris is Burning by Jennie Livingston –celebrating its 15th anniversary a special Collection screening of the film will take place on January 26 at 3pm at the Egyptian. Love love love this film. The House of Extravaganza was one of the first Latino/a Harlem balls. RIP Angie and Venus.

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Making it in America

Making it in America by Joris Debeij is a short film about a Salvadoran immigrant in Los Angeles.

And now for straight up INTERNATIONAL FILMS:

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Paulina Davila in LiveForever

From Mexico/Colombia in New Frontier is Live Forever or QUE VIVA LA MUSICA! by Sundance alum Carlos Moreno (Dog Eat Dog, All Your Dead Ones), a sexy, music driven film starring a magnetic new Colombian actress Paulina Davila

Short film, Spring from Mexico which played at the Morelia Film Festival by Tania Claudia Castillo.

Wild Tales from Argentina/Spain by Damián Szifrón

The Second Mother by well-known Brazilian filmmaker Anna Muylaert

The Games Maker by Juan Pablo Buscarini in the Sundance Kids section is from Argentina.

And a MUST-EXPERIENCE at the New Frontier is virtual reality film Assent by Oscar Raby a Chilean who lives in Australia. Description: In 1973 my father witnessed the execution of a group of prisoners captured by the military regime in Chile, the same Army that he was part of. Assent puts the user in my father’s boots as we walk to the place where that happened.

And lastly, presenting short films in the Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge for the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation are alumni Marialy Rivas, the hip director from Chile of Young and Wild, and actor/filmmaker Diego Luna.

To check out the entire lineup of films, screening times and descriptions go here.  To meet the directors, check out Sundance YouTube Meet The Filmmakers series here.  And lastly follow all the haps as it haps @sundancefestnow