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
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.
AMALIA 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.
PERFECT written and directed by Eddie Alcazar
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.
EVERYTHING IS FREE written and directed by Brian Jordan Alvarez
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
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.
DUCK BUTTER written and directed by Miguel Arteta
Miguel 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!
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.
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.
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
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!
Carlos 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.