Everything Latinx at Sundance  

Photo Credit IndieWire

Sundance, aka the super glamorous independent film festival everyone secretly wants to attend, just wrapped up in Park City, Utah, and there was a lot of action you need to know about, specifically where Latinx talent is concerned. Yes, Sundance is about the scene, the after parties and the pop-up photo booths, and press sessions, but the heart of the event is all about the stars. It’s about up-and-coming actors and actresses, the breakout talent and the nominated films you will be hearing a LOT about in the coming year.

And This Year a lot of that Talent is Latinx

This year the festival had record-high submissions, and ultimately the 112 feature-length films chosen across four categories were selected from 14,259 submissions. Of those selected films, 41% of the film directors are people of color, and the films come from 33 countries around the world. But in terms of how films are chosen from the submissions, it’s really not a numbers game. According to the festival’s senior programmer Caroline Libresco, films are chosen not to meet a quota, but to showcase the best of what’s out there and to offer a wide range of content and talent.

“The number-one thing that is on the table in our conversations as a programming team is, ‘Is this filmmaker achieving what she or he has set out to do?,’ ‘What is she or he trying to do with this movie?,’ and then ‘Is she fulfilling that? Is she really achieving it in a way that works?’ It’s not about topic. It’s not about provenance. It’s not about gender, race, or ethnicity,” she explains.

This focus on talent and storytelling is what makes Sundance so special, and it’s what makes it such a big deal that there is significant Latinx representation at the festival. There are a lot of talented Latinx in media who are finally gaining the recognition they deserve.

If you take a step back and look at the bigger Hollywood picture, this recognition is long overdue. In recent years there has been a lot of talk about how little diversity there is in Hollywood. From the Oscars to the Golden Globes and everything in between, the nominees, honorees, hosts and winners have been overwhelmingly white. A few years ago the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began trending, when in 2016, for the second year in a row, all 20 actors nominated in a lead or supporting role were white. And while diversity at Hollywood awards shows has certainly improved, we still have a ways to go.

According to a 2018 Forbes article, in reference to last year’s Academy Awards show, “non-Hispanic whites are about 60% of the U.S. population. This year, however, they are 80% of the 20 acting nominees; 69% of 16 writing nominees; at least 87% of the 30 producer nominees (BP); 100% of the 20 VFX nominees; 100% of the 5 cinematography nominees; and a large percentage of most other category nominees overall as well.” So yes, diverse talent is becoming more visible, but it’s also more important than ever to celebrate that diverse talent, and more specifically, the Latinx talent that is recognized in Hollywood and around the world.

Which brings us to Sundance 2019. Sundance is an opportunity for new talent and indie directors to debut their work and make a splash. It’s the largest independent film festival in the U.S., and it’s become famous for showcasing budding talent, both domestic and from around the world. And this year in particular there was a lot of Latinx representation both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. The film festival just came to a close, and there was a lot of Latinx action in Park City this year, so let’s get to the good stuff.

The Sundance Lineup Was Loaded With Latinx Films

First of all, let’s talk about the film lineup, because it featured a lot of Latinx films. This year the festival saw record high submissions, with over 14,200 submissions of films to be showcased. Obviously not all films submitted were ultimately selected, but the list of films that were chosen feature several stories inspired by Latinx experiences and cultures, directed by Latinx storytellers, or starring Latinx talent. From short films to documentaries to feature films, the lineup at this year’s festival was diverse and featured works from both national and international Latino talent. Here are some to keep an eye on, because you’ll be hearing a lot about them in the coming years. Please note, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but just a taste of the Latinx films that made a splash at the festival.

8. Divine Love

Set in the near future in Brazil, this film tells the story of a religious woman tries to give struggling couples looking to get divorced a second chance by inviting them to a love-based church. But secretly she is dealing with her own relationship struggles as well.

7. This Is Not Berlin

In this film, Set in the 80s in Mexico, a misfit teen who doesn’t feel he belongs, explores a new identity as he is seduced by an underground nightclub and the world of performance art, sexual fluidity, and drugs.

6. The Infiltrators

The Infiltrators Documentary
Photo Credit IMDB

When a man is detained by ICE officials outside his Florida home, his family contacts the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), a group of Dreamers known for stopping deportations through their activism. They get detained deliberately to try and gain access to the detention center and prevent his deportation. The film is based on a true story, recounting how the Dreamers ultimately discover a world of corruption at this for-profit detention center.

5. Pahokee

The film follows the story of four teens in high school, including a young Latina who came from Mexico, who are beginning their senior year in Pahokee, a small agricultural town in the Florida Everglades. The town’s future is riding on the youth who are navigating the pressure of school and the economic hardships of their town and their families.  

4. Midnight Family

This film follows the Ochoa family in Mexico City, who run a private ambulance service, but they struggle to balance their financial needs with the needs of the patients in their care.

3. Knock The House Down

This campaign story follows the story of four women who ran for office in 2018: Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was elected as the youngest member in Congress. The story showcases these candidates as they go up against powerful politicians in Congress and challenge perceptions across the nation. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory is arguably one of the most shocking political upsets in recent American history, and the documentary tells the story of political outsiders fighting to make a difference during a tumultuous time in American politics.

2. The Edge of Democracy

Another film debuting at Sundance as a part of the World Cinema Documentary competition, The Edge of Democracy tells the story of the political upheaval in Brazil and the swing of the government from the earlier fascist days to prosperity to corruption and then to the polarized nation we know today. Director Petra Costa created a cautionary tale of the rise and fall of a nation during a time of democratic crisis. It’s certainly a timely topic and thanks to unprecedented access to Presidents Dilma Rousseff and Lula da Silva, you can witness their success and failures up close and personal.

1. The Latino Hub Event Brought Latinos in the Entertainment Industry Together

Latino Lab Sundance Film Institute 2019

It’s no secret that Sundance isn’t all about the film viewings. There are a plethora of other activities, meet-and-greets, press events and networking gatherings to choose from if you’re lucky enough to spend some time bumping elbows with celebs in Park City. In addition to the films being showcased at the festival, one unique event brought Latinos together to share their filmmaking best practices.

On January 25th, Latino Reel along with Latino Filmmakers Network and Avenida Productions presented an event designed to showcase Latino films, Latino filmmakers and on-screen talent and to celebrate and share expertise from these immensely talented members of the Latinx community. The event, called Latino Hub, included industry panels celebrating Latino filmmakers at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, as well as other panels hosted by the National Hispanic Media Coalition and the LA Mayor’s Evolve Entertainment Fund. In addition, there were mixers and meet-and-greets, where “aspiring and established Latino artists can network and share their knowledge and experiences while working to hone their filmmaking skills,” according to the event’s website.

The Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab Is Featuring Latinx Talent

Sundance is all about fostering growing talent and supporting diverse storytelling. To help achieve this goal, the Sundance Institute offers programs that support artists every step of the way in their creative process. They offer labs, grants, workshops, and other resources year-round to support selected artists. This year the Screenwriters Lab accepted 15 writers and brought 12 projects to the film festival, including a project about a Mexican American teen during the immigration crisis.

The film, called El Otro Lado (The Other Side) was written and directed by Mexican-American filmmaker Barbara Cigarroa. The story is set in Brownsville, Texas, during the 2014 child migration crisis, and follows a low-income Mexican-American teen and her father foster two undocumented minors for money. Cigarroa’s project is the recipient of the Sundance Institute Delta Air Lines & Aeromexico Latinx Fellowship.

Barbara Cigarroa is a Mexican-American filmmaker from South Texas. She resides in New York City and holds an MFA in Screenwriting from Columbia University and a BA in English from Yale University.