These Young Sundance Fellows May Be the Future of Latin American Filmmaking

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Photo by Brandon Cruz

The Sundance Film Festival is a place of hope. It’s a frosty place where young filmmakers hope to be discovered, sales agents hope to move their movies into theaters or streaming platforms and where studios hope to find this year’s indie success story.

But nowhere is hope more apparent than on the faces of the youngest aspiring filmmakers. As one of the festival’s many initiatives, the Sundance Ignite Fellowship mentors budding filmmakers who are between 18-24 years old. Over their year-long fellowship, which is supported by Adobe Project 1324, they’ll attend the festival, get one-on-one time with an established filmmaker, and get invited to special Sundance Institute events.

Out of the 15 students this year, three of them are from Latin America: Andrea Porras-Madero from Mexico, Gerardo Coello Escalante from Mexico and Paloma Lopez from Venezuela. Remezcla caught up with Paloma and Gerardo after the rush of the festival and asked them about the shorts that got them to the Sundance Film Festival, how they made their projects happen and what their Ignite experience has been so far.

On The Projects That Got Them to Sundance

Gerardo: My project I submitted to the Sundance Ignite 1324 Short Film Challenge was “La Visita.” It’s a pretty short film that tackles the current immigration crisis with Mexican immigrants with a bit of a genre twist with a thriller drama element. It’s actually based off a series of short anecdotes and stories that I personally heard from different undocumented Mexicans living in New York City that I was talking to earlier in January last year while I was doing some work to develop a documentary. The documentary never happened but these stories stayed with me. A couple of months later when I had the chance to make a short film, me and my co-writer, Joe Bogatin, thought immediately of this story and started to work on it to make a film.

Paloma: My film is called “Singer” and it’s the story of this young peasant girl who lives in this isolated, rural home and wants to become a singer. One day [while] watching TV, she encounters this program that is having open call auditions for a chance to perform on live TV. She sees this opportunity as this chance to be able to leave her home behind and follow her dream. She goes to the audition and performs for the TV show, but gets rejected from it.

On Their Experience Making These Projects

Paloma: I started writing my film the summer before my senior year of college. I was having these questions about my future and my career, and what was going to become of me after I graduated. There’s the pressure of being international and having to have something a bit more stable: see what you’re going to do, who’s going to sponsor you and the steps you have to go through to make your career happen in a country that’s not yours. I was really nervous about this and thinking about what was going to become of me and my future. I wrote the film inspired in this angst that I had as a young artist and wondering about success.

Gerardo: From the moment that I decided to make it until the film was finished it was all within a period of two weeks. It was a very fast-paced production. I already knew the actress that I wanted to work because I had worked with her on previous films. So we wrote the film in three days and the shoot took place throughout the course of a day and a half. Only one day with Aris [Mejias] and the little kid, Emperor Kaiouys, and the two other actors who played the ICE agents. On the second half-day, I only worked with Aris. It was shot in my apartment building – trying to minimize all costs – not spending money on locations. I cooked the meals the night before so that we could eat cheaper, better quality food. And the whole post-production was me by myself in my room. It’s kind of a small passion project that was very explosive in the way that it was made. It just happened and two weeks later it was finished and online on the Adobe 1324 page.

On What Challenges Lie Ahead For Young International Filmmakers

Paloma: I think a challenge is just language itself and trying to articulate the vision in a different language. Another is the different values you inherit from your culture that are maybe not the same as where you’re working. That could be a challenge. I don’t really think they were obstacles for me. I think they made me more articulate, which is great for directing. I appreciate the difference in culture because I have a different perspective and see things through different lenses.

Gerardo: I’m from Mexico so whenever I’m on-set working on my own films or just a different project, Spanish just comes to me naturally. It’s always an interesting relationship with the people that I’m working with. I’ve been fortunate enough, especially for this film, that Aris, the main actress, is from Puerto Rico. I would speak with her in Spanish constantly and there was no need to try to translate what I meant or what I wanted her to sound like. I could just say it. Now that I think about, I mostly always have someone who speaks Spanish. I made [this movie] with collaborators with whom I’ve worked on four other films. That also creates a language of its own where I can communicate with them through a hand gesture, just a look in their eyes, and I can know what they would say to me.

My problem originally [with] the film is that I wanted to include a larger number of cast members from Mexico. With a limited time frame, finding actors that are both really good actors and just [understand] my culture is harder to find in New York City than it would be to find in Mexico, obviously. I’m very lucky to have found Aris a while ago and still work with her today. Finding your presentation is harder when you’re away from your country, but I still think it’s really important to be honest and true to your culture, your values and your memories of where you are from – to be true to that in your work and your voice.

On How the Sundance Ignite Fellowship Has Helped Them

Paloma: I think Sundance Ignite is really special. I had a great week and something that’s really special for me is that ever since I got to the States – and I’ve been living here four and a half years – is that I feel like there’s this intention with a lot of organizations put profit first. I think it’s something that’s very representative of the United States. Even organizations for education or medicine is based on profit a lot of the time. Something that seems really nice and genuine from [Sundance] and this program is that it was very honest in the way they were trying to help us and support us as young artists. That was very encouraging and heartwarming to see and that there are no hidden intentions behind their work with us. That was really encouraging to me.

Also, being in touch and meeting this group of filmmakers that we all [are of] similar age and able to share our experiences as young artists in the world was super beneficial and encouraging. To know they are starting to understand their ideas about what the next step is for their careers, how that relates to yours and maybe even collaborate with fellow filmmakers so that we can all grow as a group. As one of us grows stronger, we all get stronger. There was this really nice environment of support and not competitiveness, which can happen a lot in film school. It was really nice to find this support system of creatives who are a sounding board.

Ever since I got back from the program I’ve been really inspired, feeling positive and encouraged to keep doing what I’m doing and work harder. I feel like I have a sense of direction in where I’m going to go next and what the next step in my career [looks like].

Gerardo: Sundance Ignite and Project 1324 are such a nurturing partnership. They’re interested in helping you develop as an artist. They’re interested in what you want to say, and they’re there for you at all times. It was pretty surprising to me. Throughout the festival there was always someone from Ignite or Project 1324 around to help in any way. We do get paired with one mentor who will follow us through the full year, and we got to interact with that mentor throughout the week of the festival. All of them are incredibly nice, very approachable, and very open and honest about their opinions, very willing to share their own experience and help in any way they can. Ignite is an incredible program and an amazing opportunity for any young filmmaker.

To me, it’s a very successful program. I’ve known someone in last year’s class and he had a very similar experience to the one I had, where everyone in the group is just such a great combination of filmmakers, creative voices, and incredible human beings. It’s a real prize to be a part of that group this year. To spend one week at this film festival with all of these people watching movies, going to these events, meeting people, and strengthening the relationship between us as a group. I feel has grown so much from the first day when we just met. So that is really inspiring. It is a competitive program to get into, but once you’re in the family, once you’re in the group, there’s only support and nurturing – which I find incredible and something you really can’t find in this industry. I think it’s very easy for young creators, directors, writers to lose themselves and their voice in this industry working on projects not their own. Ignite made me realize that I also have a voice, and I also have things to finish; that I also have a responsibility to myself to keep working. It just gave me all the inspiration I needed to keep working on my own things, as well as keep networking, reaching out to other people, working on other projects that I feel passionate about. It does reinforce this sense of you as an artist with a creative voice and something to say, which is something incredibly special to hear from someone who’s just 23 starting out in this industry. To get that level of support from someone, it’s priceless.