For all its glitz and glamour, it’s easy to forget that the Sundance Film Festival was founded to give a space to up-and-coming filmmakers who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to strut their stuff around the Hollywood studios. And as Chris Rock so eloquently pointed out on his recent PR tour for Top Five, Latinos are amongst the least likely to be strutting anything around a major studio, unless it’s with a mop and a bucket. So leave it to the good folks at Sundance to provide Latino filmmakers their own space come together, network and talk it out, because we all know that en la union está la fuerza.

The event, held this past Friday at the Black House, was organized by the non-profit Latino Reel and featured the panel discussion “Changing the Image of Latinos in Film.” It brought together an impressive list of Latino media movers-and-shakers including moderator Lucinda Martinez from HBO; writer/producer and former Editor-in-Chief of The Source, Carlito Rodriguez; Latino Sci-Fi trailblazer Alex Rivera; up-and-coming New York filmmaker Reinaldo Marcus Green; and novelist and filmmaker Alberto Ferreras.

The room was electric with positive vibes, insightful reflections, and more Spanglish than a Puerto Rican Christmas. We made an effort to pick out some highlights so you can all feel like you were in the midst of the action without having to deal with the blustery Rocky Mountain winter. Here Lucinda, Carlito, Alex, Reinaldo, and Alberto talk about emotional honesty, multicultural millennials, and magical Latinos.

Lucinda Martinez on mining for Latino talent

All the time I’m told, “We’re looking for Latino stories… We’re mining Latino talent.” Like you have to go into a cave with a hat and a light, like you have to mine them because they’re so hard to find. But here they are, aquí están. So… WTF? What the fuck?

Carlito Rodríguez on code switching

I’m Cuban, I’m Dominican, I grew up in the Bronx around Puerto Ricans and black people, I went to school with white Jewish teachers… We’ve gotta be able to write white characters, because they’re the norm. I feel like as a Latino, I gotta speak three cultural languages in the U.S.

Alberto Ferreras on casting an overweight Latina lead

“We are a kind of magical people.”

I have a novel that has been optioned… and a lot of people say “Hey, let’s turn this into a movie,” but then we have these really strange conversations like, “There are no actresses out there, you have an overweight Latina lead… There’s America Ferrera, but she’s not overweight anymore!” And I would say: but where was America Ferrera before she was famous? Shouldn’t we just “mine” somebody? Or at least audition somebody! Because I have friends who are actors and they’re waiting for opportunities and nobody’s giving them. So when as a writer you’re having a conversation about you’re work they’re you’re saying like, “How can I find someone to play the lead” “They don’t exist!” And I’m like, “Bitch, they do!”

Alex Rivera on magical Latinos

Once you know what we’re made of: that we’re black, that we’re Native American, that we’re Spanish, that we are the Raza Cósmica… we are a kind of magical people. We’re the most American of all Americans… Frederick Douglas wrote about America as a place that is flawed and violent and ruptured, but it is a place that represents what humanity could be by coming together and mixing.

Lucinda Martinez on being all mixed up

“As a Latino, I feel like I gotta speak three cultural languages in the U.S.”

46% of millennials currently are multi-cultural, we can talk about the explosion of Latinos but that’s the story… and multi-cultural means that you’re mixed. And that’s the biggest surprise of the census, that there’s a lot of mixing going on… so the audience is there, the stories need to be there, but the system is set up to not allow those stories to bubble up naturally. But that’s about to break apart.

Alex Rivera on sci-fi and the future of Latinos in the U.S.

We are the future on this country, how is it that in films about the future of this country, we’re not there at all? Science fiction is where we can reflect on where we’re going and if Latinos are not participating in that conversation, how are we gonna get there?

Carlito Rodríguez on keepin’ it real

As long as I’m telling emotionally honest stories… some maverick somewhere with gumption is gonna go: alright, let’s try that. And if not I’m just gonna do it myself.

Alex Rivera on the “Three Amigos” vs. Latino filmmakers in the U.S.

God Bless [the three amigos], but they’re elite folks from Mexico… the struggle to have a Latino film culture in the Unites States is the struggle of working-class people trying to penetrate the most expensive art form… And how is it that Robert Rodríguez is the only one out of 50 million? That’s unacceptable and it has to change.

Lucinda Martinez on the outlook for Latino filmmaking in the U.S.

We’re about to blow the fuck up, right?


 

Latino Reel is a non-profit organization founded by Ross Romero, a current Sundance Institute Utah Advisory Board Member who served in the Utah Legislature for 8 years. His aim for creating this event was to provide a place for Latinos to gather, network, and learn from each other at the festival and was organized independently from the Sundance Film Festival.