It was nearly 12 months ago to the day that we reported on the record-breaking four Latinos featured in the 2015 edition of Filmmaker Magazine’s coveted “25 New Faces of Independent Film” list. In an industry that so often favors family connections and disposable income, it was heartening to see Filmmaker seeking out and elevating those fresh voices that are giving new expression to our collective experience. But even though four Latinos was a significant improvement over the list’s previous editions, we still closed out the article with a playful challenge: “Next year, let’s make it five.”
Well, it took a while, but Filmmaker has finally responded with their 2016 edition – and it still doesn’t feature five Latinos. So maybe the staff at Filmmaker isn’t reading Remezcla as closely as we’d hoped, but at least the number has remained steady at four – which, at 16% of the list, is only one percentage point shy of full representation. Plus we can claim a small victory in knowing that Cali-based Filiprima Jess dela Merced has received a well-deserved shoutout for her award-winning short film work ahead of her upcoming feature debut, Chickenshit.
Of the four Latinos featured this year, two are Latin-American born and two were born in the US of Mexican ancestry. In the case of Ricardo Gaona, who was born in LA to a Mexican-American father and a Palestinian-Armenian Mother, it was his 79-minute documentary Parque Central that caught Filmmaker’s attention. Set in the touristy city of Antigua, Guatemala, Parque Central follows a day in the life of the city’s underage street vendors and amounts to a powerful indictment of labor exploitation in the shadow of international tourism.
The other US-born Latino representing this year is Kelly Daniela Norris, who made the list as a duo with her perennial creative collaborator, T.W. Pittman. Born in Austin, Norris’ first solo feature spins an autobiographical tale of grief in the form of an experimental travelogue. Starring Norris’ cousin, Mexican actress Seedne Bujaidar, Sombras de Azul (Shades of Blue) follows a woman’s trip to Cuba in the wake of her brother’s tragic passing. Norris followed up Sombras de Azul with a co-directing credit on the Guinea-set feature Nakom, which was produced by Norris and Pittman’s production company Rasquaché, and premiered at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival.
The Chilean-born Jerónimo Rodríguez brings a slightly different profile to the list, with an extensive background in film criticism, production, and programming informing his breakout experimental essay film The Monument Hunter. Shot as a video diary, The Monument Hunter follows the historical musings of an alter-ego named Jorge while reflecting on the past, present, and the mysterious disappearance of a statue from a public plaza in Santiago de Chile. Raised in Venezuela and based in New York for over a decade, Rodríguez describes himself as a “nomad,” and in many ways his work captures the lived experience of dislocation.
Finally, Brazilian-born Ivete Lucas rounds out the list as part of yet another filmmaking duo with Austin ties. The 33-year-old’s filmmaking career started in Mexico where she grew up, and that’s where she ultimately met and fell in love with collaborator Patrick Bresnan. The duo’s documentary short The Send-Off, about a small-town prom in rural Florida, earned them an official selection at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, along with a Grand Jury Award for Best Texas Short at SXSW. Together with Bresnan, Lucas is currently wrapping up post-production on her debut feature doc, One Big Misunderstanding.
In all, it heartening to see our numbers hold steady in an industry where Latino representation is never on a steady growth pattern. To boot, the filmmakers featured in this edition come from a diversity of backgrounds and showcase equally diverse thematic and stylistic approaches – proving yet again that the Latino experience can’t be reduced to monolithic marketing categories. Even so, we’ll go ahead and close out this years roundup with another gentle exhortation for the folks at Filmmaker: next year, let’s make it five.