10 Latino Filmmakers You Should Know

Lead Photo: The team at La Panda Productions
The team at La Panda Productions
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We spent a few days in Los Angeles at the National Association of Latino Independent Producer’s annual NALIP Media Summit. We already shared the glamorous side: the celebrities, lunches, parties and panels — like when Eugenio Derbez sent a stern warning to Donald Trump, or when Eva Longoria dropped some knowledge bombs, and even when Danny Trejo and Wilmer Valderrama spilled some behind-the-scenes secrets from the set of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series — but the real reason we were there was for the indie filmmakers. The ones making movies with small budgets and nothing more than blood, sweat, tears, and lots of dreams. Throughout the conference, NALIP showcased the talented Latinos who might not have reached the spotlight yet, but who are certainly on their way to the big time. Whether they were tapped to be part of the NALIP Official Selection, a showcase of short form content by their members, or selected as fellows for NALIP’s collaboration with public television to create shorts for the American Graduate Digital Video Project, or presented their works in progress for the invite-only Latino Media Market — these filmmakers are worth taking note of. Keep your eye on these savvy mediamakers, they’re just getting started.


Lexi Hiland

Filmmaker Lexi Hiland returns to her homeland of Colombia at the age of 23 to find out the true story of how she came to be adopted in the U.S. in the documentary La Lotería de la Vida. In the film, which was part of the NALIP Official Selection and participated in the Latino Media Market, Hiland, who serves as the narrator, discovers her life as a child was saved by a person she never knew existed. Currently, Hiland is seeking funding for post-production and distribution of the film.


Chris Valdes and Theodore Griswold

Co-directed and co-produced by Chris Valdes and Theodore Griswold, the short documentary Olancho, a 2015 NALIP Official Selection, introduces audiences to Orlin Chirinos, a young Honduran accordionist who is caught up in the dangerous world of narco music in his home country. The film also follows Orlin’s cousin who is forced to escape to the U.S. after he receives death threats from a drug cartel boss. Currently, Valdes and Griswold are seeking funding to complete their film.


Gabriela López de Dennis and Jeremiah Ocañas

Gabriela López de Dennis started her filmmaking career writing for the web series Fixing Paco starring comedian Paul Rodriguez. In her 2013 short film Rosa Out of Control, Dennis worked as the director, writer, editor, animator and sound editor. Working together with her producing partner, Jeremiah Ocañas, their most recent projects include the action/drama B.O.O.S.T. and the documentary Overcomers (Ocañas served as director and Dennis as producer on both projects.) A series about two teenagers who are succeeding in high school despite their challenging circumstances, Overcomers was selected as part of the NALIP WORLD Channel American Graduate Digital Video Project.


William Caballero

William Caballero is a multimedia artist from New Jersey who directed How You Doin’ Boy? Voicemails from Gran’pa, a short film featuring voicemails from Caballero’s real grandfather. In the hybrid animated short, Caballeros used the voicemails to narrate scenes he shot with miniature 3-D models of his grandpa. His recent project, The Smallest Step, was selected as part of the NALIP WORLD Channel American Graduate Digital Video Project. The series features three stories told by individuals of color who endured tremendous hardship, and yet, were able to obtain a high school and college education. Each subject will be represented through 3D scanned/printed poses at 4” scale. These avatar figures will then be set in real-scale backdrops, and later edited to the audio testimony of each character.


Gloria Morán

Gloria Morán earned her Bachelor and Master of Arts from the University of California – Santa Cruz where she studied Latin American and Latino Studies and Social Documentation. Morán’s directorial debut was Homes for the Homies in 2007. Her most recent short, Every Girl Matters, was selected as part of the NALIP WORLD Channel American Graduate Digital Video Project. The doc follows two young women on their last days of high school at ICA a small all-girls Catholic school that serves low-income families of the San Francisco Bay Area. A rigorous education combined with a unique work study model to supplement their tuition; ICA graduates 100% of the students, the majority of which are young women of color.


Adam Valencia

Having made his bones with extreme sports and fashion films, director and producer Adam Valencia’s new project Lost Weekend, a 2015 NALIP Official Selectiondraws on his own adolescent experiences (‘I wanted to portray Mexican-American teenagers as I know them to be’, he says), as two pals adhere to that most tried-and-tested method for impressing the girls: grand theft auto. Martin and Jake’s attempts to get lucky with the ladies revolve around hotwiring and stealing a car to invite them out in. But the pesky presence of a serial killer throws a spanner in the works. We’ve all been there.


Kat Castaneda and Reko Moreno

Anyone who’s ever feared trying to exist on ‘a 1996 MC Hammer budget’ may wish to look away. That’s the premise behind real-life couple Kat Castaneda and Reko Moreno’s attempts to eke their way above the breadline in forthcoming web series Newlywed and Broke. After reaching out to fellow impoverished-but-enamoured spirits via a crowdfunding campaign and participating in the Latino Media Market, the series follows Stan and Mia as they elope to the chagrin of Mia’s father. Previously, the couple made Nikki and Rem, a short film about “a cop with a past and a hooker with a gun.”


Katia Gomez

In a supporting role, Katia Gomez has appeared in some Hollywood films, such as 2012’s Playing for Keeps, with Gerhard Butler and Jessica Biel, and Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell’s recent homophobic mess Get Hard. However, as a writer her career offers greater interest, with latest project The Mariposa tracing the lives of two sisters growing up in a single-parent household in Miami’s Little Havana following the death of their mother. As adults, these women face a series of challenges that address themes of gender, responsibility and identity. The Mariposa participated in the Latino Media Market.


Ángel Estrada Soto

Mexican filmmaker Ángel Estrada Soto’s previous projects include the short films Mago… El Misterio de la Vida, which followed artist Mago Gándara as she dedicates her life to art, and El Ladron de Violines (The Violin Thief), which looked at the role of music among the Raramurí people of Northern Mexico. Estrada’s latest film, Me Llamaban King Tiger (They Called Me King Tiger), confirms his penchant for socially-conscious character study with a profile of Chicano activist Reies Tijerina, who died earlier this year after a lifetime spent campaigning for land, education and labour rights for US-Mexican citizens. The documentary was selected as part of the Latino Media Market.


Guillermo Escalona and Pau Brunet

Guillermo Escalona and Pau Brunet’s audiovisual production company La Panda aims at supporting Spanish filmmakers working in the US. The company has recently collaborated on Elijah Wood vehicle Open Windows and Spanish drama 10,000 KM, which premiered at this year’s SXSW festival. Their latest project, The Turned — part of the Latino Media Market — makes the joys of parenting sound like a nerve-shredding ghost chiller: “They are creatures of the night, shadows with only one hope: that their children have a better future.” It is actually a satirical commentary on immigration in the US today, where survival is best assured by becoming a vampire.