10 Years of Latino Films at Sundance

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These days, it seems anywhere you throw a rock, you’re likely to hit a film festival. Even in the highest altitudes of the American festivalsphere, relative newcomers like South by Southwest and Tribeca have managed to carve out their space in a what has been a boon to filmmakers and cinephiles alike. But there’s still only one original, only one name that has become virtually synonymous with American independent filmmaking and brought the world some of American cinema’s brightest stars. Any guesses? Here’s a hint: It starts with “S” and rhymes with “Fundance”.

Yeah, I’m talking about Sundance, that annual cinematic rite that each year draws pilgrims from the farthest reaches of the globe to a frozen mountaintop in a quasi-religious quest for audiovisual transcendence. Since 1984, Robert Redford’s anti-hollywood celebration of all things celluloid has shined a light on American filmmakers intent on telling personal stories and exploring new aesthetic territory. Yet, the festival has also come under criticism for catering more and more to big studios, celebrities and corporate sponsors, while boxing out the truly independent voices it once championed.

While this may only be partially true, one subset of American filmmakers hasn’t traditionally received a whole lot of love from the folks up in Park City: U.S. Latinos. Of course, since opening up its official competition to include a World Cinema category, Latin American filmmakers have cleaned up house year after year with award-winning features from Chile, Colombia, Bolivia and more. But with the shining exceptions of Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi back in ‘93 and Real Women Have Curves in 2002, we U.S. Latinos don’t seem to be a big priority for the festival in the awards department. In fact, some recent editions of Sundance have actually featured no U.S. Latino filmmakers whatsoever. Mathematically, that’s the 17% of the population we represent, multiplied by zero.

So, in honor of another successful edition of the world-famous, Rocky Mountain film fiesta we take a look back at some of the American Latino filmmakers that have had the honor of making it into Sundance’s elite official selection over the last ten years. And let’s hope that the next ten years sees even more directors join their ranks.

Help us grow the list by adding anyone we missed in the comments.

2006: La Tragedia de Macario

Director: Pablo Veliz

Based on a real-life nightmare in which 19 Mexican migrants were found suffocated to death in a trailer in Victoria, Texas. La Tragedia de Macario tells the story of humble man who risks everything to give his family a better life.


2007: La Misma Luna

Director: Patricia Riggen

A 9-year old boy sneaks across the border in search of his mother, only to find himself wandering the Southwest in the care of a stranger. Meanwhile, his mother learns of the child’s disappearance and prepares to return to Mexico to look for him.

2008: Sleep Dealer

Director: Alex Rivera

In a dystopian near-future, Memo likes tinkering with electronics, but things go bad when an American drone traces his frequency and blows up his modest family home in the Mexican countryside. Racked with guilt, Memo leaves for Tijuana to find employment as a “node-worker”, remotely controlling robots that labor on the other side of a militarized border.

*Winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and the Alfred P. Sloan Prize

2009: Don’t Let Me Drown

Director: Cruz Angeles

A New York love-story between two Latino teens in the heated years following 9-11.

2011: Gun Hill Road

Director: Rashaad Ernesto Green

Enrique is an absentee father returns home from a prison stint to find that his son is a transsexual who is just beginning to transition. Tensions about as Enrique embarks on a process of acceptance.

2012: Filly Brown

Directors: Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos

The film that brought us Gina Rodriguez, also featuring the late Jenni Rivera. An up-and-coming East L.A. rapper finds herself at a crossroads when she is offered a record deal with more than a few strings attached.

2012: Mosquita y Mari

Director: Aurora Guerrero

Mosquita and Mari are two girls with vastly differently lives who strike up a friendship. After a sexually charged moment between the two, feelings become confused, ultimately leading to an unexpected act of betrayal.

2014: Cesar’s Last Fast

Directors: Richard Ray Pérez/Lorena Parlee

This documentary chronicles labor leader César Chavez’ 1988 hunger strike that lasted 36 days and brought him to the verge of death, all to raise awareness about the harm caused by cancer-causing pesticides on migrant workers and their families.

2015: Me & Earl & The Dying Girl

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Greg Gaines is a teenaged amateur filmmaker who can’t quite figure out how to relate to his peers. When Greg begrudgingly befriends a cancer-stricken classmate at the behest of his mother, the two develop a deep platonic bond that slowly reveals new layers and emotional complexity to the characters.

Read a complete list of all the Latino and Latin American films playing the 2015 Sundance Film Festival here.