These Are the Latin American Filmmakers Who Took Home Awards at the Sundance Film Festival

Lead Photo: Francisca Alegría accepts the Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction. Photo: Sundance Institute/Calvin Knight
Francisca Alegría accepts the Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction. Photo: Sundance Institute/Calvin Knight
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One day after Donald Trump’s executive order halted all refugees, immigrants, and tourists from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States, the indie community came together to celebrate international filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival Awards ceremony. It was a bittersweet event, one that culminated almost two weeks of indulging in heartwarming and sometimes heart-pounding movies that emphasized our common humanity, but was set against a backdrop of mass protests at the country’s airports. One by one, presenters and award winners weighed in on the seriousness of Trump’s Muslim ban in between their prepared speeches.

When Jury member Gael García Bernal took the podium he reminded us why we all love him so much. “I’m from Mexico and from Latin America. I’m a tropical bird who freezes in air conditioning. But not in the mountains. I’m light as a snowflake. But in the air conditioning I freeze. Today especially I’m from Iraq, Iran, Syria, and I’m from many other countries as well. It’s so obvious that we’re so interdependent and interconnected and with everything we do and every moment we share with each other.”

Minutes later when Peter Dinklage, also a juror, was set to hand out a prize, he felt compelled to profess his appreciation for our favorite charolastra: “It’s so great to see so many incredible films. It’s been a great week with my jurors. Gael is the only person who can complain about the air conditioning and make is sound gorgeous. He called himself a snowflake?” It was a lighthearted moment that gave us permission to laugh and a respite from the overwhelming dread we all felt.

As most high-profile awards ceremonies go there were surprise winners and overt snubs. Latin Americans only got a handful of prizes but some of them were the festival’s highest honors. Puerto Rican director Antonio Santini was stunned when it was revealed he and his co-director Dan Sickles had bested a long list of competitors in the US Documentary section, making them recipients of the Grand Jury Prize for their second film Dina. While Mexican director Ernesto Contreras proved that not all Americans think like Trump when his film Sueño en otro idioma, a drama about a disappearing indigenous language, collected the most paper ballots to take home an Audience Award.

Below is a list of this year’s Latin American winners.

Watch the entire awards ceremony here:

U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary

Directors: Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini
Country: USA

Santini, who is Puerto Rican, explained how they found the subject of their second documentary, “The day Dan and me started to edit our first film Mala Mala, Dan’s dad passed away and we drove to Maryland to see him. At this funeral was a woman named Dina, who was crazy enough to speak up. The same year Dan’s mother also passed away. Dan had the courage to invite me to pursue this story.”

Sickles: “This is the weirdest sensation I have no spit in my mouth and I think I’m simultaneously pissing my pants. The greatness sometimes hides in the crevices we don’t pay attention to and in the people walking amongst us that we don’t see. It’s such a privilege to do what we do. I get to work with this guy every single day of my life. The person who deserves the most thanks for this is Dina herself and Scott her husband. The person who deserves the most thanks is Dina Buno and Scott levine. Two of the bravest people you’ll ever meet.

Santini: “Dina is a woman born and called different, called retarded, stabbed almost to death. And we wanted to make a film that celebrates our differences.”

Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic

Sueño en otro idioma
Director: Ernesto Contreras
Country: Mexico

“This award is significant on so many levels. But mostly it’s about acceptance. Let’s let our voices be heard.”

World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Excellence in Cinematography

Rodrigo Trejo Villanueva
Movie: Machines
Countries: India, Germany, Finland

Director Rahul Jain accepted the award on behalf of Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Trejo Villanueva. “Rodrigo, this is for you. I wish you were here my brother. Am I allowed to go political here? The smell in the detention center at the airport is very unlike here. It’s not fun. You feel like a rat. Now many people are going to have to smell the smell of fear. This has been stupefying being here. When you go to a place to learn about a place that is far from your sphere of influence, it says something about you. I don’t think a filmmaker can ask for anything more from a festival. Thank you.”

Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction

And The Whole Sky Fit In The Dead Cow’s Eye
Director: Francisca Alegría
Countries: Chile, USA

Sundance Institute Global Filmmaking Award

The Hanged
Director: Fernando Coimbra
Country: Brazil