Film

From Gael Garcia Bernal to Tessa Thompson: 17 Must-See Latino Movies at Sundance Film Festival

Lead Photo: Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson appear in 'Sorry to Bother You.' Photo by Doug Emmett. Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson appear in 'Sorry to Bother You.' Photo by Doug Emmett. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Every year around this time critics brave the chilly temperatures to wade through one of the most high-profile cinema events to take place in the United States. With over 100 films (including 99 world premieres), the Sundance Film Festival promises to deliver yet again a new crop of indie gems that have made it arguably the official kick-off of the year in film. As usual, you’ll find your fair share of famed faces gracing screens in Park City, Utah; the likes of Gael García Bernal, John Leguizamo, Luis Gerardo Méndez and Tessa Thompson are all popping up in some of the most intriguing entries at this year’s fest.

Given that the fest has a number of World Cinema programs, it’s no surprise to see films from Brazil, Mexico, and Cuba among others tackling everything from translators and anxious actresses to tech-driven teens and holidaying dads. Since the full program can be daunting, we’ve combed through it all, found the Latino titles you should keep an eye out for as coverage for the fest begins in full, and made it into a handy list. We’ve gone ahead and included films directed by US Latinos, Latin Americans as well movies directed by non-Latinos but featuring Latino talent. Check it out below.

The Sundance Film Festival runs January 18-28, 2018.

1

Blindspotting

Carlos Lopez Estrada

Collin is trying to make it through his final days of probation for an infamous arrest he can’t wait to put behind him. Always by his side is his fast-talking childhood bestie, Miles, who has a knack for finding trouble. They grew up together in the notoriously rough Oakland, a.k.a. “The Town,” which has become the new trendy place to live in the rapidly gentrifying Bay Area. But when Collin’s chance for a fresh start is interrupted by a life-changing missed curfew, his friendship with Miles is forced out of its comfortable buddy-comedy existence, and the Bay boys are set on a spiraling collision course with each other on this drama from Mexican-born director Carlos Lopez Estrada.

United States
Drama
Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs
Jess Calder, Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Keith Calder
2018
95

2

The Kindergarten Teacher

Sara Colangelo

Stuck in Staten Island, married to a kind but oblivious husband, and living with kids that mostly ignore her, 40-year-old Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal) plods through her days teaching kindergarten with growing numbness. Her one source of joy is an evening poetry class across the bay in Lower Manhattan. But one day everything changes—Lisa discovers that a five-year-old boy in her class may be the poet she can only dream of being. She becomes fascinated. Could this child be a prodigy? A Mozart? Fascination turns to obsession as Lisa pushes boundaries to protect the boy from a banal life she knows too well. In a harrowing climax, Lisa risks her career, her family, and her freedom to nurture his genius and possibly tap into her own. The pic also stars Rosa Salazar and Gael García Bernal.

United States
Drama
Sara Colangelo
Talia Kleinhendler, Osnat Handelsman-Keren, Trudie Styler, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Celine Rattray
2018
96

3

Monsters and Men

Reinaldo Marcus Green

One night, in front of a bodega in Brooklyn’s Bed–Stuy neighborhood, Manny Ortega (Anthony Ramos) witnesses a white police officer wrongfully gun down a neighborhood street hustler, and Manny films the incident on his phone. Now he’s faced with a dilemma: release the video and bring unwanted exposure to himself and his family, or keep the video private and be complicit in the injustice? This is the feature film debut of African-American and Puerto Rican director Reinaldo Marcus Green.

United States
Drama
Reinaldo Marcus Green
Elizabeth Lodge Stepp, Julia Lebedev, Luca Borghese, Josh Penn, Eddie Vaisman
2018
98

4

Sorry to Bother You

Boots Riley

Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a 30-something black telemarketer with self-esteem issues, discovers a magical selling power living inside of him. Suddenly he’s rising up the ranks to the elite team of his company, which sells heinous products and services. The upswing in Cassius’s career raises serious red flags with his brilliant girlfriend, Detroit (played by Panamanian-Mexican-American actress Tessa Thompson), a sign-twirling gallery artist who is secretly a part of a Banksy-style collective called Left Eye. But the unimaginable hits the fan when Cassius meets the company’s cocaine-snorting, orgy-hosting, obnoxious, and relentlessly optimistic CEO, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer).

United States
Drama
Boots Riley
Charles King, George Rush, Jonathan Duffy, Kelly Williams, Forest Whitaker, Nina Yang Bongiovi
2018
105

5

Tyrel

Sebastián Silva

Tyler joins his friend on a trip to the Catskills for a weekend birthday party with several people he doesn’t know. As soon as they get there, it’s clear that (1) he’s the only black guy, and (2) it’s going to be a weekend of heavy drinking. Although Tyler is welcomed, he can’t help but feel uneasy in “Whitesville.” The combination of all the testosterone and alcohol starts to get out of hand, and Tyler’s precarious situation starts to feel like a nightmare. Chilean writer-director Sebastián Silva casually conjures an undeniable underlying tension: he puts the viewer on edge and makes them fear an almost imperceptible threat.

United States
Drama
Sebastián Silva
Jacob Wasserman, Sebastián Silva, Gigi Graff, Carlos Zozaya, Max Born
2018
86

6

Bisbee ’17

Robert Greene

It’s 2017 in Bisbee, Arizona, an old copper-mining town just miles from the Mexican border. The town’s close-knit community prepares to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Bisbee’s darkest hour: the infamous Bisbee Deportation of 1917, during which 1,200 striking miners were violently taken from their homes, banished to the middle of the desert, and left to die. Townspeople confront this violent, misunderstood past by staging dramatic recreations of the escalating strike. These dramatized scenes are based on subjective versions of the story and “directed,” in a sense, by residents with conflicting views of the event. Deeply personal segments torn from family history build toward a massive restaging of the deportation itself on the exact day of its 100th anniversary.

https://youtu.be/etwjMcdvxx8

United States
Documentary
Robert Greene
Douglas Tirola, Susan Bedusa, Bennett Elliott
2018
124

7

Crime + Punishment

Stephen Maing

Meet the NYPD12: a group of minority whistleblower officers who risk everything to expose racially discriminatory policing practices and smash the blue wall of silence. Crime + Punishment is a captivating and cinematic investigation into the New York Police Department’s outlawed practices of quota-driven policing and officer retaliation. Using secret recordings between officers and commanders, firsthand accounts, and emotional testimony, the NYPD12 detail the explosive truth when no one else will listen. In the meantime, Manny Gomez, an ex-cop turned private investigator, collects testimony from young minorities who have been affected by these policies and targeted by officers in the name of fighting crime.

United States
Documentary
Stephen Maing, Ross Tuttle
2018
112

8

Inventing Tomorrow

Laura Nix

Indonesia, India, Mexico, Hawaii, and many other countries, communities, and islands are rife with the ravages of environmental degradation. But hope comes with a surprising—and touching—group of young people. Meet six brilliant high school students as they prepare for the world’s largest high school science competition: the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Inspired by the issues and problems they’ve witnessed in their own communities, these teens propose big ideas and ingenious solutions to the world’s environmental challenges. With unfettered minds and ambition, they descend upon Los Angeles to participate in ISEF and meet thousands of their peers from all over the world. Soon, a sense of global community forms, focused on making the world a better place.

United States
Documentary
Diane Becker, Melanie Miller, Laura Nix
2018
100

9

The Sentence

Rudy Valdez

Drawing from hundreds of hours of footage, filmmaker Rudy Valdez shows the aftermath of his sister Cindy’s incarceration for conspiracy charges related to crimes committed by her deceased ex-boyfriend—something known, in legal terms, as “the girlfriend problem.” Cindy’s 15-year mandatory sentence is hard on everyone, but for her husband and children, Cindy’s sudden banishment feels like a kind of death that becomes increasingly difficult to grapple with. Valdez’s method of coping with this tragedy is to film his sister’s family for her, both the everyday details and the milestones—moments Cindy herself can no longer share in. But in the midst of this nightmare, Valdez finds his voice as both a filmmaker and activist. He and his family begin to fight for Cindy’s release during the last months of the Obama administration’s clemency initiative. Whether their attempts will allow Cindy to break free of her draconian sentence becomes the aching question at the core of this riveting and deeply personal portrait of a family in crisis.

United States
Documentary
Sam Bisbee, Jackie Kelman Bisbee
2017
85

10

Loveling

Gustavo Pizzi

Irene is raising four rambunctious sons in a home that is physically crumbling but warm and happy. As Irene simultaneously shelters her sister Sonia (who just left a volatile marriage), supports her own husband through a financial crisis, and plans her own long-awaited high school graduation, Irene’s eldest son, Fernando, suddenly announces he has been recruited by a professional handball team in Germany and will be leaving in just three weeks. Consummate caretaker Irene prickles at the idea of emancipating the 16-year-old so he can travel and live alone, and she becomes increasingly anxious about what her future holds.

Uruguay, Brazil
Drama
Gustavo Pizzi, Karine Teles
Tatiana Leite
2017
95

11

The Queen of Fear

Valeria Bertuccelli, Fabiana Tiscornia

Eccentric yet lovable Robertina is a celebrated theatre actress whose one-woman show is set to open in a week. Occupied with half-hearted rehearsals, she tries to distract herself from her husband’s unexplained absence, even as her underlying anxieties threaten to overwhelm her. When she discovers a close friend from her past is dying, she doesn’t hesitate to drop everything and fly across the world to visit him one last time. Their bittersweet reunion forces Robertina to re-examine her priorities and the opulent lifestyle she has fashioned for herself. Steeped in subtle absurdist comedy and featuring a remarkable lead performance at its core, The Queen of Fear is unafraid to explore apprehension and theatricality, questioning what it means to unravel in a world that is so tightly wound.

Denmark, Argentina
Drama
Valeria Bertuccelli
Matías Roveda, Santiago Gallelli, Benjamin Domenech
2018
107

12

Rust

Aly Muritiba

Tati and Renet are high school students who share an instant connection over social media that deepens during a class trip. Their nascent relationship screeches to a halt the next day, though, once Tati discovers that her lost phone has resulted in the leaking of an intimate video to the entire school. Desperate for answers and frustrated at the shaming that ensues, Tati tries to hold her head high even as her resolve threatens to crumble. Simultaneously, Renet grapples with instability at home, where his separated parents vie for control over what is best for their children, and their fragmented parenting starts to take its toll.

Brazil
Drama
Aly Muritiba, Jessica Candal
Antônio Junior
2018
100

13

Tiempo Compartido

Sebastián Hofmann

Pedro and Eva arrive at the Vistamar mega-resort to “heal” their lives. Settling into a private villa with their young son, they’re surprised to find another family at the door; a clerical mistake has left them double-booked. The families make do, attending the resort’s time-share seminar and enjoying its pools and activities, and they are catered to by the staff of “leisure experts,” including Andres and Gloria, an estranged, middle-aged couple. While Gloria advances her career, Andres toils in a laundry job, dubious of the resort’s new corporate ownership. As Pedro becomes paranoid that his family is being pried away from him, he and Andres band together to expose the sinister forces at work in the tropical paradise. The film stars Luis Gerardo Méndez (Club de Cuervos), RJ Mitte, Miguel Rodarte, Cassandra Ciangherotti, Montserrat Maranon, and Andrés Almeida.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtodgMOqoxI

Netherlands, Mexico
Drama
Sebastián Hofmann, Julio Chavezmontes
Julio Chavezmontes
2017
96

14

Un Traductor

Rodrigo Barriuso, Sebastián Barriuso

In 1989 Havana, Russian literature professor Malin (Rodrigo Santoro) gets a mysterious note at the university with orders from the government sending him to a local hospital, where he learns he is expected to act as translator between the Cuban doctors and the families of young patients from the Chernobyl disaster. Initially raging against his new role, Malin is forced to stay on, and he eventually becomes deeply devoted to his patients. But while he becomes “king of the kids” at the hospital, his relationships with his pregnant wife and young son suffer. Meanwhile, life around all of them shifts as the “Special Period”—the economic crisis in Cuba that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union—begins. Rooted in the little-known true story of how twenty thousand Chernobyl victims were eventually treated in Cuba, Un Traductor immerses an emotional drama in crisply shot, beautifully realized period detail of Havana in 1989.

Canada, Cuba
Drama
Lindsay Gossling
Sebastián Barriuso, Lindsay Gossling
2017
107

15

We The Animals

Jeremiah Zagar

Us three, brothers, kings inseparable. Manny, Joel, and Jonah tear their way through childhood. Their parents (Sheila Vand and Raul Castillo) have a volatile love that makes and unmakes the family many times over, leaving the boys fending for themselves. As their parents rip at one another, Manny and Joel ultimately harden and grow into versions of their father. With the triumvirate fractured, Jonah—the youngest, the dreamer—becomes increasingly aware of his desperate need to escape. Driven to the edge, Jonah embraces an imagined world all his own. With a screenplay by Dan Kitrosser and Jeremiah Zagar based on the celebrated Justin Torres novel, We the Animals is a visceral coming-of-age story propelled by strikingly layered performances from its astounding cast, elements of magical realism, and unbelievable animated sequence

United States
Fantasy, Drama
Dan Kitrosser, Jeremiah Zagar
Jeremy Yaches, Christina D. King, Andrew Goldman, Paul Mezey
2018
90

16

Science Fair

Darren Foster, Cristina Costantini

Every year, over 1,700 students from 75 countries compete in the annual International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), a highly competitive showcase of the world’s top young scientific minds. Selected from millions of students who qualified through sanctioned events to reach the international competition, these finalists are competing for the coveted top prize that, as one previous winner explains, “will change your life in ways you won’t even comprehend.” Science Fair follows one mentor and nine students from around the world as they prepare their projects and team for the 2017 ISEF event in Los Angeles. Among the subjects the documentary follows is Kashfia, the only Muslim girl at a massive high school in South Dakota; Myllena and Gabriel, teenagers from a poor town in Brazil; and Dr. McCalla, a black science research teacher from Long Island. This absorbing film helmed by Darren Foster and Latina director Cristina Costantini illuminates a group of amazing young men and women who are on a path to change the world through science.

United States
Documentary
Jeffrey Plunkett, Darren Foster Cristi, na Costantini
Darren Foster, Jeffrey Plunkett, Cristina Costantini
2018
90

17

High & Mighty

Carlos Lopez Estrada

The digital series High & Mighty is playing in the Indie Episodic section.

Lovable loser from the hood, Chelo Chavez (Jorge Diaz) needs to get his shit together. After surviving a vicious shooting unscathed, Marcelo “Chelo” Chavez discovers that he has superhuman powers – but only when he’s drunk or high.(Really drunk and really high!) With the help of his sarcastic little sister and his homies Hugo and Pat, Chelo tries to find out how he got these powers and what he’s going to do with them. Will Chelo be the savior of his Latino L.A. hood? Or just a bulletproof bum with a drinking problem?

United States
Series
Cesar Mazariegos
Adam Hendricks, John H. Lang, Greg Gilreath
2017
25