There is no better place for a cinephile to find herself at the end of January than at Park City. The Sundance Film Festival, now in its fourth decade, has become a staple. A launchpad for indie directors all around, Sundance remains the largest independent film festival in the United States. It’s where Latino films like Mosquita y Mari, Quinceañera, Beatriz at Dinner and, more recently The Sentence and Monsters and Men first made a splash. With its commitment to championing world-class as well as homegrown talent, there’s never any shortage of movies to keep an eye out for in this sprawling two week fest.
That’s why, we’re offering you yet again your Latino Guide to Sundance. Below you’ll find all the projects making their way to Utah that come from Latin America and/or feature US Latino talent (in front and behind the camera). From documentaries about one of the most-talked about (and condescended to) political upstarts in recent memory to Colombian projects cementing that country as an industry leader in the region, the list below is unsurprisingly diverse. Commit the list to memory, for you’re sure to be hearing about a lot of these in the year to come. We’ve included features, shorts, and series.
Sundance Film Festival runs January 24 – February 3, 2019.
All images are courtesy of Sundance Institute.
Four high school students embark on their senior year in Pahokee, a small Florida town on the shores of Lake Okeechobee. One of the students is Jocabed Martinez, a young Latina who came from Mexico when she was two and works shifts at her family’s taqueria. The teens navigate sometimes exciting, sometimes heartbreaking rite of passage rituals as they make profound decisions about their futures. As they do, the pressure of Pahokee’s economic hardships weighs heavily on their shoulders — the community has placed all hopes for opportunity on them, the next generation. The documentary is directed by Brazilian-born, Mexico-raised Ivete Lucas and her co-director Patrick Bresnan.
Ayanna is making the most out of her last summer in Harlem before heading to college. She’s bold, confident, and not really looking for love — until she meets the slightly older Isaiah. After one of those rare first dates that lasts for hours, she knows there’s something different about him. Ayanna has found herself at an intimidating crossroads: one foot is still under her mother’s roof, while the other is primed to step out on her own with Isaiah. Bronx-born Boricua director Rashaad Ernesto Green captures youthful, uninhibited conviction through Ayanna’s world in flux: transitional outbursts at home with her mother, deep and sensuous encounters of intimacy with Isaiah, and moments of unfiltered honesty with her girlfriends.
Without warning, Claudio Rojas is detained by ICE officials outside his Florida home. He is transferred to the Broward Transitional Center, a detention facility used as a holding space for imminent deportations. Terrified of never seeing him again, Claudio’s family contacts the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), a group of activist Dreamers known for stopping deportations. Believing that no one is free as long as one is in detention, NIYA enlists Marco Saavedra to self-deport in hopes of gaining access to the detention center and impeding Claudio’s expulsion. Once inside, Saavedra discovers a complex for-profit institution housing hundreds of multinational immigrants, all imprisoned without trial. Based on true events, The Infiltrators is both a suspenseful account of a high-stakes mission and an emotionally charged portrait of visionary youth fighting for their community.
With striking vérité camerawork, Midnight Family drops us directly into the frenetic nighttime emergency ecosystem of Mexico City. In the midst of high-speed ambulance rides, we meet the Ochoas, a ragtag family of private paramedics, who try desperately every day to be the first responders to critically injured patients. In a city where the government operates only 45 emergency ambulances for a population of over nine million, the family acts as a crucial—but unregistered—underground lifeline. But the job is riddled with police bribes and cutthroat competition. And even though the Ochoa family has a reputation for being trustworthy, they must reckon with the sudden escalation in bribes that could force them to wade into the ethically questionable practice of making money off of patients in dire straits.
In the Brazil of 2027, where raves celebrate God’s love and drive-through spiritual-advice booths have become the norm, Joana holds her faith and relationship with God in the highest regard. She uses her job as a notary to carefully goad divorcing couples into reconsidering their split, and she takes comfort in an unusual religious collective that helps keep her own marriage in check. Though she and her husband have struggled to conceive, their efforts to produce a child will eventually bring Joana closer to God than she had ever expected. Through an arresting visual style and vibrant, neospiritual imagery, award-winning director Gabriel Mascaro (Neon Bull, August Winds) draws us into a not-so-distant future where religion has seeped into the texture of daily life, laying bare the subtle hypocrisies that linger at its core.
Belonging to a rebel group called “the Organization,” a ragtag band of child soldiers, brandishing guns and war names like Rambo, Wolf, Lady, and Bigfoot, occupies a derelict ruin atop a remote mountain where they train themselves, watch over a “conscripted” milk cow, and hold hostage a kidnapped American engineer, Doctora (Julianne Nicholson). But after an attack forces them to abandon their base, playtime is over for the motley young crew. The visionary third feature of Alejandro Landes (Cocalero, Porfirio), Monos captivates us with its striking baroque aesthetic, otherworldly setting, and ingenious reframing of the war film—one that uses adolescence to insinuate a youthful but elusive dream of peace. With enthralling performances from Nicholson and a talented young ensemble led by Moises Arias, Landes constructs a stylized, deceptively surreal space that teeters between tedium and hedonism, made more unsettling by its disquieting soundscape and Mica Levi’s brilliant score.
Rosina ticks away the days of a restless summer in her sleepy beachside town until she sights an ominous dorsal fin on one of her habitual ocean swims. Though many are unsure whether her encounter was real, rumors of sharks spread and unsettle the town. Unperturbed by the panic, Rosina shifts her focus to her summer job and her enigmatic coworker, Joselo, who ignites in her an odd, conflicted attraction she hasn’t quite reckoned with before. When his affections start to wane—and with the shark still circling in her thoughts—Rosina resolves not to be easily dismissed. Uruguayan Lucía Garibaldi’s first feature pulses with foreboding, sly humor, and a simmering explosiveness that’s delightful to watch unfold.
Esto no es Berlín
As Mexico anticipates the 1986 World Cup, 17-year-old Carlos is less interested in soccer and more interested in listening to his record collection and admiring Rita, the older sister of his best friend, Gera. Carlos and Gera’s suburban, juvenile monotony is interrupted when Rita’s goth band introduces them to an underground nightclub, the Azteca. The teens are instantly seduced by the Azteca’s regulars and their exhilarating world of performance art, sexual fluidity, and prescription drugs. Carlos and Gera’s friendship is tested as the two explore new identities and face the consequences of adult decisions. Infused with a post-punk soundtrack and brimming with enchanting performances from a promising young cast, Esto no es Berlín delivers an energetic portrait of a clandestine sanctuary propelled by youth fleeing the societal repression of their time.
The Edge of Democracy
Once a nation crippled by a military dictatorship, Brazil found its democratic footing in 1985 and then, in 2002, elected a hugely popular political disrupter: steel-worker-turned-activist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Under his watch, 20 million Brazilians were lifted out of poverty, and his country rose to international prominence. In 2010, Lula passed the presidential baton to his prodigy, a fierce female guerrilla named Dilma Rousseff. But beneath their sunny legacy, rumblings of populist rage and institutional corruption seeped into the mainstream – much of it abetted by a partisan judge who fed news outlets sensational, deeply flawed corruption reports that targeted Lula, Dilma and anyone else who refused to scratch the backs of powerful politicians and special interest groups. With remarkably intimate access, The Edge of Democracy follows Brazil’s embattled leaders as they grapple with a scandal born out of their country’s fascist past and inflamed by a furious and ideologically divided nation.
On a windy night in the Colombian desert, a young Wayúu woman named Doris sleeps in her hammock and has a dream that she reunites with a deceased cousin. When she awakens and shares the encounter with her grandmother, they agree that her vision suggests the beginning of an ancient ritual, one central to their culture’s relationship with death, dreams, and memory. According to custom, Doris must travel to her cousin’s grave and exhume the body from its coffin. Only after she cleanses her cousin’s bones will the physical and spiritual barriers of death crumble. Lapü documents Doris’s journey into the realm of death, layering her ritual with hypnotic visual and sonic abstraction.
Sea of Shadows
The Sea of Cortez is facing total collapse because of a war at sea. Mexican drug cartels have discovered the “cocaine of the sea,” a valuable fish called the totoaba—which is at the center of a multimillion-dollar business with the Chinese Mafia. To find the fish, these cartels are destroying the ecosystem with illegal gill nets and, in doing so, are killing the Earth’s smallest whale—the vaquita. Local fishermen, caught between the tight grip of the cartel and fighting to protect their livelihood, find themselves in a desperate dance for survival. A dramatic documentary thriller, Sea of Shadows follows undercover investigators, environmentalists, journalists, and the Mexican navy in their furious, last-minute efforts to rescue the vaquita from extinction and uncover this expansive black-market ring.
Pájaros de verano
Set in Colombia in the 1970s, right when the demand for marijuana is set to explode, Ciro Guerra’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated Embrace of the Serpent ditches the black and white aesthetic of his previous film for the colorful world of the Guajira desert. Yet again, though, he’s set his sights (alongside co-director and producer Cristina Gallego) on a story about the way Colombian history intersects with its indigenous population. Birds of Passage follows an Wayuu indigenous family who takes a leading role in the budding new drug trade, and discovers the perks of wealth and power, but with a violent and tragic downside.
Finding one’s identity is a challenge everyone faces, but few have the pressure that 12-year-old Abe feels as the son of an Israeli mother and Palestinian father. Though his parents have raised him in a secular household, both sets of grandparents insist he chooses between being Jewish or Muslim. Thankfully, Abe has a passion for food that allows him some escape from the escalating family tensions that are a reflection of the generations-old conflict between Israel and Palestine. While exploring Brooklyn to discover new foods, he meets Chico, a Brazilian chef who believes “mixing flavors can bring people together.” Chico teaches Abe not only the inner workings of a professional kitchen but how to blend flavors with delicious results. Abe uses his newfound cooking skills to plan a Thanksgiving feast that celebrates his diverse heritage, with the hope of unifying his family. This touching film is directed by Brazilian Fernando Grostein Andrade, who comes from a mixed family of Holocaust survivors.
Hala (Geraldine Viswanathan) is her father’s pride and joy. Dutiful and academically gifted, she skillfully navigates both her social life as a teen in Chicago and her obligations as an only child to Pakistani immigrants. With high-school graduation looming, however, Hala is bursting with sexual desire. When she meets Jesse (Jack Kilmer), a classmate who shares her love for poetry and skateboarding, their romance is complicated by her Muslim faith and a father who is prepared to arrange her marriage according to their family’s cultural tradition. As Hala begins to challenge these customs, her parents’ own lives start to unravel, testing the power of Hala’s flourishing voice. The Chicago-set film also stars Texas-born Gabriel Luna.
In the dark karaoke rooms of Los Angeles’s Koreatown stripmalls, Kasie (Tiffany Chu) works as a doumi girl, a young hostess paid to cater to rich businessmen’s capricious whims. As she struggles to hide her sorrow through soju- and MDMA-fueled nights, her mind is focused on one thing: earning enough tips to continue providing for her bedridden father. When her father’s caretaker unexpectedly quits, Kasie seeks help from her estranged brother, and the siblings are forced to reconnect and reconcile the suppressed trauma that lead to their separation. Justin Chon’s film also stars Octavio Pizano.
The Sound of Silence
A self-taught scientist, Peter (Peter Sarsgaard) works in New York as a “house tuner”—a unique, highly specialized profession he’s invented. His clients approach him with troubles like depression, anxiety, or fatigue. After extensive analysis of their homes’ acoustic characteristics, he identifies some sonic combination—a radiator mixed with a kitchen appliance, for instance—that’s altering their mood. Despite some skepticism, his clients see results … until he meets Ellen (Rashida Jones), who is experiencing exhaustion. After his initial conclusion proves incorrect, Peter obsessively searches for the fault in his practice. The Michael Tyburski-directed flick also stars Guatemalan-American actor Tony Revolori.
Knock Down the House
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young, bold Puerto Rican bartender from the Bronx, works double shifts to save her family’s home from foreclosure. Struggling with her own financial problems, she knows many of her neighbors are also hard-pressed to make a living. In order to bring representation to one of the most marginalized constituencies in America, Alexandria runs for office. This film follows four women — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin — who join a movement of insurgent candidates to topple incumbents in an electric primary race for Congress. At a moment of historic volatility in American politics, these four women — all political outsiders — unite to do what many consider impossible. Their efforts result in a legendary upset.
When Uma wakes up alone on a strange island called Paradise, she instantly suspects it’s anything but. Helmed by the Duchess (Milla Jovovich), Paradise Hills is a center for emotional healing that at its core serves as a reformatory-style boarding school for privileged young women. Yet behind the rose-covered pathways and fairy-tale decor, Uma and her friends learn something more sinister is at work. In her ambitious feature debut, director Alice Waddington shrewdly deconstructs seemingly outdated, yet ever-present, societal expectations of young women. Up against a fascist headmaster, the women in Waddington’s tale prove that solidarity and empathy outweigh antiquated modes of female objectification. Emma Roberts leads the charge as Uma, a young woman unafraid to risk her upper-class livelihood for her own and her friends’ independence. The supporting cast of misfit boarding-school girls is rounded out by Danielle Macdonald (Patti Cake$), Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians), and Mexican actress Eiza González (Baby Driver).
Selah and the Spades
In the closed world of an elite Pennsylvania boarding school, the Haldwell, the student body is run by five factions. Seventeen-year-old Selah Summers (Lovie Simone) runs the most dominant group, the Spades, with unshakable poise, as they cater to the most classic of vices and supply students with coveted, illegal alcohol and pills. Tensions between the factions escalate, and when Selah’s best friend/right hand Maxxi becomes distracted by a new love, Selah takes on a protégée, enamored sophomore Paloma, to whom she imparts her wisdom on ruling the school. But with graduation looming and Paloma proving an impressively quick study, Selah’s fears turn sinister as she grapples with losing the control by which she defines herself. In her feature debut, writer/director Tayarisha Poe immerses us in a heightened depiction of teenage politics. The cast is rounded out by Gina Torres and Jesse Williams.
The sensational evangelist Sister Aimee Semple McPherson has pulled off her latest marvel: vanishing in plain sight of a devout disciple! Except that this disappearance was a cleverly orchestrated ploy to run away with her lover, a married writer named Kenny. Outfitted with new identities and a courageous guide named Rey, Aimee and Kenny head for Mexico, searching for inspiration and adventure. When Aimee tires of Kenny’s literary ineptitude, she enlists Rey’s help to ditch him in the desert. Yet getting Aimee back to Los Angeles—where the news, the police, and her devotees are anxiously searching for her—will take a real miracle. Writer/directors Marie Schlingmann and Samantha Buck construct a playful, carnivalesque world saturated with campfire folktales and irreverent characters. The core of the film’s power lies in Anna Margaret Hollyman’s performance as cunning show-woman Aimee and in her undeniable chemistry with Andrea Suarez Paz (the valiant Rey). Part 1920s radioplay, part western, part musical, and an all-around screwball comedy, Sister Aimee embraces one woman’s legend to validate the power of spectacle and the magic of a good storyteller.
This Is Personal
The Women’s March mobilized millions of women to protest after the inauguration of President Trump. But working across ideologies to combat injustice has its challenges. Academy Award–nominated director Amy Berg provides an insider look at the struggle for intersectional activism among the Women’s March leadership. Berg captures the collaborative organizing process and hopeful energy of the first marches in 2017 and spends time behind the scenes highlighting the sustained work that happens after the crowds subside. For Women’s March co-president Tamika Mallory and community-organizing leader and Latina immigration rights activist Erika Andiola, the march is only the tip of the iceberg of their broader activism—Andiola championing immigration rights and Mallory protesting gun violence. When Mallory comes under fire for her affiliations with Minister Louis Farrakhan, a powerful conversation between Mallory and Rabbi Rachel Timoner opens up a dialogue about intersectional leadership.
After a rough breakup, directionless Dave (Alexander England) crashes at his sister’s place and spends his days expanding his young nephew’s questionable vocabulary. When an opportunity arises to chaperone an upcoming school excursion alongside the charming and enigmatic teacher, Miss Caroline (Mexican-born Academy Award-winner Lupita Nyong’o), Dave jumps at the chance to impress her. What he wasn’t anticipating was Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad), an obnoxious children’s television personality who shapes the excursion’s activities. What he was expecting even less was a zombie invasion, which unfolds after an experiment at a nearby military base goes awry. Armed only with the resourcefulness of kindergartners, Dave, Miss Caroline, and Teddy must work together to keep the monsters at bay and carve a way out with their guts intact.
Director: Suzanne Andrews Correa
Screenwriters: Suzanne Andrews Correa, Mustafa Kaymak
Green, an undocumented Turkish pedicab driver, unwittingly draws police attention, endangering his brother, his community, and himself in this film co-written and directed by Mexican-American filmmaker Suzanne Andrews Correa.
Bajo la sombra del Guacarí (Colombia)
Director and screenwriter: Greg Méndez
Dead bodies have washed upon the banks of the river. When Abraham finds out the one of them was his friend, he embarks on a journey to fulfill a promise that will take him to the Guacarí tree.
Desires of the flesh (Brazil)
Director and screenwriter: Rafaela Camelo
Blessed be the Sunday, that it is the day to see Giovana.
FIN (END) (Cuba)
Director: Yimit Ramírez
Screenwriters: Yimit Ramírez, Tatiana Monge
Juan is dead. Surprisingly, he is given an opportunity: to relive a moment of his past life, but it will not be an ordinary moment.
Dulce (U.S.A., Colombia)
Directors: Guille Isa, Angello Faccini
In coastal Colombia, facing rising tides made worse by climate change, a mother teaches her daughter how to swim so that she may go to the mangroves and harvest ‘piangua’ shellfish with the other women in the village.
It's Going To Be Beautiful (U.S.A., Mexico)
Director: Luis Gutiérrez Arias
The U.S. Border Patrol has been given the task of choosing a winning design for building a wall on the U.S.- Mexico border. That’s the focus of this short documentary, directed by Mexican Cuban filmmaker Luis Gutiérrez Arias.
Director: Anna Barsan
Undocumented immigrants forced to spend months in detention are turning to private companies to secure their release on bond. In exchange, immigrants pay exorbitant monthly fees for a GPS ankle monitor they can’t remove.
El Verano del León Eléctrico (Chile)
Director and Screenwriter: Diego Céspedes
Hidden in a house far from the city, a boy accompanies his sister as she becomes the seventh wife of a prophet who electrocutes anyone who touches him.
Quarter Life Poetry (U.S.A.)
Adapted from Samantha Jayne’s book, Quarter Life Poetry: Poems for the Young, Broke & Hangry, her bestselling look at millennial angst, this series bills itself quite simply borrowing the book’s subtitle: Poems for the young, broke and hangry. Jayne writes and stars in the show, which is co-directed by LA-based Mexican filmmaker Arturo Perez Jr., best known for his music videos for the likes of Justin Timberlake, The Killers, Natalia Lafourcade and Carla Morrison.
The Dress Up Gang (U.S.A.)
The insanely funny and surrealistic comedy trio (Robb Boardman, Cory Loykasek, Donny Divanian) expands their cult-hit web series, The Dress Up Gang. Donny, a responsible adult with the innocence and outlook of a child, relies on guidance and life advice from his friend Cory, the dad-like thirtysomething who has been crashing on Donny’s couch for quite some time. Joining them is an eclectic ensemble cast which includes Andie MacDowell and CholoFit star Frankie Quinones.
Lorena Gallo, an Ecuadorian-born Venezuelan, emigrated to the U.S. in 1987. Little did she know that in 1993 her marriage and private life would become a nationwide tabloid fixture. 25 years after the notorious case of John and Lorena Bobbitt, this groundbreaking series re-investigates the story that made international headlines and helped birth a 24-hour news cycle, exploring vital moral issues and the missed opportunity for a national discussion about domestic violence and sexual assault within this American scandal.