Film

From Chile to Boyle Heights: 22 Must-See Latino Movies at Sundance Film Festival

Lead Photo: Still from 'Give Me Future: Major Lazer in Cuba'
Still from 'Give Me Future: Major Lazer in Cuba'
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Every year directors, critics, and cinephiles from all over head to Sundance Film Festival. There’s good reason to brave the cold weather of Utah in January: as the largest independent film festival in the United States, Sundance never fails to deliver some of the most exciting indie projects around. There’s no better festival to attend to see what movies people will be talking about for the rest of the year. Just last year fest attendees got to see Antonio Campos’ Christine, Elizabeth Wood’s White GirlDiego Luna’s Mr. Pigrecent Cinema Tropical Award winner Bernardo Britto’s Jacqueline Argentine, as well as soon-to-be Best Picture Oscar nominee Manchester by the Sea. 

In between its usual fare of weepy family dramedies and socially conscious documentaries, Latino audiences have plenty to look forward to at this year’s edition of the fest. There are new projects featuring Salma Hayek and America Ferrera, new documentaries about Dolores Huerta and the Buena Vista Social Club, and even three short films screening under the “Made in Cuba” sidebar showcasing new work from the island. Not only that but this year’s juries include two of Latin America’s most beloved and successful actors: Neruda‘s Gael García Bernal will be serving on the U.S. Dramatic Jury while AquariusSonia Braga is part of the three-person World Cinema Dramatic Jury.

And while we know there’s no way you’ll be able to catch everything at the fest, we’ve rounded up our Top Latino picks below. We chose to include movies directed by US Latinos and Latin Americans as well as films about Latinos (but directed by non-Latinos).  Consider these recommendations of what you shouldn’t miss at Sundance, and for those not attending: as a running list of the films you should keep tabs on this year. Check them out below.

Sundance Film Festival takes place January 19-29, 2017 in Park City, Utah.

FEATURE FILMS

Beatriz at Dinner

Miguel Arteta

Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is a miracle worker—highly sensitive with her touch, and passionately dedicated to curing pain through holistic therapy. After treating the mother of a young woman Beatriz helped recover from chemotherapy, her car breaks down, so she is invited to stay for a dinner celebrating a lucrative business deal. An interloper inside this private enclave of the have-mores, Beatriz is politely acknowledged by the guests, with the exception of Doug, a mega brazen and successful business developer. Believing she knows him from somewhere, Beatriz becomes increasingly unsettled. Uninhibited, she questions whether Doug’s accomplishments have come at the expense of other people’s suffering—to the chagrin of the sycophantic hosts—pitting the guests into opposing forces. Beatriz at Dinner is riveting, yet with an apprehensive tone. Half chamber drama, half dark dramedy of errors, Puerto Rican director Miguel Arteta discerns his characters by showing their most telling reactions, such as the subliminal determination of Hayek’s face, while spinning an indelible wickedness onto this tale of a fateful encounter

United States
Drama
Mike White
Aaron L. Gilbert, David Hinojosa, Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon
2016
83

500 Years

Pamela Yates

The third film in a trilogy about Guatemala, this installment explores the sweeping historical significance of the war crimes trial of General Ríos Montt and the toppling of corrupt president Otto Pérez Molina. Pamela Yates gracefully engages the indigenous Mayan population who experienced genocide at the hands of a long-standing repressive government. Silenced family members and eyewitnesses come forward to share their individual stories with the desire that their underreported, horrific treatment receive the attention it deserves. Spoken in Spanish and native Mayan languages, 500 Years delicately weaves archival footage with new interviews and emotional courtroom scenes to shine light on a growing movement to fend off the systematic aggression toward an underrepresented people. Focusing on the recent events of a country that has suffered for generations at the hands of a ruling elite, the film hails the nation’s citizens banding together on a quest for justice – and emerging as a beacon of hope.

United States
Documentary
Paco de Onis
2017
106

Give Me Future

Austin Peters

2015 was a landmark year for electronic dancehall superband Major Lazer. After topping the EDM charts with their international hit single “Lean On,” the band continued its world tour, mounting elaborate shows not only in traditional destinations, but also in more challenging locations around the globe. Fueled by a dream of “making the world smaller by making the party bigger,” the group furthered their mission of peace through music with a free concert in the unlikeliest of venues — downtown Havana, Cuba, where no American band at the height of their fame had previously been allowed to perform. Without knowing whether anyone in the country even knew who they were, they hoped to reach a potential crowd of 50,000. After half a million exuberant fans showed up, music history was made on a massive scale. In what began as a concert film intended to document this groundbreaking event, director Austin Peters turns the camera on a burgeoning youth movement, fusing exhilarating performance footage with authentic stories of cultural and political shifts in a country on the precipice of change.

Cuba, United States
Documentary
Jack Turner, Jay Peterson
2016
85

Carpinteros

Jose Maria Cabral

Tall, dark, and handsome, Julián steps off a bus, hands over his clothes, gets his long curly locks chopped off, and becomes fresh meat walking inside the Najayo Prison in the Dominican Republic. He locates his cellblock underneath the moist corner where the Woodpeckers perch. Woodpeckers—prisoners who romance ladies incarcerated at the women’s prison 150 meters across the way—spend their days in affectionate conversation with their lovers through sign language. When Julián encounters Yanelly, a gorgeous spitfire of a woman, he finds love in the last place he imagined. Now he must find a way, through cement, barbed wire, dozens of guards, and murderous exes to win Yanelly’s love, all the while keeping it secret.

Dominican Republic
Drama
Jose Maria Cabral
Maria Jose Ripoll, Jose Maria Cabral
2016
107

Family Life

Alicia Scherson, Cristián Jiménez

A young family temporarily relocates for the father’s professorship, and an estranged cousin is recruited to house-sit. Martin, the cousin, is a peculiar, brooding, scruffy man. Eager to go, the family dismisses any doubts they have and leave the house in Martin’s care. Left to his own devices, Martin listlessly chain-smokes and goes through Bruno’s personal things. When Martin wanders out, he encounters an attractive single mother. He brings her to the house where he poses as a divorcee who doesn’t get to see his daughter. They get hot and heavy, and soon Martin starts to play father figure to her son, turning their casual fling into domestic bliss, all while seemingly oblivious to the family’s imminent return. Family Life intrepidly weaves together the perspectives of a couple nobly navigating their family doldrums, and Martin, a drifter seizing a short-term lease on family life. Chile’s most original filmmakers, director Alicia Scherson and co-director Christián Jiménez, team up to knock out an unconventional and profound study of living vicariously in this aloof, melancholy comedy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dKY9LZGHxQ

Chile
Drama
Alejandro Zambra
Carlos Olivares, Fernando Bascuñán
2017
80

Sueño en otro idioma

Ernesto Contreras

Martin arrives in a remote Mexican village to record a dying, ancient indigenous language. He finds the last two speakers of the language, but they refuse to speak to each other because of a 50 year grudge. Martin learns the surly Evaristo got into a fight with Isauro because they fell in love with the same woman. Now widowed, Evaristo continues to bitterly avoid the ailing Isauro. Martin and Evaristo’s granddaughter, Lluvia, work to convince the men to reconcile. Perplexed by their intensity when they meet, Martin realizes there is more to the story, and Lluvia finally reveals the secret behind the men’s entanglement. As Isauro’s health declines, Evaristo struggles to come to terms with his feelings, and strange bird calls from deep inside the jungle begin to stir, evoking the mythical origin of their ancestors. Distinctly enigmatic in tone, permeating the vibrations of the jungle’s enchantment through sound and cinematography, writer and director duo the Contreras brothers imaginatively use language and metaphor, and eternity over history to weave an unexpected and transcendental love story.

Mexico
Drama
Carlos Contreras
Dijana Olcay-Hot, Luis Albores, Érika Ávila, Raymond van der Kaaij, Eamon O'Farrill, Mónica Lozano
2016
101

Dolores

Peter Bratt

History tells us Cesar Chavez transformed the U.S. labor movement by leading the first farm workers’ union. But missing from this narrative is his equally influential co-founder, Dolores Huerta, who fought tirelessly alongside Chavez for racial and labor justice and became one of the most defiant feminists of the twentieth century. Like so many powerful women advocates, Dolores and her sweeping reforms were—and still are—sidelined and diminished. Even as she empowered a generation of immigrants to stand up for their rights, her relentless work ethic was constantly under attack. Peter Bratt’s provocative and energizing documentary challenges an incomplete history. Through beautifully woven archival footage and interviews from contemporaries and from Dolores herself, now an octogenarian, the film sets the record straight on one of the most effective and undervalued civil and labor rights leaders in modern U.S. history.

United States
Documentary
Brian Benson
2017
95

Dina

Antonio Santini, Dan Sickles

The directors of Mala Mala are back with their sophomore documentary effort. Dina, an outspoken and eccentric 49-year-old in suburban Philadelphia, invites her fiancé Scott, a Walmart door greeter, to move in with her. Having grown up neurologically diverse in a world blind to the value of their experience, the two are head-over-heels for one another, but shacking up poses a new challenge. Scott freezes when it comes to physical intimacy, and Dina, a Kardashians fanatic, wants nothing more than to share with Scott all she’s learned about sensual desire from books, TV shows, and her previous marriage. Her increasingly creative forays to draw Scott close keep hitting roadblocks—exposing anxieties, insecurities, and communication snafus while they strive to reconcile their conflicting approaches to romance and intimacy.

United States
Documentary
Antonio Santini, Dan Sickles
2016
101

Não Devore Meu Coração!

Felipe Bragança

On the turbulent border of modern-day Brazil and Paraguay, a war is brewing between rival gangs on either side. Caught in the middle of it all, Brazilian 13-year-old Joca has fallen in love with Basano, a spirited indigenous Paraguayan girl, and is determined to win her over regardless of the consequences. Even as Joca’s brother Fernando becomes heavily embroiled in the hostilities, and Basano is threatened by the unwanted affections of an older boy in her village, Joca is forced to confront where his own loyalties lie. Felipe Bragança’s first solo-directed feature is a magnificently layered, surreal fairy tale addressing the very real colonial oppression and strife that defined the region’s history and still lingers today. Mixing professional and nonprofessional actors in three languages, Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl! tackles its ambitions head-on, shaping Bragança’s alluring vision of a dreamscape haunted by violence where young love struggles to take root.

Paraguay, Netherlands, France, Brazil
Drama
Felipe Bragança
Marina Meliande, Marcos Prado
2017
108

Lemon

Janicza Bravo

Isaac Lachmann (Brett Gelman) has seen better days. His acting career is tanking, while his colleagues succeed; his blind girlfriend of 10 years plans to leave him; and his own family singles him out as a constant disappointment at their latest reunion. Even as he takes a chance on new romance, Isaac struggles to define his place in a world that has seemingly turned against him. Janicza Bravo, who was raised in a military base in Panama, directs this description-defying debut feature that promises to delight and unsettle audiences in equal measure with its unique brand of discomforting humor. Co-starring Michael Cera, Judy Greer, Nia Long, Martin Starr, and Gillian Jacobs.

United States
Comedy, Drama
Brett Gelman, Janicza Bravo
Paul Bernon, Sam Slater, David Bernon, Han West, Houston King
2017
90

Untitled Buena Vista Social Club Documentary

Lucy Walker

In 1996, Cuban bandleader Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, British producer Nick Gold, and American guitarist Ry Cooder convened in Havana to produce a Cuban-Malian collaboration. When the Malians couldn’t get visas, the team turned their attention to reviving a forgotten generation of legendary son cubano musicians—among them Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez, Omara Portuondo, Eliades Ochoa, and Compay Segundo—and they formed a serendipitous, on-the-fly ensemble: the Buena Vista Social Club. The group’s hypnotic, irresistible music and effusive spirit unexpectedly took the world by storm, resulting in a Grammy Award–winning album and an Academy Award–nominated documentary by Wim Wenders. Two decades since that fateful first session, we catch up to these master musicians, as they reflect on the magical unfolding of their lives—from humble origins to the evolution and surprising revival of their careers, all against the backdrop of Cuba’s dramatic history. Brimming with unseen concert, rehearsal, and archival footage, this film is an emotional, shimmering celebration of music’s power to transcend age, ideologies, and class, and to connect us to each other through our souls.

United Kingdom, Cuba, United States
Christine Cowin, Zak Kilberg, Victor Moyers, Julian Cautherley, Asher Goldstein
2017
110

XX

Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama

Gather round if you dare for four murderous tales of supernatural frights, predatory thrills, profound anxiety, and Gothic decay in the first all-female-driven horror anthology film. Audacious new works from some of the genre’s most promising voices—Annie Clark (better known to fans as St. Vincent), Karyn Kusama (The Invitation, Girlfight), Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound), and Jovanka Vuckovic (former editor of Rue Morgue magazine)—bring forth a study in the proper unspooling of dread for your viewing pleasure. Framed around innovative animator from Guadalajara Sofia Carrillo’s haunting tableaus, these modern myths range from Vuckovic’s reverent control of grotesque elegance to Clark’s deliciously macabre sense of comic timing, Benjamin’s skillful powers of tonal transformation, and Kusama’s authorial grasp of simmering psychological fear. Vigorously challenging a stagnant status quo within the industry, this collection of tightly coiled short films by some of horror’s most influential women offers a refreshing jolt to the senses.

United States
Anthology, Horror
Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama
Todd Brown, Nick Spicer
2016
81

SHORT FILMS

Victor & Isolina

William Caballero

Creatively visualized through 3D printing, two elderly Latinos embark on a resonating he said/she said account of the events that led them to live separately after more than 50 quirky and stressful years together.

United States
Animation, Short Film
William D. Caballero, Louis E. Perego Moreno, Elaine del Valle
2016
6

El buzo

Esteban Arrangoiz

Julio César Cu Cámara is the chief diver in the Mexico City sewer system. His job is to repair pumps and dislodge garbage that flows into the gutters to maintain the circulation of sewage waters.

Mexico
Short Film, Documentary
Esteban Arrangoiz
María del Carmen de Lara, Mariana Rodríguez, Esteban Arrangoiz
2016
16

Deer Squad: The Movie

Pipus Larsen, Kenneth Gug, Scott J. Ross

Kelvin Peña, a charismatic 17-year-old from rural Pennsylvania, shares his story of going viral after befriending a group of wild deer in his backyard.

https://youtu.be/yalKKY7hFso

United States
Short Film, Documentary
Scott J. Ross, Super Deluxe
2016
4

Y todo el cielo cupo en el ojo de la vaca muerta

Francisca Alegría

Emeteria is visited by the ghost of her patrón, Teodoro. She believes he has come to take her to the afterlife—but he has more devastating news.

Chile, United States
Short Film, Drama
Francisca Alegría
Birgit Gernboeck, Florencia Larrea, Augusto Matte
2016
19

Kaiju Bunraku

Lucas Leyva, Jillian Mayer

Mixing the Japanese Kaiju (aka giant monsters) and Bunraku (traditional puppetry) genres, Miami-based filmmakers Leyva and Mayer have created an absurdist tale of existential nihilism that they describe as follows: “Here’s a day in the life of a husband and wife living in a world of giant monsters.”

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
United States
Fantasy, Short Film, Drama
Lucas Leyva
Brett Potter Taylor Shung
2016
14

Good Crazy

Rosa Salazar

A complex chick deals with a vanilla beau, a shitty brunch, and a dead coyote all in a Los Angeles day. There’s batshit crazy and then there’s good crazy—she fits somewhere in between.

United States
Rosa Salazar
Toby Louie
2016
14

Gente-fied

Marvin Lemus

Gente/“People” + Gentrification = Gente-fication. Directed by Mexican-Guatemalan-American Marvin Lemus, Gente-fied is a web series executive produced by and starring America Ferrera. Bicultural millennials and old-school pillars of the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles hustle to maintain their cultural identity when faced with an influx of outsiders to their traditionally Latino community. Each episode of this comedic drama focuses on a different character as they survey the complications and benefits of modern gentrification.

United States
Comedy, Drama
Marvin Lemus, Linda Yvette Chavez
Aaliyah Williams, America Ferrera, Charles D. King
2016
35

Casa en venta

Emanuel Giraldo Betancur

After over 50 years, the ban disallowing citizens of Cuba from selling their own houses is lifted. Three Cuban families invite us into their homes as a showcase to prospective buyers. Filled with memories, souvenirs, and family members, these intimate spaces are filled with affection, highlighting a country on the verge of historical change.

Cuba
Short Film, Documentary
Emanuel Giraldo Betancur
2016
13

Great Muy Bien

Sheyla Pool Pástor

After the United States restored diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015, it was no longer unrealistic for Cubans to dream of one day living and working abroad. Citizens of all ages, with diverse aspirations, enroll at the makeshift Big Ben English school in Havana in order to prepare themselves for a future of normalized relations between Cuba and the United States.

https://vimeo.com/192153395

Cuba
Short, Documentary
Sheyla Pool Pástor
Sheyla Pool Pástor, Zoe Garcia Miranda
2016
16

Conectifai

Zoe Garcia Miranda

In 2016, Cuba’s only telephone company installed Wi-Fi routers in 18 public parks. For many in the country, this meant being able to go online for the first time. Now connected to a technology that is entirely new to them, we see how Cubans explore social media, online dating, and the ability to reconnect with family members living just 90 miles away.

Cuba
Short Film, Documentary
Zoe Garcia Miranda
Sheyla Pool, Zoe Garcia Miranda
2016
18