Fifteen years ago New York City based cinephile Carlos Gutierrez noticed that some of the most dazzling films were not being made in Hollywood but in Latin America, yet U.S. audiences saw few of these projects. So the Mexico City native decided to co-found Cinema Tropical, an organization that promotes and distributes films by Latinos and Latin American filmmakers.
"When we focus on Hollywood, we fail to realize that there is much better work being made in other places," explained Gutierrez. "My philosophy is that life is much more interesting than mainstream."
Gutierrez' laser-focused energy promoting talent beyond the Hollywood mainstream has paid off. To date, his Cinema Tropical has brought to the U.S. more than two-dozen of the most extraordinary feature films made by Latino and Latin American filmmakers.
His organization was the first to introduce to U.S. audiences the fabulous film, Amores Perros and director, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu and actor Gael Garcia Bernal when the duo were kicking off their careers. Both men went on to win Oscars and in many ways transform filmmaking with the innovative approach to telling stories on film.
Gutierrez said that the recent controversy over the lack of diversity in the Oscars is old news and an issue he is not interested in engaging in.
"The #oscarsowhite is a tricky conversation," explains Gutierrez. "The media loves a controversy and it's fitting to point out the lack of diversity in Hollywood, but I'd rather use my energy to champion films and filmmakers that I believe in. For me it's about changing the discussion. We have amazing talent that we need to admire."
According to Gutierrez, over the last two decades infrastructures created to support local filmmakers have resulted in an explosion of films coming out of Mexico, Central America and South America. In particular, smaller nations like Peru, Panama and Guatemala are having a renaissance moment in cinema.
In 2014 alone, the latest statistics available, over 600 films were made in Latin America and most of them were not seen in the U.S. On average, U.S. audiences only get to see 30 of these films a year.
To mark the 15-year milestone, he teamed up with the Museum of the Moving Image and will present a three-day festival, the 2016 Edition of the Cinema Tropical Festival, which starts Friday and will showcase six feature films from Argentina, Guatemala, Panama, Peru and Puerto Rico. The line up is fire.
The festival will open with Mala Mala, Puerto Rico's doc about trans life on the island. On most days a Q&A will follow the films.
"If it weren't for this kind of platform, some of these films would not have been seen in the US," said Gutierrez. "We are so excited and proud to be part of providing a platform for filmmakers to connect with New York audiences."