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Here's the Latino, Latin American Films We're Watching at Sundance

Here's your guide to the fascinating films made by Latino directors and producers at one of the premiere film festivals.
Jemal Countess / Sundance Institute

PARK CITY, Utah -- When it comes Latinos and film, it's obvious the landscape is not as full as we would like. But this year's Sundance Film Festival is showcasing some outstanding films made by and starring U.S. Hispanics, as well as strong movies and documentaries from Cuba, the Dominican Republic (for the first time) and more.

Actress Salma Hayek stars in director Miguel Arteta’s Beatriz at Dinner, about a holistic therapist who ends up at a high end dinner party where she leaves quite an impression. Arteta, who is Puerto Rican, has had success as a film and TV director. He was previously at Sundance with Chuck and Buck.

America Ferrera is featured in and is one of the executive producers of MACRO's Gente-fied, a web series that premieres at Sundance. Mexican/Guatemalan-American writer, director and producer Marvin Bryan Lemus created the project about gentrification in LA's Boyle Heights. Other Latino actors involved include Edsson Morales, Alicia Sixtos, Victoria Ortiz, Yareli Arizmendi, Salvador Velez Jr. and Rafael Sigler.

Alicia Sixtos appears in Gente-fied by Marvin Lemus, an official selection of the Special Events program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

An unlikely star of the festival this year is Cuba. The groundwork for this collaboration was laid well before the U.S. restored relations with the country, when Sundance strated participating with a Cuban film festival. The MADE IN CUBA Short Film Series includes Casa en Venta (House for Sale), from director Emanuel Giraldo Betancur. The documentary looks at Cubans who may take advantage of the lifting of the ban on selling their homes.

Also premiering at Sundance is the concert documentary Give Me Future: Major Lazer in Cuba by director Austin Peters.

Another Cuban documentary, Conectifai (Connection), by director Horizoe Garcia, looks at how the installation of wifi in public parks is affecting Cubans. Great Muy Bien, by director and writer Sheyla Pool Pástor, is a documentary that looks at the Big Ben English school in Havana.

Also premiering at Sundance is the concert documentary Give Me Future: Major Lazer in Cuba by director Austin Peters.

Another offering in the Cuban category that was slated to premiere but was pulled or canceled at the last minute is a feature-length documentary about the Buena Vista Social Club. For now, it's being called Untitled Lucy Walker / Buena Vista Social Club Documentary. American filmmaker Lucy Walker is a two-time Oscar nominee, whose previous work includes A History of Cuban Dance and Waste Land, about the world's largest landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, where men and women sift through garbage for a living.

Before writer/director/producer José María Cabral’s Carpinteros (Woodpeckers) even made it to Sundance, there was a bidding war for the film. It is the first ever Dominican film to screen at Sundance in the festival's 33 year history.

The story centers on the romantic relationship between two prisoners at the Dominican Republic’s Najayo Prison. Cabral spent time at the facility researching his script and much of the feature film was shot in prison. It stars Jean Jean and Judith Rodriguez Perez. Film Factory Ent. picked up worldwide sales rights for it and the buzz has been strong, showing how Dominican filmmaking is on the rise.

Jean Jean appears in Carpinteros (Woodpeckers) by Jose Maria Cabral, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Hernan Herrera.Hernan Herrera

Other features playing include the Chilean Vida de Familia (Family Life) about a house-sitting man who makes up a story to get the attention of a woman. It’s written by Alejandro Zambra and directed by Alicia Scherson and Cristián Jiménez.

The Mexican film Sueño en otro idioma (I Dream in Another Language) by director Ernesto Contreras, won the Sundance Institute/Mahindra Global Filmmaking Award when he was developing the project. It was written by his brother Carlos Contreras and tells the story of two brothers who are the last two speakers of an old language but who haven’t talk to each other in 50 years.

The Brazilian romantic coming of age drama Não Devore Meu Coração (Don't Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!) is a film by director Felipe Bragança about a Brazilian boy and a Paraguayan indigenous girl falling in love in the border region a la Romeo and Juliet. Spanish writer and director Nacho Vigalondo’s blockbuster Colossal is a cool indie take on a monster movie.

Another buzzworthy film is the documentary Dolores, about civil rights icon and activist Dolores Huerta. The mother of 11 children was the co-founder, with Cesar Chavez, of the United Farm Workers, the country’s first farmworkers’ union.

Huerta will be at Sundance, along with filmmakers Peter Bratt, Benjamin Bratt and Carlos Santana for the premiere. Bratt has been pulling double duty, both acting and producing for years, he previously produced and starred in his brother Peter Bratt’s LA MISSION.

Latino Reel is hosting a panel discussion with Huerta about the documentary and the importance of creating films about untold stories. The organization will also be hosting several networking opportunities for Latinos in film at The Blackhouse.

They are not the only ones getting in on the action; the Latino Filmmakers Network is also hosting their 3rd annual Sundance event. Their panel at the Indie Lounge about Sustaining Your Career after the Festival includes actor Elvis Nolasco, producer Gabriela Gonzalez and director Marvin Bryan Lemus. Filmmaker Maylen Calienes, who has been coming to Sundance since 2006, organized the event to bring visibility and opportunity to Latinos.

Dolores Huerta appears in "Dolores" by Peter Bratt, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by George Ballis.

Comedian and filmmaker Chris Rock once lamented in a piece for The Hollywood Reporter the fact that Los Angeles is filled with Mexicans, yet the Hollywood studios basically just have them mopping the floors. There is no quick and easy fix to diversifying the industry, which means not just more Latino faces on screen, but more Latino executives in the boardroom.

For its part, Sundance is working to diversify its slate and boost inclusion. In addition to the films highlighted here, there are other shorts, features and screenings at the festival with a strong connection to Latinos. Depending on the criteria used to label them, we count anywhere from 19-22.

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