In an industry where Latinos make up just over five percent of lead actors and two percent of film directors, representation on top stages is a high priority. That rings especially true at Sundance Film Festival, a world-renowned incubator of independent cinema, where small budget indie films are often launched into box office successes. Every year since Sundance’s inception in 1978, filmmakers and film enthusiasts alike have come together in Park City, Utah, to celebrate cinema, network, attend panels, and compete for coveted prizes in the documentary and dramatic competitions.
Years before the public outcry against the lack of diversity in Hollywood, Sundance had invested in its Diversity Initiative to combat underrepresentation. More recently, it has collaborated with organizations like Women in Film Los Angeles, The Black House, and The Latinx House. The Latinx House, an official partner of Sundance since 2020, is focused on bolstering diverse and exceptional Latin American talent in cinema. Founded by activist Mònica Ramírez and actor/producer Olga Segura, The Latinx House kicked off Sundance’s opening weekend with a series of expert panels, receptions, parties, and flash talks with creators – including a conversation with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s Tenoch Huerta, the official premiere parties for both Going Varsity in Mariachi and Divinity, and more. The group also hosted a private screening of the landmark film starring America Ferrera, Real Women Have Curves, which had its world premiere at the festival 21 years ago. “Creating a space to build community and celebrate our achievements has always been one of our main goals. Our continued collaboration with Sundance is helping us build a bridge to create more opportunities for Latinx creators in the industry for many years to come,” said The Latinx House co-founder Olga Segura.
Co-founders of The Latinx House Monica Ramirez, left, and Olga Segura pose during The Latinx House Reception at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, January 22, 2023, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Danny Moloshok / Invision for The Latinx House / AP Images)
One of the most impactful elements of The Latinx House is the directorial fellowship Adelante, launched in 2022 to support the development of up-and-coming directors. According to the website, “In partnership with the Sundance Institute’s Women at Sundance program, Netflix, Shondaland, and GloNation, three Latina directors participated in the inaugural Adelante Directors Fellowship, creating a pipeline to uplift independent filmmakers…” This year’s participants included award winning producer from the Puerto Rican diaspora Cecilia Aldarondo, Yulene Olaizola of Mexican descent, and Nicole Mejia from Honduras.
A still from Cassandro by Roger Ross Williams, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute
The Latin presence is steadily growing at Sundance. This year, 12 of Sundance’s 100 plus films that are screening are Latino, including the Gael García Bernal led drama Cassandro, a story about the self-proclaimed “Liberace of Lucha Libre.” Mutt, the directorial debut by Chilean-Serbian director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, focuses on a character navigating both trans-masculine and Latin identities. In the documentary competition, Going Varsity in Mariachi captures the world of competitive scholastic mariachi in South Texas. Other Latino films include black and white sci-fi entry Divinity, emotional climate drama La Pecera, dramatic comedy MAMACRUZ about an abuela’s late stage sexual renaissance, and more.
“I’ve been so overwhelmed by peoples’ responses to seeing a film like Mutt, which is about intersectionality and being a blend of several identities, at Sundance. In Chile, stories like this are still not talked about, so to be able to bring Mutt to this festival makes me so, so proud.” — Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, director of Mutt.
With all eyes on Utah this week, many films will hope to continue on the spring festival circuit, including the famed South By Southwest Film & TV Festival in March. We hope to see diverse Latino stories in cinema continue to thrive.
Sundance Film Festival runs from January 19 – January 29, 2023. To follow along with Sundance’s screening, events, and announcements, find them on Instagram, Twitter, and at festival.sundance.org.