Thursday, January 14, 2010

Latin America in Sundance (and Slamdance!)

This blog, Latin America in Sundance, will continue to be updated at least up to the day of the World Cinema round tables January 28 which Caroline Libresco inaugurated several years ago.  The focus of this blog obviously will be the selection of Latin American films from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Cuba, Mexico, and Peru.  We shall see if any creates enough of a stir - or what I consider a stir - within my purview of buying and selling (the agents surely will discover the directors and other talent without my prompting) - for a longer span of my attention.  The politics of the films also interest me as Latin America is such an integral part of the USA today.

NALIP has this to say about the current state of Latino programming: "... in NALIP's 11th year, this seems worse than slow: it appears that diversity is really on a backburner..The dipstick on diversity reading is far too low for the 21st century, where Latinos and other minorities are the majorities in many states, and in consuming media across all platforms...What about in indieland? While we are very proud of LPA Fellow Nicolas Entel, who has been invited to Sundance TwentyTen with the wonderful documentary Sins of My Father, just licensed for broadcast by HBO, there is no LA MISMA LUNA as at Sundance 2007, no SLEEP DEALER as at Sundance 2008, no DON'T LET ME DROWN as at Sundance 2009. The U.S. Latino documentaries that are coming out of the Latino Producers Academy, LPB or ITVS are not represented there, either."

Starting with the film which caught my eye (and that of Shoreline) during Ventana Sur, Zona Sur, directed by Bolivian director Juan Carlos Valdivia and picked up for worldwide sales by Shoreline and will be showing in Sundance. It was the most stylish and interesting version I have seen of a Latin American theme we've seen in several films before, namely, the rich decadents’ being replaced by the indigenous industrious. Last year's Sundance World Cinema selection from Chile, The Maid, was also a Shoreline pick up and they sold quite a number of territories and its US distributor Elephant Eye, (the international sales agent of Precious) did quite well at the box office in the US, grossing almost $500,000 and still playing.  Valdivia's direction is very accomplished and I look forward to seeing his next film.  The film has also been chosen by Tokyo Int'l Film Festival as one of the top 15 films of the world and is Bolivia's Academy Award submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

As a partner in Cinenomada, Valdivia directed the company's first film Zona Sur, and is co-producing  Los Viejos, currently in post production, by a young Bolivian director, Martin Bouloucq. Per Valdivia, "we have a new film in development, which we plan to shoot this year. Cinenomada has a small production platform and we are interested in producing films that can have an impact in the market place by virtue of their artistic quality. We feel we have an enormous resource of unique themes, stories and new talent in our country. We are working to strengthen our own market and we seek to broaden our relationship to the world market place. We currently have a project about an indigenous nation within Bolivia seeking international co-production."

Referring back to my earlier blog on Latin America and in light of the discussion of Bolivia and their president elect Ivo as depicted by Oliver Stone in South of the Border (being sold by The Film Sales Co.), and Gonzalo Arijón's Eyes Wide Open, Galeano's sequel to The Open Veins of Latin America, (being sold internationally by Autlook) the subject matter of the indigenous nation within Bolivia is very interesting.

Counting the other Latino (Spanish language and not from Spain) films which will be in Sundance, the most riveting is Sins of My Father by Nicolas Entel, the son of Pablo Escobar, who was and still is at considerable risk to his own life for making this film. The HBO Arte produced documentary played at IDFA and the news of it caused quite a stir. The Google page on this film alone is enough to encourage many buyers.
UPDATE:  At the industry screening today, many international sales agents were eying the film.  My take on it:  After being moved by the dilemna of the son of Pablo and learning that the two politicians running for president were assassinated by Escbar leaving four more sons fatherless, and seeing Pablo's son make overtures to them to stop the violence expected in revenge, words failed to convey the full import of the story.  The film in the end seems better suited to television than to theatrical exhibition.  The animated opening credits were especially outstanding however.

Contracorriente (Undertow) from Peru, Colombia, France and Germany premiered in San Sebastian, also gay themed, is a small jewel and should surely sell at this festival 
UPDATE: Shoreline acquired worldwide rights just before the festival began.

Argentinean film The Man Next Door is stylish, taking place in a mid century Le Corbusier home. It depicts what seems like the neighbor from hell who is bent on making a window in his apartment which will destory the integrity of the perfect symetry of the Le Corbu house.  While a bit too long, and not very well attended by the trade, those who saw it were drawn to the story whose keystone was the moral cowardice shown by the sophisticated apartment owner. Abel is the directing debut of Diego Luna, exec produced by John Malkovich, Russell Smith, Lianne Halfon and Gael Garcia Bernal and said to be worth the great interest of acquisitions excutives.

Memories of Overdevelopment (a play on words of the classic Cuban film Memories of Underdevelopment) is of interest by nature of its Cuban roots. The issue of what happens when a socialist revolutionary intellectual asserts creative freedom is an issue Castro has had to deal with throughout his tenure and still must deal with as a new generation grows up in Cuba. It is part of the New Frontier, so the format is very artistic, beautiful if too avant garde for commercial exploitation, and the protagonist, a lecturer on revolution, is such a depressive that it is difficult to like him.  However the subject is very interesting and the film is very well made, though difficult.

The Imperialists are Still Alive might count as there is a Mexican in the film, but there are also Arabs and Koreans and it concerns post 9/11 Manhattan.  The Dry Land does not explicitely call itself Latino, but it was produced by Sergio Aguero and Maya who has worldwide, including U.S. rights.  It concerns a Tejano soldier returning from Iraq with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

And further into the political aspects of Latin American film,  must see is the short doc The Fence (La Barda) by acclaimed producer, director and writer Rory Kennedy about "Our Wall", the 700 mile long fence snaking its way from Texas to California along the US-Mexico border.  This35 minute HBO production about our 2,000 mile shared border and the 700 mile fence which has cost taxpayers $3 billion epitomizes the ultimate stupidity of Bush's administration to date, destroying lives of people and wildlife for pure idiocy.  I could barely sit through it as its revelations of short sightedness piled one on top of another.

In addition to the Spanish language Latino films, there are two Portuguese language Brazilian documentaries. Secrets of theTribe is an investigation into the Yanomami Indians of the Amazon Basin in the 1960s and 70s is revisited and revised by the Yanomamis themselves and the original scholars who represented the "virgin" society 30 years ago.  And Waste Land, an uplifting feature documentary highlighting the transformative power of art and the beauty of the human spirit in which top-selling contemporary artist Vik Muniz takes us on an emotional journey from Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, to the heights of international art stardom. Vik collaborates with the brilliant catadores, pickers of recyclable materials, true Shakespearean characters who live and work in the garbage quoting Machiavelli and showing us how to recycle ourselves.

Competing at Slamdance this year, Betty M Park, Director, Producer and Editor, a Korean American filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York, makes her debut as a feature film director with Mamachas del Ring about cholita wrestlers in Bolivia! Please take a look if you have a minute: or go to


  1. Hi Sydney,

    Thought you might be interested in my doc, which will be competing at Slamdance this year. I am a female director, and my documentary is about cholita wrestlers in Bolivia! (Given your last two posts, thought it might be on point).

    Please take a look if you have a minute:


    (Director, Producer)

  2. Thank you! Definitely must add this to our report!