Quality not quantity Latino films make a big splash at 2014 Sundance Film Festival
Over the past few years, I have had the good fortune of attending the Sundance Film Festival, always with great expectations about the Latino films I will see and the filmmakers I might meet. This year, I made it to the second week of the festival in Park City, Utah. Hard to believe that 2014 marked the 30th year of the festival, and that it has remained true (mostly) to its original mission of providing a platform for new filmmakers, where their voices can be seen.
The Economics of a Movie
No one can argue from a creative and business perspective that Sundance has become one of the most prestigious showcases of the indie-film industryand the numbers are amazing, with a record 12,218 films submitted, 72 more films than the 2013 festival. To give you an idea of the global scope of the festival: of the 4,057-plus feature films that were submitted, 2,014 were from the U.S. and 2,043 were international, and the 121 chosen represented 37 countries (with 100 of them being world premieres).
No doubt the prestige of being accepted into Sundance is huge. It means you are recognized by industry leaders and your peers to be amongst the best independent filmmakers in the world. And all of those accolades are great, but what does that translate to, as far as the economics of a movie? This is typically where a film and filmmaker makes or breaks it financially with sales and distribution deals.
Sundance, unlike other U.S. festivals, has been very open about Latino film and Latino-themed films, and its never shied away from controversy, including founder Robert Redfords 2004 audience with Fidel Castro and his film about Che Guevara, The Motorcycle Diaries, and the Vivien Lesnik Weisman film The Man of Two Havanas, which won the World Cinema Jury Prize at Sundance in 2009. But this years festival, which ran Jan. 16-26, featured only four Latino films, which is roughly 4 percent of the total films at the Festival. Although disappointing in numbers, the films chosen are very high impact, quality films.
In my opinion, Sundance is missing the mark by featuring so few, and it cant be for a lack of great films, or filmmakers, because I know for a fact there are many Latinos making great stories in the U.S. and abroad. And the distributors that attend the festival are missing a huge market, with a growing domestic Latino audience needing quality films to attend.
To Kill a Man
The big win this year was Chilean writer-director Alejandro Fernández Almendras’ drama To Kill a Man, which competed with 12 international competitors, including Argentine writer-director Natalia Smirnoffs Lock Charmer (El cerrajero). To Kill a Man won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic. This drama deals with Jorge, a hardworking family man who gets mugged by a neighborhood thug. But things go over the edge after Jorge’s son steps in to avenge his father and is shot by the thug, who gets off with a light sentence.
Marmato is American-born Director Mark Griecos documentary debut. Grieco devoted six years of his life to getting this film made. The self-funded film was financed through Griecos working stints in New York, debt and a successful Kickstarter, all of which went directly to making this film and to this date Grieco has not made a dime.
I had an opportunity to speak with Mark about the film during Sundance. He stumbled onto the Marmato story during his travels throughout Latin America in 2006. What he encountered in Marmato drove him to work tirelessly to put the people and the town of Marmato on the map. This film is remarkable in that it is self-funded, meaning that Grieco himself funded every dime into producing the movie, often times stopping production to work in New York and then returning. He finally raised $45,731(exceeding the $42,400 Goal) on Kickstarter for finishing funds to be able to complete the film in time to get it to Sundance.
Marmato focuses on a mining village in Colombia where residents fought against a Canadian company for the right to profit from the town’s natural gold resources worth $20 billion. When Grieco and I spoke, no deals had been officially signed, but he shared with me where the ideal place for this 6-year labor of love might beand his goal to secure the broadest audience for this film. This would mean several distribution deals, including Netflix, which has become a powerful platform for documentary films, especially in Latin America, where more people have access to Netflix than going to a theatre.
I am always thinking about how many eyeballs will see Marmato, and naturally this would mean a theatrical release in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, he says. Sundance is incredible for a movie like Marmato, for me it is the most important, because it is a way in which I can show my film to a wide and important audience, and call attention to what is happening in Marmato and Colombia. Grieco, is very busy with Marmato and developing his next two films, a documentary and a feature. I am sure we will see more great films from Grieco.