While we are all familiar with master filmmakers Pedro Almodovar, Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón, and Alejandro Jodorowsky, there are others that deserve your undivided attention, despite having less of a spotlight shone on them.
The following are a combination of filmmakers that are breaking out in Hollywood, on the cusp of something special, or crafting an incredible career back home. Irrespective of where their careers are at the moment, they are all doing impeccable work that strengthens the Hispanic cinematic voice.
Nacho Vigalondo (Spain)
With 2017’s stellar outing Colossal, Nacho Vigalondo proved he is a filmmaker who rejects the constraints of genre filmmaking. Even when he operates within a genre, his films aspire to something greater. Take the aforementioned movie, for example. It operates as a science-fiction/fantasy, but, due to its subtext of depression and abuse, it completely transcends the genre and becomes its own beast. Debuting as his first feature length English language film, Vigalondo seems destined for great things in the Hollywood canon.
Back home, he created one of the finest time travelling pictures of the century. Cronocrimenes, aptly translated to Timecrimes, announced the director’s brilliance with aplomb. Despite being his debut feature, it showcased a filmmaker at one with his camera and management of actors. The low budget is amplified to look expensive by several trick techniques that speak of a director who understands that cinema is more than the money you possess. In this regard, it is no surprise that he is finally starting to become a recognisable name in the U.S., with the rising popularity of indie cinema.
Recommended movie: Cronocrimenes (2007)
Mariana Rondón (Venezuela)
With only three feature length films to her name, Rondón could very well be perceived as an unknown entity. In Venezuela, she’s a superstar. Her cinematic voice is one that empowers the lower class and tells human tales that speak of the injustices of society. Her work avoids explosiveness and loudness, which is potentially why she’s avoided the lure of Hollywood.
She broke through in 2000 with her debut feature A La Medianoche y Media (At Half Past Midnight). After years of working in television – both conducting commercials and TV movies – Rondón decided that she wanted to tell stories that weren’t dictated by television studios. Despite how positively the film was received, Rondón struggled to find her voice in the male-dominated world of Latinx filmmaking. She returned to working in TV.
Predating A La Medianoche y Media was short film Calle 22 (Street 22). It won the Best Short award at the Biarritz Festival in 1994. From that moment onward, Rondón would go on to win an award for each movie she created. From Golden Shell at the San Sebastian Film Festival to Latin American Cinema Festival, Rondón has long been bathing in awards gold.
It took seven years for Rondón to return to feature length filmmaking. This time, her work focused on telling a Venezuelan tale – a fast-developing trademark in her filmography. The movie is part-biographical, focusing on her parents who were active members of Fuerzas Armadas de La Liberación (FALN) – a Venezuelan guerilla movement centered around liberating Venezuela. The movie, Postales de Leningrado (Postcards from Leningrad), marked the excellence of a filmmaker whose stories are packed with raw emotion, intelligence and a sense of understanding.
To save waxing lyrical about her latest film, Pelo Malo (Bad Hair), you can read our review here.
Rondón may never reach the shores of Hollywood, but she doesn’t have to. To see her operate outside of Latin America would mean risking the raw, attentive voice that she brings to cinema. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be paying attention to her work.
Recommended movie: Postales de Leningrado (2007)
Pablo Larraín (Chile)
After the incredibly gorgeous, accurate, three-time Oscar-nominated Jackie, Pablo Larraín is becoming a recognisable name in Hollywood. In fact, out of this list, he is perhaps the most popular.
What’s striking about Larraín is that he was able to tell a quintessentially American story despite being a born and raised Chileno. This speaks of two things: his interest in creating inherently political cinema and his ability to adapt his cinematic voice to different styles and audiences. His work ethic is quite impressive, too, since he released Neruda in the same year as Jackie. Both movies are biographical, political tales that center around an excellent star actor – and so both movies are shining examples of his ability to direct big names and hide them within a character, rather than simply utilising them as a tool for marketing.
Aside from Jackie, all of Larraín’s movies are focused on exposing the underbelly of Chilean politics and crime. While the subject matter may sound less intriguing to some, Larraín’s strongest trait is that his films are inherently accessible. In fact, outings like El Club (The Club) and Post Mortem are pulsating crime-dramas that strike a vague resemblance to the cinema of David Fincher and Denis Villeneuve. Ah, I’ve grabbed your interest now, haven’t I?
Recommended movie: El Club (2015)
Magdalena Albizu (Dominican Republic)
Okay, You probably don’t know who Magdalena Albizu is. But you should. As of right now, Albizu is creating movies solely focused on telling the Afro-Latinx story. She wants to add the Afro-Latinx voice – something sadly forgotten and cast aside in our communities – to the cinematic canon. She does this through documentary filmmaking.
In 2004, Albizu actively attempted to add Latinx voices to American cinema by helping create the Long Island Latino International Film Festival. It has since become a platform for Latinx filmmakers to showcase their work both within their own community as well as allowing it to connect with American audiences.
What’s most fascinating about Albizu is her upcoming crowd-funded documentary Negrita. This documentary revolves around the Afro-Latina identity and experience in the United States. It chronicles and collates various educated Afro-Latina voices across the United States as they aim to reignite a movement that celebrates Latinx’s African roots.
You may not be able to find much of her work online, but I promise you that the trailer alone for Negrita will whet your appetite.
Recommended movie: Negrita (TBA)
Jaume Balaguero (Spain)
Since we’re in the month of Halloween, it’s impossible to talk about Hispanic horror without bringing up a man who has totally revolutionised the genre in Spain.
Jaume Balaguero is the trailblazing director of the excellent REC franchise – a series of found footage horror movies that, save for the third which he did not direct, revolve around a journalist and her cameraman who investigate a weird case in a populated building. One would be forgiven for thinking that the REC series is a further addition to the cesspool of often-poor found footage movies, but that would be disregarding the passion and intelligence of Balaguero.
The Catalonian filmmaker’s first ever credited short film was a horror movie. That was in 1994. Fast-forward 23 years and 15 movies later and you’ll find that he is still working within the genre, actively empowering its voice in Spain and making it both commercially successful and artistically inspiring.
What’s most fascinating about Balaguero is that he is finally being recognised outside of Spain. He is currently in post-production with Muse, an English language horror film being co-produced by Fantastic Films, one of the most active horror voices in the U.S. This movie has the power to catapult Balaguero to well overdue stardom and success outside of the financially inconsistent cinema of Spain.
Do you like your horror films scary but artistic too? Balaguero is your man.
Recommended movie: REC (2006)
Damian Szifrón (Argentina)
I can’t profess to have my ears pressed against the walls of every studio in Hollywood, but I can guess that Szifrón is a name on the lips of many after the success of Oscar-nominated Wild Tales.
Szifrón’s journey to this point is one familiar with any Latinx filmmaker. You start by creating a couple of successful shorts, you win an award or two, and then you’re shifted to TV movies, episodes, and commercials until someone takes a gamble on you. Only three gambles have been taken on the writer-director, but you can rest assured that he is now in the position to work regularly and indefinitely.
Honing his directorial voice in crime-thrillers, Szifrón is perfectly poised for a future in Hollywood. His three movies to date have all revolved around frustrated characters and unexpected criminal actions being taken. Within these movies are social issues such as class disparity in Argentina and how much love can control one’s actions. Yet, within such serious themes and stories, is a genuine voice of comedy. Every feature has side-splitting moments that speak of a writer firmly in control of his characters and a director understanding of when to create tonal shifts to help engage the audience.
His next movie – projected to release in 2018 – is an Argentine romantic comedy. It can be assumed that this will be his final movie in Argentina before being plucked away and offered the chance to showcase his brilliance in Hollywood.
Recommended movie: Wild Tales (2014)
That caps off this writer’s list, but we’re interested in your thoughts. What Hispanic filmmakers deserve more recognition?