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20 Latin Americans Making a Difference for American Independent Film Today

Meet the unsung heroes keeping Latin American film alive in the United States.

Latin American filmmakers have done well in the Oscar race over the last three years: Awards have gone to two Mexican directors, while films from Colombia and Chile have landed nominations. Meanwhile, revered auteurs from these region have maintained their positions on the world stage, and American-based Latino filmmakers and actors have become outspoken advocates for the need of inclusion and opportunity. But many others receive far less attention even as they toil away on the sidelines to make sure these artists receive the attention they deserve.

The unsung heroes of Latin American cinema’s success work in film journalism, distribution companies, film-oriented nonprofits, festivals, and even major studios. Behind the scenes, Latinos are paving the way for filmmakers and others who are fighting to be heard, seen, and understood. This crowd of influencers includes U.S Latinos, Latin Americans and Hispanics, all of whom are represented in the following overview.

READ MORE: Ccosta Rica: How a Tiny Film Community Spawned a Generation of Filmmakers

This list is by no means comprehensive, but has been designed to offer a glimpse at all that’s being done in the often thankless positions that comprise the infrastructure of the film business. Latinos are everywhere in the industry, stronger than ever, and aware of their responsibility to open doors and force Hollywood to pay attention.

Here are 20 of the most influential women and men who are playing a role in keeping Latinos relevant in contemporary cinema.

Juan Carlos Arciniegas, Anchor, CNN en Español

Juan Carlos Arciniegas

Juan Carlos Arciniegas

Boasting a quick-witted on-screen personality, Colombian journalist Juan Carlos Arciniegas maximizes his role as anchor of CNN en Español’s daily hour-long program “Showbiz” by bridging news stories from Hollywood, where he resides, with the latest film developments in Latin America and candid interviews with some of the most coveted stars. Arciniegas has served as a judge for renowned festivals such as Cartagena and Guadalajara, and is currently the ambassador of Premios Platino, an awards ceremony that celebrates the film industries of Iberoamerica.

“I couldn’t be prouder to speak on behalf of our filmmakers and their fascinating stories,” Arciniegas told IndieWire. “The mission is not complete if we don’t get the audience into the theaters and for that I am willing to go full-frontal on all possible platforms to spread the word.”

Dilcia Barrera, Film Programmer, AFI FEST/Sundance/NYFF

Dilcia Barrera

Dilcia Barrera

By age 27 Dilcia Barrera was already a senior programmer for AFI FEST and a shorts programmer for Sundance Film Festival. Armed with a Spanish/Portuguese Literature degree from UCLA and extensive experience that ranges from Outfest to The Los Angeles Film Festival, Barrera has positioned herself as one of the most prominent and risk-taking voices in festival programming today. Added to her continued work at Sundance, she is currently an Associate Curator of Film Programs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and recently joined the NYFF shorts programming committee.

“My intention is not to check diversity boxes but to channel my genuine interest in our stories into advocating for diverse voices in the programs I help create,” Barrera said.

Rodrigo Brandão, VP of Marketing and PR, Kino Lorber

Rodrigo Brandão

Rodrigo Brandão

Ensuring that the masterworks of world cinema reach American audiences through his efforts as VP of Marketing and PR at Kino Lorber, Rodrigo Brandão — who was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — is at the forefront of art house distribution. Last year, he started Cinema Slate, a label focused on Latin American films that has increased the number of Brazilian films opening theatrically stateside. By organizing workshops on film marketing and distribution in his homeland and the U.S. he allows for his expertise to serve a greater purpose beyond his own work.

“I’m very lucky to be working at a company that is truly committed to releasing foreign films in the U.S., even while other companies keep retrenching from subtitled works,” he said. “This work continues to be essential for the maintenance of a diverse and healthy film culture in the U.S., as it goes without saying that American filmmakers and audiences can gain a great deal from seeing these works.”

Axel Caballero, Executive Director, National Association of Latino Independent Producers

Axel Caballero

Axel Caballero

Throughout his eclectic career, Axel Caballero’s vision has always been grounded at the intersection between social justice and media. From his opinion site Metáfora Politica to his work with human rights organizations and his own short films, Caballero has advocated Latino stories to be told. His leadership as Executive Director of NALIP (National Association of Latino Independent Producers) has expanded the organization’s visibility and prominence; notably, it has strengthened its talent development programs, known as Latino Lens Incubators. This year, NALIP’s annual Media Summit took place at the Dolby Theatre, aka the home of the Academy Awards.

Juan Caceres, Head Programmer, Urbanworld Film Festival

Juan Caceres

Juan Caceres

As a producer, Chilean-born multifaceted creator Juan Caceres has worked on films such as “Elliot Loves.” However, his influence in the Latino film community has expanded to roles outside the production pipeline. Caceres’ greatest pride is the role he has played as a founding member and Director of Programming for the HBO-presented New York International Latino International Film Festival from 1999 through 2012. Both as a programming associate for Tribeca All Access and co-creator of LatinosBuzz, a weekly column that covers US Latino and Latin American cinema, Caceres’ mark endures. He is currently a head programmer for the Urbanworld Film Festival in NYC.

“I think it is important to be honest with ourselves,” he said. “I’ve never really advocated the theory that we have to support a person of color just because they are a person of color. You are actually doing more damage if they have a lot to learn about the craft. However, we can support them through nurturing their filmmaking and storytelling through labs and education, which I’ve done for many years.”

Elvi Cano, Executive Director, EGEDA

Elvi Cano

Elvi Cano

An invaluable liaison between Spanish talent and their counterparts in the Americas, Elvi Cano runs EGEDA (The Iberoamerican Audiovisual Producers’ Rights Management Association), which facilitates interactions between these distinct film industries. With a close team of collaborators, she also produces the “Recent Spanish Cinema” showcase in Los Angeles and Miami, bringing the best of what her country produces to American shores year after year. Furthermore, Cano is involved with the production of the Platino Awards of Iberoamerican Cinema, which is now in its third edition.

“It is important to create an international Iberoamerican platform so the world can get to know and love Iberoamerican talent,” Cano said.

Monica Castillo, Film Writer, NYT Watching

Monica Castillo

Monica Castillo

Cuban-American writer Monica Castillo sets the benchmark for young Latin American critics. Soon after getting her master’s degree from the University of Southern California as their first film critic fellow, Castillo became the film writer for NYT Watching, a new TV and movie recommendation site from The New York Times. Prior to her current position she made a name for herself freelancing for prestigious outlets such as RogerEbert.com, The Village Voice, NPR, and Remezcla.

“I can’t think of a good reason why we shouldn’t be in every stage of the film industry, yet there is plenty of evidence to show our absence in both mainstream media and entertainment,” Castillo said. “What can we do to fix that? I am only one person, but I can do my part to be active in both my film and journalism communities. You can’t expect change to happen when you’re not a part of the discussion.”

Christine Davila, Programming Associate, Sundance Film Festival

Christine Davila

Christine Davila

La Chicana from Chicago, as Christine Davila often refers to herself, credits Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Santa Sangre” as the film that made her want to enter the world of film. Since 2008, she has worked as a Programming Associate for the Sundance Film Festival, and in 2013, she established Ambulante California, a 501c3 nonprofit and the first US outpost of the traveling documentary festival founded by Mexican industry figures Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, Pablo Cruz and Elena Fortes. Davila, a champion of U.S. Latino talent, is currently a creative executive developing digital content for a major studio.

Samuel Douek, Director, Hola Mexico Film Festival

Samuel Douek

Samuel Douek

A Mexico City native, Samuel Douek honed his appreciation for Mexican cinema while studying in Sydney, Australia where he noticed his country was suffering from a lack of international exposure. That realization led him to start the Hola Mexico Film Festival, a yearly selection of recent Mexican films that promote and exalt the country’s filmmaking talent in Australia and across the U.S. Thanks to Douek’s commitment to the community, this year the Los Angeles version of the festival launched the Tomorrow’s Filmmaker Today program, which exposed 20 aspiring Latino filmmakers to acclaimed talent working in Mexico and abroad.

“We need to let the world know what is happening in Mexico in terms of our cinematic world,” Douek said. “We need to keep a lively connection with the Latino community in the U.S.”

Alonso Duralde, Film Critic, The Wrap

Alonso Duralde

Alonso Duralde

Hispanic curator Alonso Duralde is the Film Reviews Editor for TheWrap and a Senior Programmer at Outfest, one of the most prominent LGBT film festivals in the world. Avidly navigating criticism in non-traditional spaces, he co-hosts the Linoleum Knife podcast and regularly appears on the “What the Flick?!” YouTube channel. An unquestionably well-rounded scribe, Duralde is also the author of two film-related books: “Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas” and “101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men.”

“Any curatorial position relies on taste and opinion, and bringing together as many diverse palates as possible is going to result in a better, richer mix of viewpoints and aesthetics,” Duralde said. “Whatever I bring to the table — as a gay man, as the son of Spanish immigrants, as someone who likes musicals, you name it — is going add something new to the conversation, and possibly open a door for an artist whose work speaks to me.”

Isabel Echeverry

Isabel Echeverry

Isabel Echeverry

For true diversity to permeate the marketplace, diverse artists must land jobs in all aspects of production. That’s exactly what Isabel Echeverry is doing with Kontakto Reps, a management and representation firm she founded in 2009 that focuses on discovering and developing emerging Latino talent. Last year alone, clients of Kontakto Reps received a total of six Cannes Lions Awards. A philanthropist at heart, Echeverry balances her charity work, her company, and the ongoing development of the film “Haunting Beauty,” based on her life story.

Vanessa Erazo, Editor, Remezcla

Vanessa Erazo

Vanessa Erazo

Diligently shining light on obscure Latin American and U.S. Latino films, Vanessa Erazo is the editor and driving force behind Remezcla’s film section. Her contributions date back to her days as the Documentary Programmer at the New York International Latino Film Festival and have continued in her roles as co-creator of the LatinoBuzz weekly column and Co-Founder of Cinelandia, a much-needed online guide to Latino films playing across the U.S. At the most recent NALIP Media Summit, Erazo moderated a panel on Latino film critics and festival programmers to emphasize their relevance.

“There were a lot of conversations that happened in the past two years with the hashtag #OscarSoWhite about diversity in the entertainment industry. The focus of those conversations was on people of color being in front of and behind the camera — which is obviously very important — but what was left out of those conversations is: people who are curating films, people who are in positions to program a film festival, or to write a film review. These people can bring attention to films directed by people of color.”

Carlos A. Gutierrez, Founder, Cinema Tropical

Carlos A. Gutierrez

Carlos A. Gutierrez

Films need to be seen, and as his tireless work can attest, Carlos A. Gutierrez is a chief ally for U.S. Latino and Latin American cinema to reach this goal through his multipurpose venture Cinema Tropical. Working as distributor, programmer, publicist, and consultant, the company has built a dedicated audience for these works and their creators. Apart from partaking in festivals and funds as a member of the jury or panelist, Gutierrez has been a guest curator at different cultural institutions, including The Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, BAMcinématek, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Tery Lopez, Director of Diversity, Writers Guild of America, West

Tery Lopez

Tery Lopez

Stories must be guided by authenticity from their inception, thus a pool of working writers from a myriad of backgrounds is fundamental. With the implementation of initiatives such as the TV Writer Access Project and the Feature Writer Access Project, Lopez is actively striving to generate potential opportunities for underemployed writers. On the production front, she has worked as part of the team behind acclaimed producer Moctesuma Esparza’s Maya Pictures, as post-production coordinator for the HBO film, “Walkout,” and as co-producer of the acclaimed Mexican feature film “Innocent Voices.” Her efforts help employ people of color, writers over the age of 40, LGBT writers and those with disabilities.

Richard Ray Perez, Producer of Creative Partnerships, Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program

Richard Ray Perez

Richard Ray Perez

Perez is a firm believer of the idea that non-fiction filmmaking can bring marginalized stories into the mainstream. Handling a portfolio of strategic partnerships by leading the Institute’s New Documentary Producer’s Lab, Perez incessantly empowers underrepresented voices. His stirring directorial debut, “Cesar’s Last Fast,” about the civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and was later acquired by Participant Media’s TV network PIVOT and Univision.

“The documentary field is under-resourced. And in this landscape of scarcity, Latino filmmakers are last in line. So at Sundance I work to hold the Documentary Film Program accountable. That means actually awarding some grants and lobbying for inclusion in our labs and Fellows Programs. But in the long-term, the gatekeepers are going to have to give Latino filmmakers access to the same level of funding, and creative and professional mentorship they given to the filmmakers they’ve typically supported.“

Claudia Puig, Film Critic and Programmer

Claudia Puig

Claudia Puig

Profoundly linked to her Mexican heritage, longtime film critic Claudia Puig has contributed unique observations on a variety of subjects during her 30-year journalism career that began back in 1986 at the Los Angeles Times. Between her work as an entertainment reporter and eventually the lead film critic for USA Today, she spent nearly two decades at the newspaper. Since 2005, she has regularly appeared on Nation Public Radio’s FilmWeek on KPCC. Outside professional criticism, Puig has lent her talents to other areas of the industry as program director for the Napa Valley Film Festival and a diversity consultant for AMPAS. She has recently been voted as the new president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, making her the first Latina to ever hold that position.

“Film criticism—like so many other fields—suffers from a startling lack of diversity. I’m the only Latina in the LA Film Critics Assn. for instance, and one of maybe a handful, if that, of Latina critics across the country.  The print media, the film and television industries are all woefully white-male dominated. I began my career in journalism 30 years ago when there was an active diversity push on the part of the Los Angeles Times. For some reason the concern for inclusivity seems to ebb and flow. It should be a constant,” said Puig.

Gina Reyes, Manager, Fox Global Directors Initiative

Gina Reyes

Gina Reyes

Positioning Latinos in decision-making positions at the studio level is critical for enhancing Latino representation in Hollywood. Pioneering catalyst Gina Reyes is leading figure in this objective. She worked in feature development for four years with Mexican star Salma Hayek at her newly formed production company, Ventanazul, where Hayek had a film development deal with MGM. Following her work there, Reyes landed at 20th Century Fox as a Creative Executive in film development and recently made the move to the Audience Strategy group at Fox Broadcasting Company. She now manages the Fox Writers Intensive and Fox Global Directors Initiative, through which she seeks emerging voices for the episodic space.

Jose Rodriguez, Director of Publicity, Pantelion Films

Jose Rodriguez

Jose Rodriguez

For over 15 years, Jose Rodriguez has worked across the spectrum of entertainment publicity targeted at Latino audiences. From Capitol Records to Universal Music Latino, Rodriguez garnered invaluable knowledge about the music business, which he would later apply to the film industry. His burgeoning connection to the audiovisual medium became a passion while working for American Entertainment Marketing – a leading PR firm in the Latino market. At Pantelion Films, he is in charge of growing the undeniable success of a company that understands the influential role of Spanish-speaking moviegoers.

Hilda Somarriba, Director of Publicity, Prism Media Group

Hilda Somarriba

Hilda Somarriba

Once a project is completed, publicists often do the heavy lifting to get it out to audiences. Nicaragua-born Hilda Somarriba is one of those PR experts representing some of the most sought-after films at major industry events such as Sundance, Cannes, and TIFF. In 2008, she founded Prism Media Group to work on marketing and PR for both general and Latin media markets. Her journey in the entertainment realm started at a young age working for MTV Networks and has evolved into a prosperous independent career where the hardworking businesswoman thrives.

Hebe Tabachnik, Artistic Director, Cine Latino Showcase of Minneapolis/Saint Paul International Film Festival

Hebe Tabachnik

Hebe Tabachnik

Impeccable taste and a meticulous approach to programming have characterized Hebe Tabachnik’s awe-inspiring labor of love elevating the global presence of Latin American cinema. Among the festivals she has helped program in the past: Sundance, LA Film Fest, and FICG in Los Angeles. Today, she is the World Cinema Programmer for the Palms Springs (PSFF) and Seattle (SIFF) International Film Festivals in addition to her role overseeing the Cine Latino Showcase in Minneapolis Saint Paul. In 2015, she received the Moving Film Forward Award presented by the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) for her work building bridges of understanding between filmgoers, filmmakers and other talent.

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