There was a time when even the most devoted American cinephile would struggle to name more than a few Latino directors beyond Pedro Almodovar and Luis Bunuel. Today, filmmakers like Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Miguel Arteta, Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and Robert Rodriguez have become bankable names with movies that are embraced by broad audiences. But can “Gravity,” “Pacific Rim,” or “Sin City” be defined as Latino films?
There’s another group of Hispanic filmmakers who are really nailing their craft; they’re not yet household names in the U.S., but they’re reinvigorating genres, providing fresh perspectives, and reshaping the cinematic experience. (Even the term “Hispanic filmmaker” doesn’t feel entirely accurate, since it could refer to creators from any Spanish-speaking area — and the cinematic interests of those in Chile or Spain are no doubt different that those shared by Latino communities in the U.S.) Some are rich portrayals of cultural experience; others have simpler aims, like scaring the hell out of their audiences. The one thing these filmmakers have in common? They are seriously killing it.
1. Pablo Larraín
The Chilean-born Pablo Larraín’s genre-busting 2008 film “Tony Manero” — about a sociopathic criminal obsessed with John Travolta’s “Saturday Night Fever” alter ego — was set in Santiago against the backdrop of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, as was 2010’s gruesome, critically lauded “Post Mortem.” Larraín revisited the subject of Pinochet with 2012’s “No,” which starred Gael García Bernal. Shooting on video and using Chilean television footage from the ‘80s, Larraín recreated the electrifying climate during the end of a political era, drawing critical raves and a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination. It was announced early in 2014 that he’ll be directing a remake of “Scarface,” reimagining the infamous lead character as a Mexican immigrant — and his fresh and fearless filmmaking approach makes him the perfect fit for a project with that kind of volatility.
2. Jaume Balagueró and 3. Paco Plaza
. Eugenio Derbez
Eugenio Derbez is beloved in his native Mexico as an actor and comedian (his wedding to another Mexican star, singer/actress Alessandra Rosaldo was broadcast live on Univision), but he caught Hollywood’s eye with 2013’s “Instructions Not Included,” which he wrote, directed and starred in. The comedy-drama, about a playboy-turned-single-dad, has grossed a record-breaking $85.5 million worldwide to date. It’s the most successful Spanish-language film of all time and it helped redefine the power of Latino filmmakers and filmgoers alike. Derbez recently signed CAA and is poised to continue on with his serious crossover success.