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In the last-minute decision to keep people safe, the 2022 Sundance Film Festival has gone virtual — to take a deep dive and to learn more, hit the website. https://festival.sundance.org/

Since Sundance had to pivot and return to a virtual festival this year, in theory, the festival is more accessible than ever. Moreover, the selection includes feature films, documentaries, shorts, and experimental programs. 

To be frank the 2022 Sundance festival feels light on African American storytelling and storytellers. 

Here are a few highlights that caught  my eye. 

ᎤᏕᏲᏅ ( (pronounced oo-de-yo-NUH) (WHAT THEY’VE BEEN TAUGHT)

Directed by Brit Hensel with Keli Gonzales exploring expressions of reciprocity in the Cherokee world, brought to life through a story told by an elder and first language speaker and according to the Sundance Institute, Hensel is the first woman who is a citizen of Cherokee Nation to direct an official selection at the festival. Watch the trailer – https://bit.ly/3GF77qH 

HONK FOR JESUS. SAVE YOUR SOUL 

Written and Directed by Adamma Ebo, and produced by Adanne Ebo, Daniel Kaluuya, Rowan Riley, Amandla Crichlow, Jesse Burgum, Matthew Cooper. As the proud first lady of a Southern Baptist megachurch, Trinitie Childs carries immense responsibility on her shoulders. Starring Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown.

MIJA by director/producer/director of photography Isabel Castro. 

This documentary tugged on the heartstrings and is a clear, labor of love by director/producer/director-of-photography Isabel Castro. And, I am sure that you are aware that large sections of Harlem are not populated by hard-working, immigrants from Mexico. The shift in the new immigrants uptown piqued my interest, and once I watched the wonderfully crafted MIJA, I knew that I wanted to know more. 

MIJA focuses on Doris Muñoz an ambitious, young music manager whose undocumented family depends on her ability to launch pop stars. When she loses her best client, Doris hustles to discover new talent and finds Jacks — another daughter of immigrants for whom “making it” isn’t a just dream: it’s a necessity. 

Isabel Castro is a four-time Emmy-nominated, Mexican-American filmmaker who combines a practice in journalism and art to tell stories about immigration, civil rights, and identity. She splits her time between Mexico City and Los Angeles.  Castro directed, produced, and filmed the Emmy-nominated, award-winning documentary short USA v Scott (Tribeca 2020, The New Yorker), Emmy-nominated Darlin (Tribeca 2019, NYT OpDocs), and on the Emmy-nominated Netflix docu-series Pandemic. Her debut project Crossing Over (Univision/Participant Media) won a 2015 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary. Interviews about her work on Crossing Over were nominated for two additional GLAAD awards. She’s worked on dozens of stories as a producer, cinematographer and multimedia journalist for The New York Times, as an Edward R. Murrow-award winning producer at The Marshall Project, on two seasons of the Emmy-award winning series VICE on HBO, and as an Emmy-nominated producer covering civil rights and policy at VICE News Tonight on HBO. 

Mija is her feature-length debut. Mija has received support from the Sundance Institute, Impact Partners, Cinereach, the SFFILM Catapult Documentary Fellowship, Points North Institute / CNN Films, Fork Films, Chicken & E! Pictures, Firelight Media, and NBCU Academy & NBC News Studios Original Voices. Castro is an Artist-in-Residence at Concordia Studio, and she was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” and DOC NYC’s “40 Under 40”, both in 2021. 

Here is what Isabel Castro had to share about making the documentary MIJA which will screen at the Sundance Film Festival, 2022. 

Q: How did this project originate? 

ISABEL CASTRO: I spent years covering immigration for media outlets, including the New York Times and The Marshall Project. While I’m proud of that work, I also found myself frustrated by the limitations of those formats. I was longing to convey the incredibly complex dynamics of immigrant families and all the emotions they navigate, including guilt, resentment, and anger. So I turned to filmmaking. 

Q: What interested you in making MIJA?

IC: 

I was particularly interested in telling this kind of story from the perspective of young protagonists. As a teenager, I felt like there was a shortage of stories about what it meant to come of age as an immigrant or as a child of immigrants in the United States. I wanted to tell the kind of story I craved myself, as a Mexican immigrant when I was figuring out my identity, family, and community. 

Q: Doris talks about the importance of representation in the music industry. What advice would you give to young directors hoping to enter it? 

IC:  Encouragingly, the topic of representation is now a part of public consciousness and is inspiring minorities, throughout different industries, to fight for power and visibility. However, there are thousands of years worth of white patriarchy ingrained in the edifice of capitalism, making it hard for minorities to succeed – Latinas in the U.S. are paid 43% less than white men and 28% less than white women. 

The problem, as I’ve seen from my own experiences, is that racism and sexism can be subtle – making it all the more nefarious. Gatekeepers are often subconsciously influenced by what “success” has looked like – generations of men with closer proximity to wealth and power. Many male, mostly white, colleagues have succeeded much more quickly and easily. My advice for young filmmakers, especially BIPOC directors, is just not to ask for permission. 

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