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Their first movie won Sundance. For Luz Films, it’s only the beginning

Fidel Martinez – Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Last month, “In the Summers,” a queer, Latinx coming-of-age tale about two sisters who spend their summers visiting their father in Las Cruces, New Mexicao, won the U.S. grand jury prize in the dramatic competition at the 40th annual Sundance Film Festival. It was an impressive feat accomplished by a group of first timers.

The film is the feature debut of writer-director Alessandra Lacorazza Samudio, who also took home the directing award, becoming the first Latina in the festival’s history to do so. “In the Summers” also serves as the first acting vehicle for René Pérez Joglar, better known as Residente from the Puerto Rican hip hop group Calle 13. The “Atrévete-te-te” singer portrays Vicente, the troubled patriarch of a fractured family.

Similarly, the indie drama is the inaugural project for Luz Films, a Los Angeles-based upstart media company focusing on producing Latinx prestige pictures. The venture was launched in 2023 by co-CEOs Sergio Lira and Lynette Coll, along with CFO Cristobal Güell.

Lira and Coll say that they set up their own shop because they wanted to ensure that films by Latinx creators actually get produced instead of being relegated to development purgatory.

“I never wanted to be the Latino programming person, but the way the system works has put me in a position where if I don’t fight for these projects, no one else will,” said Lira. The Houston native previously worked in development at Amazon Studios, A24 and FilmNation Entertainment.

“We’re taking the risk that other people are not willing to take,” added Coll.

It’s an assertion backed by the data. The Times has extensively reported on the dire state of Latinx representation in Hollywood. Most recently, USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative published a report that found that very little has changed over the last 16 years. Of the 1,600 top-grossing films made from 2007-22, only 3.1% of “Produced by” credits went to Latinxs.

Luz Films is hoping to make a dent in those numbers by financing and producing movies that pair known talent with up-and-coming filmmakers. In addition to Pérez Joglar, the cast of “In the Summers” includes actors Leslie Grace (“In the Heights”) and Sasha Calle (“The Flash”).

Coll, who began acting in her native Puerto Rico and got her development and producing chops working at Breaker Studios and GameChanger Films, says “In the Summers” fell into their lap after she was approached by Nando Vila, head of studio at Exile Content, in late 2022. (Full disclosure: Vila and I worked together at Fusion, the now defunct joint venture between Univision and ABC News).

Vila said the project had been brought to Exile Content by Alexander Dinelaris, the screenwriter of “Birdman” and “The Revenant,” who read Lacorazza Samudio’s semi-autobiographical script and agreed to produce it under his company, Lexicon. Dinelaris was also instrumental in bringing Pérez Joglar on board.

“When I met Lynette, I knew (Luz Films was) the perfect partner,” said Vila. “They have incredible taste, great relationships and a ton of energy and passion to get these films off the ground, which is never easy. Any film that gets made is a small miracle. It being good is an even bigger miracle.”

Coll took the script to Lira, who had already come across it while working at A24. “In the Summers” hit the sweet spot of what Luz Films was looking for in a project.”It was the perfect movie to start a company with,” said Coll. At the 2023 edition of Sundance, the duo told Vila that they were in.

A year later, the film became the sleeper hit of the festival, earning rave reviews.

“Coming-of-age dramas may be a dime a dozen at Sundance, but one this tender and truthful can make an entire subgenre feel shimmeringly new,” wrote former Times critic Justin Chang.

“A film like this can easily slip through the cracks and for that reason we have chosen to shed light on this beautiful piece of cinema and we hope it finds the audience it so well deserves,” read the citation by the competition’s jury that declared “In the Summers” the winner.

Taking the top prize at Sundance with your first film is an impressive feat, a fact not lost on Lira and Coll. They’re proud of their achievement, but they’re not wasting much time resting on their laurels. For starters, “In the Summers” still doesn’t have a domestic distributor, and Luz Films is looking ahead at what comes next.

“We’ve been working away and building a volume of quality. We have three to five projects that will probably go into production by the end of the year,” said Lira, who declined to give specifics about them.

The duo is under no illusion that one film is going to change Hollywood’s Latinx representation problem, though they feel confident that their collaborative approach can help move the needle.

“There’s space for all of us,” Coll said. “It’s like this is a big wall that we’re all moving, and we’re moving it together.”

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©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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