An Upstart Production Company Won Sundance’s Top Prize. For Latino-Owned Luz Films, That’s Not Nearly Enough

Latino-owned Luz Films announced its launch just before the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, where its first film by first-time writer-director Alessandra Lacorazza Samudio, “In the Summers,” won the Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Dramatic competition. However, co-founder Sergio Lira says that impressive start isn’t nearly enough.

“This is an amazing win right out of the gate, but one is not enough,” said Lira, who serves as co-CEO with fellow founder Lynette Coll. “This is an amazing achievement that we did this right off the bat, but it’s a lot of what we’ve been diligently, silently working towards, and we want to keep doing it.”

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With a mission of producing Latino-focused prestige and elevated-genre film and TV, the Luz principals know they face unique challenges. Shows for Latino audiences are often the first to be canceled or purged from streaming services. There aren’t enough global Latino stars who can open a movie. And Latino storytellers often must struggle against the limited ideas of what Latino audiences want. (At this writing, “In the Summers” is still seeking domestic distribution.)

They also know the limitations of DEI programs, which can be great to get projects from underrepresented storytellers in development but often fall short in finding the support that moves them into production.

“Everyone’s preaching diversity, so people buy projects from diverse storytellers and develop them,” Lira said. “But when it comes to actually put in the financing or greenlighting the project, that conversion rate is much, much lower.”

For Lira, the industry won’t see real change in representation until that conversion rate of projects on streamers and broadcast goes way up.

Before Luz, Lira spent three years as a film production and development executive at A24 and also worked at FilmNation Entertainment and Amazon Studios. Coll is an actress and producer who led development at Effie T. Brown’s Gamechanger Films.

Luz Films co-founders and co-CEOs Sergio Lira (left) and Lynette Coll<cite>Courtesy of Luz Films</cite>
Luz Films co-founders and co-CEOs Sergio Lira (left) and Lynette CollCourtesy of Luz Films

“We can make five shorts a year and give money to different filmmakers to make their shorts, but what happens after they create their shorts?,” said Coll. “Go support and make their first feature, and distribute it too so that it has eyeballs. We need to see more of that. There’s a lot of talk, but we need more action.”

One way that Luz wants to shift the tide is by pairing emerging Latino filmmakers with bigger stars. “In the Summers” stars “The Flash” actress Sasha Calle, “Mutt” breakout Lio Mehiel, and Puerto Rican rapper and singer Residente, all of which aided in getting the funding. (The film had 17 executive producers.)

With the goal of producing 3-4 titles per year, the company is partnering with acting talent like Danny Ramirez (“Top Gun: Maverick”), Annie Gonzalez (“Flamin’ Hot”), Raul Castillo (“Cassandro”), Mishel Prada (“The Continental”), Aaron Dominguez (“Only Murders in the Building”), and Lorenza Izzo (“Fletch”), some of whom also will make their directorial debuts. In development is everything from a horror movie set on the Mexico-Texas border, a hurricane thriller in Puerto Rico, and a multi-generational family drama.

Coll said the stories they want to tell are universal and have the undercurrent of Latino culture, but never in a way that’s too “obvious or stereotypical.”

“We’re Latinos because we are. I have an accent, I’m from Puerto Rico, you see me, you know I’m Latino. I don’t have to dance the dance,” Coll said. “We’re finding those artists that are thinking outside the box and who see themselves as people, not just as one thing.”

Luz wants its films to represent the Latino diaspora, including people who are born in the U.S. and those born in Latin America. Lira points out that global streamers investing heavily in local-language projects in Latin America is not the same as highlighting Latino stories for domestic audiences. In bridging the gap between U.S. and international co-productions, Lira and Coll believe there’s a major untapped market that craves different stories.

“They make up a huge portion, almost a third, of the moviegoing audience,” Lira said. “It’s our duty and we know Latinos show up to watch content, and they’re going to keep showing up.”

A short, Spanish word that’s easily remembered, Luz is the name of Lira’s grandmother and suggests the company is about keeping Latino stories in the family. But “Luz” in Spanish also translates to “light,” and Luz Films wants to illuminate Latinos in a different light.

“It has to be us doing it,” Coll said. “There’s not a lot of us in positions of power that are making decisions. From working at all these companies and learning how to develop it, we all know the machine, we know how it works. It’s just no one has cracked the code. We have to be the ones doing it, we have to be the ones educating other people, and we have to be the ones taking the risk that no one else is taking.”

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