Director Gabriela Ortega & Actor Shakira Barrera Dance Through Grief With Short Film ‘Huella’ – Sundance Studio

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Back in 2020, writer-director Gabriela Ortega found herself meditating on the ways in which people have reframed their “relationship to grief and to loss” amid the Covid-19 pandemic, channeling this exploration into the script for the short film, Huella.

While Ortega shelved a project for a while, feeling that it was “too ambitious” and perhaps impossible to finance, she wound up bringing it to life by way of Lena Waithe’s Rising Voices program for emerging BIPOC filmmakers—even convincing Shakira Barrera (GLOW, Animal Kingdom), an actress she’d long admired, to sign on for its principal role.

“And now, we’re here,” Ortega said in conversation with Barrera at Deadline’s virtual Sundance Studio, “and she’s someone I hope to keep collaborating with for years to come.”

The short premiering at the 2022 festival centers on Daniela Garcia (Barrera), a disenchanted flamenco dancer resigned to a desk job who is forced to experience the five stages of grief through a visit from her female ancestors, after the death of her grandmother unleases a generational curse.

Barrera says that when she read the script for the film and recognized its level of ambition, she was at first overwhelmed, thinking, “How the hell are we going to get this done?” Still, she’s always loved working with newer directors like Ortega, given the “hunger” and “passion” they bring to their work, and felt a strong connection to the material. “I love playing strong female characters [and] I had a direct connection to the script,” the actress said. “My grandmother is also sick, so it just was an immediate, emotional, visceral response.”

Huella would give Barrera the opportunity not only to fight spirits with a knife, but also to dance on cameras, with performances choreographed via Zoom. “I’ve been dancing since I was three, so for me, it’s such a release,” she said. “I feel when I’m dancing that I am most myself, so that really gave me some life during the pandemic, even if it was on Zoom.”

As the short bows at Sundance 2022, she and Ortega are already preparing to reteam for another project, with the filmmaker also looking to adapt Huella as a feature-length film. “To me, Huella was always intended to be a seed of a larger project,” Ortega shared. “I look forward to turning that into a feature film and hopefully, fingers crossed, going to Sundance in person one day with that or another project.”

Helena Sardinha and Rafael Thomaseto produced Huella, with Waithe, Constanza Castro, Domenica Castro, Elli Legerski, Rishi Rajani and Natasha Wellesley serving as its executive producers.

Check out our conversation with Ortega and Barrera above.

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Gabriela Ortega