Slamdance will have its first ever ‘Revolution’ program this year. Meet the Utah man who curated it.

An aspiring filmmaker, born in Puerto Rico, curates a program for underrepresented voices

After working with the Slamdance Film Festival for the past few years, Utah photojournalist Gabriel Misla has been given a chance to curate a new program — one he said “could do a positive impact toward BIPOC communities.”

Misla — who was born in Puerto Rico and has lived in Utah for 20 years — is behind the first slate of Slamdance’s “Revolution” program. It’s a selection of short films that have been, as the festival’s program puts it, “selected by curators with a bold vision for what the future of filmmaking can and should be.”

The program will screen Sunday at 5 p.m., and again Thursday at 10:30 a.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Park City — known to locals as The Yarrow, at 1800 Park Ave. in Park City. That’s where Slamdance, celebrating its 30th anniversary, will mount its screenings, starting Friday and running through next Thursday. (The festival also will hold virtual screenings, Monday through Jan. 28.)

Misla, an aspiring filmmaker who last year was accessibility coordinator for Slamdance’s “Unstoppable” program, inspired him to pick films for the “Revolution” program with a theme close to his heart: Decolonization.

That word, Misla said, “means different things to different people.”

(Sisa Quispe) An image from "Urpi: Her Last Wish," one of the works selected by aspiring Utah filmmaker Gabriel Misla for the inaugural "Revolution" program at the 2024 Slamdance Film Festival.

Some say decolonization “should be a word that it’s only used for colonies, … referring people to places like Puerto Rico,” Misla said. “At the same time, there is another movement, that [says] the word should expand to personal or psychological, economic decolonization — and then that includes so many people around the world, so many countries that are still under neocolonialism.”

Misla said the word, to him, means “independence. I want independence, and many Puerto Ricans want independence.” He added that the colonization of Puerto Rico, and the island’s relationship with the United States going back to 1898, “has inspired me to create this.”

A major part of decolonization, Misla said, is people reconnecting while “decolonizing themselves from those ideas of the Western world.”

He cited the example of a young Peruvian woman who “wants to reconnect with her Indigenous roots, and wants to decolonize herself from the colonialism that happened in the past.” The woman may “learn her Quechuan, will start dressing different, and she will start realizing what were the things [Europeans] did to Peru that changed the original [Indigenous] culture,” he said.

With the “Revolution” program, Misla said his idea was “giving space to filmmakers, of using the medium of film, to bring to life films that speak about decolonization for Indigenous, underrepresented, and people who are under active colonization around the world.”

(Paulis Cofresi) An image from the short "Nos Persiguen," one of the works selected by aspiring Utah filmmaker Gabriel Misla for the inaugural "Revolution" program at the 2024 Slamdance Film Festival.

Misla scoured through the short films submitted to Slamdance, and sought out others at Indigenous film festivals. He ultimately picked four films for the program:

“Our Grandmother The Inlet,” (Canada), directed by Jamie Leigh Gianopoulos and Kayah George, a 9-minute documentary that focuses on the mental health of Indigenous youth.

“Marungka Tjalatjunu (Dipped in Black),” (Australia), directed by Matthew Thorne and Derik Lynch, about a man from an Aboriginal region of South Australia, called Anangu Yankunytjattjara, who escapes the city and returns to the country for spiritual healing.

“Nos Persiguen,” (Puerto Rico), directed by Paulis Cofresi, and set in the 1950s, centering on a 16-year-old girl who, as the program puts it, “faces the fatal reality of Puerto Rico’s colonialist oppression.” The story takes place, Misla said, at a time when the United States banned such symbols as the Puerto Rican flag under what was called the Gag Law.

“Urpi: Her Last Wish,” (United States), directed by Sisa Quispe, in which a woman travels to the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru, where she falls in love with a Quechua man, beginning a journey of understanding her identity.

Curating the first edition of Slamdance’s “Revolution” program has been a spiritual experience, Misla said. “I have learned from other Indigenous communities around the world. That is the biggest takeaway,” he said.

Ultimately, Misla said, he hopes people can watch the program, and the film community can “come together and revolutionize the industry toward liberation, inclusion and equity.”

(Matthew Thorne) An image from the short film "Marungka Tjalatjunu," one of the works selected by aspiring Utah filmmaker Gabriel Misla for the inaugural "Revolution" program at the 2024 Slamdance Film Festival.