Angel Manuel Soto is the director of Charm City Kings, this year’s Sundance winner for U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting. The film, a coming-of-age story set in the world of Baltimore dirt biking, comes to HBO Max on October 8. Angel’s first feature, La Granja, premiered at Fantastic Fest in 2015. Read more about his process and inspiration here.
I’ve always been a movie nerd. When I saw Indiana Jones in theaters for the first time or Star Wars on TV when my parents got cable, that’s when my love for cinema started. I’d rather spend most of my time watching movies as opposed to spending time outside—even though I did like to play soccer.
As I grew older, I started expanding to more international cinema: Spanish cinema, French cinema. I started being open to reading subtitles and diving into Eastern European cinema and Asian cinema as well. My dad joined in. He’s never been a big fan of the Hollywood franchises. He’s always been the one who gravitates towards more neorealism. Through my dad, I was getting more Almodóvar in my life and all these other directors that he really enjoyed watching. That’s where I started to branch out of the Hollywood narrative and embrace more of an identity cinema, which is something Puerto Ricans struggle with: that identity.
These are the most memorable movies that I’ve watched over and over and really resonate. I can go on and on and on and it’s never one movie that really does it. I feel like I betrayed Cuarón, Iñárritu, Scorsese for not mentioning them because their films really have inspired me. Amores Perros is undeniable inspiration for La Granja.
It’s one of those films that came out right after the Cuban Revolution and it was really able to, at least in my opinion, show a different way of telling the same thing, but from a context that would really resonate with the audience that was watching it. Being able to tell something without being about that thing has the type of subtext feel that I want to embrace when directing. And being able to have that introspective voice and speak about an issue from a point of view of an unlikable person for the purpose of letting you know, “This is what people that are not likable think. So don’t think that way.” I felt like that was a very unique way of conveying a message. Almost like reverse psychology. And the photography is impeccable.
Soy Cuba was another one of those Cuban films that blew me away with its oners. Also made in the ’60s, the oners are impressive and one of the most complex things I’ve witnessed to date. They pulled it off.
I feel like this film almost touches on every journey of the human emotion. I’ve seen it too many times. And that story resonates a lot with me because the fight of William Wallace and his people is very similar to the struggle in Puerto Rico and its relationship with its colonizers. But beyond that, on an emotional level, I feel like all the characters went through a deep harrowing journey of emotional complexity, from love to utter despair and treason. The hole in the soul that you feel from treason—the first time I felt it was with Braveheart.
This, for me, is a master class in subtext that I really, really cherish. Moonlight is a powerful film. To this day, I see it and I cry every single time.
It’s one of the films that really lingers with me in terms of taking a high concept and turning it into something very digestible and minimal—minimal on a superficial level but highly complex and very emotional. The Dardenne brothers’ movie is beautiful and intense. And I love the allegory of the concept of forgiveness that played throughout the movie. The tension that’s building up in a very neorealistic way is something that really stayed with me.
And a few honorable mentions that have inspired Angel as of late:
Amélie (“the joy of life, and the simplicity, and the little things that matter”), A Prophet (“a new way of showing that crime drama”) and City of God (“Because it’s everything. That’s it.”).