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10 Directors to Watch: Carlos López Estrada Opens Eyes With Sundance-Bound ‘Blindspotting’

Mexican director partners with 'Hamilton' star and spoken-word whiz to deliver powerful statement on the dynamic between Oakland cops and their community.

Born in Mexico City to a family committed to the arts (his grandmother was a stage actress married to a reporter on the culture beat, while his parents both worked for a local TV station), López Estrada moved to the States at age 12, and later enrolled in film school at Chapman U. in Orange County.

“That is how I met Daveed,” says the director, referring to Daveed Diggs, the co-writer and star of his debut feature, the Sundance-bound, music-backed indie drama “Blindspotting.” “Daveed is part of a rap group called Clipping, and I made a video for them five years ago in L.A., back when they had no money,” López Estrada says. “One of his bandmates had scored a short film for me at Chapman, and he put us in touch. That was the start of a really fruitful collaborative friendship.”

Over the next half-decade, the director and Diggs became part of a small circle of L.A.-based artists who helped out on one another’s projects. López Estrada helmed more than half a dozen videos for Clipping, and even won a 2012 Latin Grammy on another, Jesse & Joy’s “Me Voy.” All that time, Diggs had been working on the screenplay for “Blindspotting” — part homage to his hometown of Oakland, Calif., part indictment of police brutality — with longtime friend (and spoken-word wizard) Rafael Casal when he was cast in a little musical called “Hamilton.”

While Diggs was busy on Broadway, López Estrada got his shot on the Stage 13-backed “High & Mighty” (also set for Sundance). Consisting of eight 15-minute episodes shot over four weeks, the short-form digital series may as well have been a feature-length script.

“It was honestly the best narrative training we could ever ask for,” says López Estrada, who applied what he’d learned to directing “Blindspotting” the following year, when Diggs (now a Tony winner) found time in his schedule for the ambitious project.

“We had so many opportunities to mess up,” López Estrada says. “There’s music, there are big tonal shifts, there are really heavy issues. I think we found the right balance that the movie required.”

Influences: Gabriel García Márquez, Spike Lee
Agents: United Talent Agency
Lawyer: Ziffren Brittenham

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