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How the Current Distribution Landscape Helped ‘La Ciudad’ Upon Its Re-Release

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David Riker

One of the great things about #ArtistServices is helping filmmakers re-release older titles from past Sundance Film Festivals to new audiences. La Ciudad is one such film, and we’ve been fortunate to work with filmmaker David Riker and producer Paul Mezey the past few months. Below, Riker shares how films can be re-released in this ever-changing distribution landscape. If you’re a Sundance Institute alum and would like to learn more about how #ArtistServices can help you, email us at artistservices@sundance.org.


My first film, La Ciudad, began streaming on Netflix this week—fifteen years after it first opened on a single screen in downtown Manhattan. Suddenly, the film can be seen anywhere in the country, as well as in Canada and across Latin America. As an independent filmmaker, it feels like the world has turned upside down, which is probably the reason Sundance invited me to share the story.

All filmmakers know the long journey from script to screen. In my case, it began in 1992 when I decided to make a Spanish-language film about a homeless puppeteer and his daughter living on the streets of the south Bronx. It took six years to complete the film, not only because of the struggle to raise money.

It took time to earn the trust of the Latin American immigrants whose stories gave meaning and life to the film. Garment workers and day laborers, they had all left behind families in Latin America to face an uncertain future in the north. And they had each crossed a kind of invisible boundary when they agreed to stand in front of the camera and allow their faces to be seen in the film.

La Ciudad screened at Sundance, won a small shelf of festival awards, and was eventually released in the U.S. by the irrepressible Zeitgeist Films. A national broadcast followed on PBS, and New Yorker Films—now sadly closed—released the film on DVD. Eventually audiences would see the film in England, France, Spain, and Italy. But the film was never available in Latin America, until now.

From the start, I believed that La Ciudad belonged to the immigrants who had made it, as much as to anyone else. I remember one of the actors, a day laborer from Peru, sending a VHS copy home to his family. The border had separated him from his children for 11 years, and he hoped the film would be a bridge of sorts, helping them to talk about something which had long been incomprehensible.

With the Netflix release, La Ciudad can now be seen across the Americas, from New York to Puebla, Chicago to Lima, and Las Vegas to Quito. As a filmmaker, it feels like the journey is finally complete, more than two decades after it began. My thanks to everyone who has helped make it possible, from Sundance Artists Services, Cinema Conservancy, the Princess Grace Foundation, and Kickstarter.

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