2020 Sundance Docs in Focus: THE TRADE (SEASON TWO)

THE TRADE | Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Ross McDonnell

Matthew Heineman explores human smuggling, sex trafficking, and the plight of migrants.

Festival Section:
Special Events

Sundance Program Description:

Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Matthew Heineman (CARTEL LAND, 2015 Sundance Film Festival) is known for investigating subjects others would rather stay away from. Whether he tackles drug cartels or the opioid crisis, he remains a thoughtful, unbiased observer whose unparalleled access is both fascinating and unnerving. Here, Heineman’s focus is on human trafficking and migrant communities seeking a safer existence. We follow migrants from Central America on their journey to the United States (and back home after deportation), the people who get paid outrageous amounts of money to attempt to smuggle them across the border, and those who try to obstruct these illicit and often deadly activities. THE TRADE is a timely, character-driven, emotional study on human vulnerability, exploitation, and fear, exposing some very bleak aspects of the American Dream and the fate of people who have no choice but to chase it.

Some Background:

Director/Executive Producer:

  • Matthew Heineman
    Past Sundance docs:

    CITY OF GHOSTS (2017)
    ESCAPE FIRE (2012)

    In addition to his Oscar and Emmy nods, Heineman has won awards at Sundance for both CITY OF GHOSTS and CARTEL LAND. He most recently debuted the first season of this Showtime series in Park City.

Showrunner/Executive Producer:

  • Pagan Harleman
    Past Sundance docs:


    Harleman has a background in directing and producing series for Animal Planet, CNN, Pivot, and ABC, working for ABC News and Brick City TV, among companies. She also previously cut the Sundance narrative short ICE FISHING.


  • Brent Kunkle
    Past Sundance docs:


    Kunkle previously produced series for Animal Planet, CNN, A&E, and Showtime, as well as the Sundance narrative feature THE COMEDY.

  • Mónica Villamizar

    Villamizar is an investigative journalist who has worked for VICE News, CBS, ABC, PBS Newshour, Univision, and Al Jazeera.

  • William Wheeler

    Wheeler is a journalist and Emmy-nominated producer for Netflix’s ReMastered docuseries.



  • Ross McDonnell

    McDonnell previously was one of the directors of photography for THE TRADE (SEASON ONE). He serves as cinematographer for this season.

  • Alejandro Suverza
    Past Sundance docs:


    Suverza is a Mexican journalist who has covered the drug cartels.

Executive Producer:


  • Daniel Coda

    This is the first Sundance project for the Emmy-winning Coda.

Associate Editors:

  • Andrés Arias
    Past Sundance docs:

    GIVE ME FUTURE (2017)

  • Pablo Garza
    Past Sundance docs:


  • Shelby Hougui

    This is Hougui’s first Sundance credit.

Why You Should Watch:
Heineman shifts focus from the first season of his Showtime series, which examined the deadly consequences of the opioid trade, but maintains the same approach by providing viewers with various perspectives on the same theme. Successfully juggling multiple characters and opposing views, the series challenges assumptions and offers new insight on a polarizing issue.

More Info:
For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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