A Latino filmmaker with a gift for portraying off-kilter behavior in all shapes and ethnicities, Miguel Arteta emerged as one of the Sundance Film Festival's success stories in the late '90s.
Born in Puerto Rico to a Peruvian father and Spanish mother, Arteta grew up all over Latin America due to his father's itinerant existence as a Chrysler auto parts salesman. After he was kicked out of school in Costa Rica, Arteta was taken in by his sister in Boston, where he discovered filmmaking at a local high school for the arts. His aesthetic tastes out of step with their cinema verité ethos, Arteta left Harvard University's documentary program to study film at Wesleyan, where he met future collaborators Matthew Greenfield and Mike White. After he graduated in 1989, Arteta's musical short Every Day Is a Beautiful Day was nominated for a Student Academy Award in 1990. After it was shown to Jonathan Demme, Demme hired Arteta to work on his documentary Cousin Bobby (1991) and recommended Arteta for admission to AFI's graduate film program. He earned his M.F.A. in 1993.
Angered by his experience at AFI and the treatment of minorities by Hollywood in general, Arteta spent the next several years struggling to make his first feature, Star Maps (1997). Aiming to make a Latino film that was neither a stereotypical gang story nor an uplifting exercise in positive images, Arteta instead took aim at the family and the Hollywood system in a story about a Mexican teen with dreams of movie stardom who is pimped by his father in Los Angeles. Impoverished by the filmmaking process, Arteta became one of Sundance's Cinderella stories after Star Maps was bought for 2.5 million dollars and earned positive reviews for its tricky mix of comedy, drama, and magical realism.
Honing his skills between movies, Arteta turned to directing TV with episodes of Homicide: Life on the Streets, Snoops, and the acclaimed teen series Freaks and Geeks; his deft touch with bizarre family dynamics proved an ideal match for segments of HBO's award-winning drama Six Feet Under. With his TV work earning his living, Arteta remained resolutely independent in his movies. Scripted by and starring White, Arteta's second feature, Chuck & Buck (2000), became another Sundance success even as it divided critics. Shot on digital video for greater intimacy, Chuck & Buck's story of a man-child's obsession with his former childhood friend-turned-uptight executive (Chris Weitz) unnerved some viewers even as it garnered accolades for its eccentric take on male friendship. Continuing their dark yet comically engaging interrogations of adult expectations, Arteta and White scored yet another Sundance hit with The Good Girl (2002), starring a superbly frumpy Jennifer Aniston as a cashier who dramatically reassesses her life.