From Pablo Larraín winning the Grand Jury prize at the Berlin Film Festival, to Colombian productions taking home a historic five wins at Cannes, 2015 continued the incredible years-long streak of Latin American cinema conquering the world’s most illustrious film festivals. While Chile, Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil always rise to the top, this year, Central America made a surprise appearance. Filmed almost entirely in Kaqchikel, a Mayan language, Ixcanul brought Guatemalan Jayro Bustamante accolades that no director from his country had ever reached. Starring non-professional actors, the highlands-set visually stunning drama received a Silver Bear at the Berlinale, as well as major prizes at the Cartagena and Guadalajara Film Festivals.
Costa Rican director Paz Fábrega broke the glass ceiling with the gorgeous, black-and-white romance Viaje during its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. The unconventional love story became the first Central American movie to ever screen at the famed New York fest and turned Fábrega into the first female filmmaker to complete a second feature in Costa Rica.
Yet while our southern neighbors continued to streamroll the competition across the globe, U.S. Latino directors fared less favorably in the recent past, rarely making it to Cannes, Berlin, or other highly-regarded showcases and festivals. Thankfully, the Sundance Film Festival shook things up this year, with U.S.-born Latinos like Alfonso Gomez-Rejón and Kyle Patrick Álvarez triumphing at the fest’s awards night and striking lucrative distribution deals.
Even though Gomez-Rejón’s quirky comedy Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl and Álvarez’s The Stanford Prison Experiment made it to theaters, most of these movies don’t make it to screens in the U.S. When they do, it’s at a fest that only hardcore cinephiles may know about. Since it’s hard to keep up with all the films coming out of Latin America or made by homegrown Latinos and you can’t go to as many festivals as you’d like, we’re here to help. Here is our list of the top 15 Latino films of 2015 that you probably didn’t see, but totally should.
The process behind selecting these films was complicated, akin to a hotly contested election in Latin America – back-room deals, bribery, and threats of violence. Eventually, we agreed on a totally unfair system of rating the movies we liked that played in U.S. theaters or prestigious film festivals throughout the year and may have won some awards. We chose to include films directed by American-born Latinos, Latin Americans, and by non-Latinos, but on Latino subjects.