These Are the Must-See Central American Movies at Ícaro New York

Lead Photo: 'Abrazame como antes' Courtesy of the Costa Rica Festival Internacional de Cine
'Abrazame como antes' Courtesy of the Costa Rica Festival Internacional de Cine
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Those keeping an eye on Central American cinema know that something’s up. Quietly but surely, local film industries have begun supporting their filmmakers while film festivals in the area have found ways of championing the work being produced there. To remind us of the strong work coming out of the region, the Ícaro Central American Film Festival comes back to New York for its sixth year. About the festival, Diana Vargas, director of Ícaro New York says: “Held annually in Guatemala for the past 19 years, Icaro Film Festival has served as a storytelling platform for young and emerging filmmakers hailing from the seven countries that make up the region of Central America. It has given them the opportunity to build their audiences and strengthen the region’s presence in major film festivals around the world. Thanks to this partnership these stories will once again be told to and in New York.” Here are a few highlights from the New York program.

Opening the fest is Jürgen Ureña’s neon-hued nightlife flick Abrázame como antes (Hold Me Like Before). Based on his short film Paso en Falso, this drama follows a group of prostitutes in San José (think Tangerine, only more fantastical and experimental – and scored, as its title suggests, with boleros). Many of Ureña’s main characters are played by trans actresses whom he collaborated with to make this streetwalkers’ tale all the more authentic.

Elsewhere in the fest, you will also be able to catch the Panama-produced mixed-martial arts fighting flick, Kimura which has a plot worthy of any Rocky sequel. When Armando returns to Panama looking for forgiveness, he finds his hometown has changed. Not only has his father died but the academy he owned is almost bankrupt. So he decides to start training to participate in the well known mixed martial arts tournament called Kimura. He discovers that his brother is also competing, forcing the siblings to resolve their differences in the ring.

For those looking for some nonfiction offerings there are two documentaries unearthing some of the region’s most brutal recent histories. El Buen Cristiano (The Good Christian) centers on the genocide trials of Jose former Guatemalan army leader Efrain Rios Montt, who’s accused of massacring thousands of Mayan Ixiles while Los ofendidos (The Offended) chronicles stories from many of those who were captured and tortured during El Salvador’s civil war. Worth noting: both keenly observed docs are directed by female filmmakers.

Closing the program is a black-and-white film set in New York about a wannabe poet and jack-of-all-trades dilettante who earns his living as a cat-sitter. And with a title like Amores Gatos, this “what else could possibly go wrong tonight?” tragicomedy directed by Juanma Calderon feels like an apt cross-cultural project with which to wrap this Central American showcase. If any of these projects strike your fancy, remember that all screenings at the Instituto Cervantes New York are free and open to the public. You can peruse the entire lineup on the fest’s Facebook page.

The sixth annual Icaro Central American Film Festival New York runs September 27 – 29, 2017.