From Carnival to Butterflies: Must-See Latino Documentaries at Margaret Mead Film Festival

Lead Photo: 'Mamacita' courtesy of LAFF
'Mamacita' courtesy of LAFF
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What better place to host a documentary film festival than the American Museum of Natural History? The New York City institution already attracts a large swath of people interested in knowledge about the world around us. The AMNH Margaret Mead Film Festival mostly just follows in those same footsteps. This year, they’ll be screening 50 documentaries that tackle everything from Syrian comedy series and disappearing languages in New York City to Croatian music and Tibetan refugees. As usual, there’s a number of projects from and about Latin America as well as a few dealing with US Latinos.

More than a decade after her adoptive mother died, filmmaker Carmen Torres set herself one mission: to find out who her birth mother was. Amanecer (Dawn) is the dreamy, stream-of-consciousness diary she’s compiled of her experience. Journeying to rural Colombia and away from the bureaucracy of the adoption agency, she sets out to find out where her biological family is from and, more crucially, why she was given up for adoption.

Also telling a story quite close to home is José Pablo Estrada Torrescano. His film Mamacita is all about his grandmother, a 95-year old eccentric Mexican beauty tycoon who lives in an extravagant castle-like compound. What initially was dreamed up as a chance to tell his grandma’s rags-to-riches story soon turns much darker and much richer than Estrada Torrescano could have possibly imagined.

Matthew Eddy’s A Bold Peace is fascinated with one question: Surrounded by war elsewhere in the Americas, how has the government of Costa Rica managed to put the happiness of its people first? How, for example, has the Central American country found itself earning the number one spot in the Happy Planet Index, a ranking of countries based on measures of environmental protection and the happiness and health of its citizens? The answer, as Eddy shows, lies in the country’s commitment to disbanding its military and directing its resources toward education, health, and the environment.

Similarly looking at a regionally specific community facing a changing new reality is The Guardians. Co-directed by Ben Crosbie and Tessa Moran, this film seems, at first look, to be a nature doc about the migration of the monarch butterfly. Instead, it’s a probing look at centuries-old fights over land. Described as a political melodrama, The Guardians follows a Mexican indigenous community as they to battle to protect their land, which is also the migratory home of the butterflies.

The fest will also be screening documentaries on faith communities in Brazil (The Sound of Bells), a queer tour of Rio de Janeiro ahead of Carnival (Obscuro Barroco) and even shorts on the San Joaquin Valley’s migrant population (Con o Sin Papeles) and the psychological effects of broken up families at the border (Landfall). With plenty of directors coming into the city to take part in post-screening Q&As, there’s no reason to miss out on this long-storied film fest.

AMNH Margaret Mead Film Festival runs October 18–21, 2018.