These Are the Must-See Latino Movies at Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

Lead Photo: 'Harvest Season' image courtesy of DOC NYC
'Harvest Season' image courtesy of DOC NYC
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When you think of film festivals, we wouldn’t blame you if you thought they all took place in New York or Los Angeles. After all, the two coastal cities tend to have their fair share of fests that showcase everything from Latino-centered fare (hi LALIFF!) to world-renowned auteur vehicles (looking at you NYFF!). So it’s always comforting to shed a spotlight on programs from around the country that bring talented filmmakers and their works to regions not synonymous with the film industry. The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, now in its 22nd year, is returning to Durham, North Carolina, with a full slate of nonfiction projects that cover everything from Aretha Franklin and Dr. Ruth to guide dogs and The Satanic Temple.

Not surprising anyone given the quality of work being produced there lately, Mexico’s documentary output is well represented. Coming off its warm reception at Sundance, Luke Lorentzen is bringing his cinema verité take on private ambulances in Mexico City to Durham. With high-speed chases, frank impromptu confessional, and many a moral quandary about such a profit-driven enterprise, Midnight Family offers a glimpse into a dark underbelly of CDMX’s health care system. Further afield, and offering a more languid sensibility, Juan Pablo González‘s Caballerango captures a Mexican village experiencing the gradual loss of its traditional ways of life in the wake of the death of a young man. Similarly, Tania Hernández Velasco‘s Titixe tracks yet another kind of loss when the last peasant of a Mexican family dies, taking with him the knowledge of how to work the land. As Titixe shows, his daughter and his granddaughter (with no knowledge of agriculture whatsoever) try one last harvest to convince the grandmother to stay with the family land.

Moving us further north, all the way up to the Bronx, two Full Frame titles give the oft-neglected New York City borough a chance to shine bright as it takes center stage. In Rachel Lears’s Knock Down the House, the Bronx plays backdrop to the heart-swelling and politically inspiring life story of one Ms. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (a.k.a. AOC). The doc follows AOC as well as three other political newcomers (all women) in the run-up to the 2018 congressional midterms as the neophytes challenge powerful incumbents in the Democratic primary. Telling a decidedly different story about the Bronx is Vivian Vázquez Irizarry and Gretchen Hildebran‘s Decade of Fire. Set against the backdrop of contemporary gentrification protests in the South Bronx, this arresting and invigorating film goes deep into the history of this neighborhood depleted by racist political decisions and left to burn.

And tackling the ever-timely issue of immigration are two docs: Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra‘s The Infiltrators and Bernardo Ruiz‘s Harvest Season. The former, which continues to make headlines, is a docufiction hybrid that tells the story of a number of members of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance who willfully get detained by ICE to enter the Broward Transitional Center in Florida to stop the unjust deportations of detainees. The latter takes place all the way on the other side of the country and tracks the great shifts in climate, technology, and immigration policy as they affect the winemaking business in California’s Sonoma and Napa Valleys.

And in case you wanted to be whisked away somewhere else, you can always follow two stray dogs in a Chilean skatepark (Los Reyes), a troupe of dancers and workers at the Municipal Theatre in Rio de Janeiro (Ressaca), Brazilian presidents Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as their country falls into crisis (The Edge of Democracy), or even Beto O’Rourke as he tries to unseat Senator Ted Cruz (Running With Beto), in some of the other offerings at the Durham-set fest.

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival runs April 4–7, 2019.