These Are the Must-See Latino Movies at LA’s Panafest

Lead Photo: Courtesy of the filmmakers
Courtesy of the filmmakers
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Panama’s growing film industry is once again taking center stage at the 5th edition of PANAFEST which is organized by the Panamanian International Film Festival in LA (PIFF/LA). The three-day affair will be host to more than 40 short and feature-length features. And that’s in addition to industry panels tackling “Colorism, Racism and Other Isms in Television & Film: A Panamanian Perspective” as well as “Demystifying the Workflow of a Line Producer and a UPM.” The selection not only spotlights budding talent from the Central American nation but also includes plenty of Latin American fare to celebrate, with films hailing from Panama standing alongside those from Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, Cuba, and yes, even the United States.

Panama Radio is precisely the kind of film that a forum like PANAFEST is designed to present. Edgar Soberón’s documentary about an all-female run record store from the 1970s is a portrait of an era as well as a celebration of a pivotal time for the country and its music scene. Brimming with a kinetic energy and buoyed by an eclectic soundtrack that echoes its subject matter, Panama Radio shows how a record store in Panama was at the epicenter of a movement, able to nab appearances by Julio Iglesias, José José, Tito Puente, and many of the biggest superstars of the time.

Also focused on the power and strength of community is Our QuinceañeraFanny Veliz Grande’s heartwarming documentary spotlights a now annual tradition in the South Texan town where a big quinces is thrown for those young women whose families may not otherwise be able to afford the titular party. Our Quinceañera offers a behind-the-scenes look at how this event first started and a firsthand account at how the annual blowout is put together by the people of San Benito.

If horror is more of your thing, Diablo Rojo PTY should definitely be on your list. Billed as Panama’s first feature-length horror film, Sol Moreno’s creepy late-night-set story is fueled by local folklore. Reimagining the myths of La Tulivieja (a kindred spirit to the more well-known La Llorona) and with hints of witchcraft, Diablo Rojo PTY follows a driver of an old “diablo rojo” bus as he gets bewitched and finds himself adrift in a haunted forest where he may not be able to come out of it alive. Bonus: the film will screen alongside a short doc about those classic colorful buses that inspired it.

In addition to a special screening (by invite only, alas) of Ben DeJesus’ brilliant documentary Raúl Julia: The World’s a Stage on the life and career of the Puerto Rican actor, and a look at Intolerance: No More, Searching-esque take on police brutality, the PANAFEST program is loaded with short films that are bound to appeal to any and all of your interests. There are animated shorts about immigration and short docs about gentrification; dystopian stories about humanity facing extinction and dreamy ones about an afterlife that looks like the DMV; autobiographical portraits of undocumented performance artists and even gender-swapped comedies. Jam-packed as it may be, the three-day festival is a perfect chance to see the work of some great up-and-coming filmmakers.

PANAFEST runs October 18 — 20, 2019 at the Downtown Independent Theater in Downtown LA.