From Ruben Blades to Boricua Basketball: Must-See Movies at Philadelphia Latino Film Festival

Lead Photo: 'Nuyorican Basquet' Courtesy of Miami Film Festival
'Nuyorican Basquet' Courtesy of Miami Film Festival
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Established in 2012, the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival (PHLAFF) is Greater Philadelphia’s only fest showing work of emerging and established Latin American and Latino filmmakers. Back again this year, the movies being showcased during this weekend affair offer a wide variety of projects tackling urgent contemporary issues. In its Opening Night celebration, for example, Philly audiences will get to watch La Perla After Maríaa short film chronicling the effects of Hurricanes Irma and María on the small Puerto Rican community.

Elsewhere, the program boasts productions from all around Latin America, including projects set in the Dominican Republic, Panama, and Cuba, among others. Rober Calzadilla‘s El amparofor example, chronicles a true story that happened at the border between Colombia and Venezuela in the late ’80s. When a group of men sailing down the Arauca river are shot by the Venezuelan army forces — and only two survive — the reason given was that they were guerrilla fighters. But the only two survivors claim they were merely fisherman out on their daily route. Shot with claustrophobic camera work that amps up the tension once the survivors are put in jail and begin to get pressured to admit being guerrilla fighters so as to ease relations between the bordering countries, El amparo is a historical thriller that’ll keep you on your toes.

Sports fan will surely get a kick out of Ricardo Olivero Lora and Julio Cesar Torres’ Nuyorican Basquet. Telling the story of Puerto Rico’s 1979 National Basketball Team — which was made up of mostly New York-born players — this documentary explores both the national pride they inspired and the tense geopolitical foray they entered the following year during the US boycott of the Olympic Games in Moscow. Blending archival footage (prepare to see plenty of short shorts on the court in grainy VHS-like images) with talking head interviews of former players, this sports doc is a celebration of the diasporic Boricua community and the power of sports to bring people together.

With plenty of other movies on offer including a Ruben Blades documentary; a short film about grad school DREAMers; and a biopic on Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, the musician-turned-armed fighter, as well as free screenings of Conexiones: Los Cenzontles in Cuba; a doc about the Mexican-American musical group; plus Ser Grande, a documentary following three Puerto Rican teenagers trying to find their vocation, the fest is committed to offering quality cinema to its local audiences. And from the looks of it, it is primed to deliver.

The 2018 Philadelphia Latino Film Festival runs June 1-3, 2018.