These Are the Must-See Movies at the 2019 Philadelphia Latino Film Festival

Lead Photo: Photo courtesy of Eli Jacobs Fantauzzi.
Photo courtesy of Eli Jacobs Fantauzzi.
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Established in 2012, the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival (PHLAFF) stands as the region’s only fest showcasing the work of emerging and established Latino and Latin American filmmakers. This year’s four-day affair will screen projects from Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela, and the United States. And while feature films from all over will be at the center of the fest’s programming, short film showcases, filmmaker workshops, work-in-progress labs, and even meetup mixers make it clear that the city of brotherly love is committed to nurturing its own pool of local talent.

Music lovers will find two documentaries that unearth storied histories from the Caribbean. There’s Bakosó: Afrobeats of Cuba. Directed by Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi, the documentary follows DJ Jigüe on a journey to his hometown of Santiago de Cuba as he explores Cuba’s manifestation of the global AfroBeats hype (“bakosó”) to discover where the roots of the genre that’s given us “Made for Now” and “Está Rico” come from. The colorful doc is as much a personal journey as it is a timely historical overview of the deep-rooted African influence in Cuba. It makes a great companion to Cartas de amor para una ícona, a biodoc on Lucecita Benítez, who’s considered Puerto Rico’s National Voice. The Gisela Rosario Ramos-directed doc reclaims the glory of the beloved singer while also putting her queer identity and political inclinations front and center.

The documentary-heavy slate clearly has its eyes on contemporary hot-button issues. Michelle Angela Ortiz‘s Las madres de Berks, for example, shares the testimonials of four mothers that were detained for two years with their children at The Berks County Residential Center, a family prison in Pennsylvania. The doc is a call to end family detention, which continues to be a timely issue across the country. Tracing another kind of widespread decimation of minority communities is Vivian Vazquez and Gretchen Hilderbran’s Decade of Fire. Their project looks back at the 1970s Bronx, tracing the way government policies left black and Puerto Rican residents adrift amid a violent and senseless displacement.

Elsewhere, Philadelphians can check out a certain LGBT film set in Guatemala that’s been making the festival rounds (José), an uplifting doc about a woman with cerebral palsy (La mujer maravilla sobre ruedas), a touching drama about a young religious dressmaker who finds out they were born intersex (Yo, imposible), a black and white 1950s-style B-movie thriller (Papi vs Giant Scorpion), and a probing examination of the struggle for land reform in the Brazilian state of Goiás (Landless). Oh, and they can even check out a Combo Chimbita show, proving that there really is something for everyone at the annual fest.

Philadelphia Latino Film Festival runs May 30 — June 2, 2019.