Founded in 1977, the Urbanworld Film Festival is one of the largest internationally competitive festivals of its kind. And to judge by its current slate of films for 2019, their definition of “urban” is decidedly open, expanding beyond ethnicity to include sensibility, culture and proximity. Beyond the marquee names and titles that will be playing the fest – looking at you Harriet and episodic previews of Mixed-ish and First Wives Club – there are a number of U.S. Latino and Latin American projects that put our stories in conversation with the rest of the fest’s roster.
And as it’s custom in any kind of local festival like this one, you’ll get a chance to travel the world from the comfort of a movie theater. Bénédicte Liénard and Mary Jiménez’s By the Name of Tania, for example, takes you to the Amazon forest in Peru. There, they follow a young woman who winds up forced into prostitution when her initially hopeful attempt to escape the stifling limitations of village life goes wrong. Featuring beautiful vistas of Peruvian landscapes, this third collaboration between the Belgian filmmaker and the Peruvian director makes the girl’s traumatic odyssey embody the horrific devastation visited upon the natural world by contemporary industrial society.
Moving further north, Bakosó: Afrobeats of Cuba makes its focus crystal clear from its title alone. Thumping with the sounds of a whole slew of Afrobeat-infused tracks and artists, Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi’s documentary serves as a course-corrector when it comes to the kinds of sounds mainstream audiences have been listening to in songs like “Está Rico” and “Made for Now.” Following DJ Jigüe to his hometown of Santiago de Cuba to find inspiration from the new sounds, the doc traces how Afrobeats has helped create a new genre called Bakosó, which itself is beautiful proof that the exchange between Cuba and Africa did not end with the transatlantic slave trade.
If you’d rather take a trip down to a Miami, make sure to catch Vandal. Just don’t expect your run-of-the-mill South Beach story. Jose Daniel Freixas’s feature film is all about the underground world of street artists. Telling the story of Nick (Daniel Zovatto) aka Damage, the rollicking drama, which looks and feels like a music video come to life, takes on issues of gentrification, police brutality,and ultimately what it means to make your own kind of family in an ever-changing city.
Offering a different kind of journey is Release. Written and directed by Adel L. Morales, this Bronx-set drama follows ‘Maverick’ as he adjusts to life after a twenty-one year prison sentence. Suffering from the traumas of abuse and neglect, that go hand-in-hand with our American prison systems, he’s become a loner, hardened over his lengthy sentence. Layers of frustration and fear, lie underneath his heavy penetrating stare. He’s a changed man figuring out his place in a family he barely remembers, while dealing with the pressures of a changed world and a twenty-one-year-old daughter he doesn’t know.
Beyond this electric feature-length slate, Urbanworld will also be showcasing short films and episodic content. So in addition to checking out the films above, be sure to look out for projects about a young girl helping her curandera grandma (Ruda), another one about the aftermath of Hurricane Maria (María) and even one from Chile set at a gay nightclub starring Daniela Vega (Unsheltered).
Urbanworld runs September 18 to 22, 2019.