7 Free Must-See Movies at Gael and Diego’s Ambulante Film Festival in L.A.

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Since it was founded by Mexican cineastas Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Elena Fortes, and Pablo Cruz in 2005, the Ambulante Film Festival has been dedicated to showcasing the best international documentary cinema in communities and locations that don’t normally have access to such films. This year, the festival will take place in the U.S. for the first time, with a series of screenings across the Los Angeles area between September 21 — October 4.

As a platform for independent and innovative films from Latin America and beyond, Ambulante seeks to provide an opportunity for both filmmakers and audiences to interact with those they may not normally reach. Now firmly established as Mexico’s largest documentary festival, it looks set to become a major player on the U.S. circuit as well. Did we mention all the screenings are free?!? Here are some of the films at Ambulante California we’re most looking forward to seeing this year.


Bronx Obama

Director: Ryan Murdock
Country: USA
Year: 2014

Luis Ortiz is a Puerto Rican NYC-native whose life changed following the presidential election of 2008, thanks to an uncanny resemblance to the new man in the Oval Office. This coincidence of nature brought about a career impersonating the president and saw Ortiz enter the world of celebrity. Murdock’s light-hearted documentary was three years in the making as it takes in Obama’s first term and his re-election in 2012.


Las Marthas

Cristina Ibarra

Every February a huge celebration takes place in Laredo, Texas in honor of George Washington’s birthday. A month-long fiesta including reenactments and parades, the main event is an exclusive, invite-only colonial ball hosted by the Society of Martha Washington. Wearing elaborate, intricate gowns worth thousands of dollars, Mexican American debutantes dress as figures from the American Revolution and reenact a birthday party hosted by Martha Washington. Yes, you read right. Mexicans dress up like American revolutionaries in a part of the United States that used to be Mexico. Las Marthas follows these young debutantes during their intense preparations for the ball. While untangling the origins of this very peculiar celebration the director, Cristina Ibarra, somehow makes us realize that it’s really not so strange.

Synopsis By: Vanessa Erazo

United States


Al Otro Lado

Director: Natalia Almada
Country: USA
Year: 2005

Mexico’s long love of corrido – the socially-aware musical style of popular culture – has in recent times documented the twin calamities of drugs violence and illegal immigration, stark realities faced by a great many people in the country. Magdiel is a young corrido singer who dreams of making it big but, in order to achieve his dream, will have to make some big decisions. (This is Diego Luna’s favorite movie playing the fest.)



Director: Pedro González-Rubio
Country: Mexico
Year: 2009

González-Rubio’s exquisite film would be a leading contender for ‘Most idyllic documentary of all time’ if such an award existed. Natan, a young boy who lives with his mother in Rome, goes to stay with his father on the Banco Chinchorro reef in southern Mexico, a place of immense natural beauty. There, they bond over spear-fishing, turquoise waters and abundant wildlife. Proof that small children and large hungry reptiles is not always the tricky combination you might expect.



Director: Adrián Ortiz
Country: Mexico
Year: 2012

Spending half your life in a metal box might not sound like much fun, but for elevator operators the world over it is a reality, as they fulfill a selfless role that saves the rest of us from having to press the buttons ourselves. The humble elevator also often serves as our main point of interaction with neighbors or colleagues. Ortiz’s debut feature charts the elevator’s position in the social dynamic of Mexico City’s President Alemán Urban Housing Complex, where the operators have constructed a perceptive line in social commentary.


Diario a tres voces

Director: Otilia Portillo Padua
Country: Mexico
Year: 2012

Three generations of women ruminate on their personal experiences of love. Whether a teenager or a 90-year old, love is a curse as much as it is a blessing. This is firmly within the ‘love’s a bitch’ camp, as the women describe their suffering in affairs of the heart. A close-up character study of what makes us fall in love, this asks what the hell we’re supposed to do when it all goes to pieces.


Living Stars

Director: Mariano Cohn/Gastón Duprat
Country: Argentina
Year: 2014

A film about dancing and… well, that’s it, really. “A very rich, idiosyncratic snapshot of Argentina,” as co-director Gastón Duprat told Remezcla in June, the dance-inclined of Buenos Aires (some good, some not-so-good) opened up their homes to shake and groove for the filmmakers’ cameras. Based on an idea taken from a TV show, this celebration of music, movement and uninhibited release provides the platform that the film’s stars, of all ages and backgrounds, have long deserved. Best watched on your feet.


Ambulante California runs September 21 – October 4. For more information visit the website and follow on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr.