Alright, Southern California, the time has finally come. Last month you waited patiently in anxious expectation of Ambulante California’s official programming announcement (after a special sneak peek on Remezcla, of course), then you waited some more, but this week it’s all about to pay off. Yes, the house that Gael and Diego built, that venerable alternative documentary festival for the people, will be kicking off its North American invasion on September 19 and keeping their roving cinematic fiesta going for a whopping 16 days through October 4.
For the second year running, there will be award-winning shorts and features from the U.S., Mexico, Australia, and Sweden playing in venues across the greater LA area, from Pasadena, to Culver City, to the proud neighborhood of Pacoima. Screenings will be held in world-renowned theaters, neighborhood cultural centers, food co-ops, and public parks; and it’s all free. That’s because Ambulante isn’t another red carpet film fest replete with celebrities and high-artistic pretensions. No, Ambulante is about sparking dialogue, strengthening community, and sharing experience. So get your dialoguin’ hat on and head down to a screening near you.
In the meantime, here’s a rundown of the Latino docs Angelenos can look forward to seeing at this year’s edition.
Ambulante California runs September 19 – October 4.
We Like It Like That
Latin boogaloo music in 1960s New York City takes center stage in this documentary from director Mathew Ramirez Warren. With musicians like Joe Bataan, Johnny Colon, and Pete Rodriguez taking the lead, Warren covers everything that was happening in the era through interviews, archival footage, and images of live performances. Journey through this musical revolution and learn about the performers whose rhythms got everyone on the dance floor and defined a new generation of music on the East Coast.
No Más Bebés
In 1960s and 70s Los Angeles, Mexican immigrant women allege they were sterilized without their consent at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. Archival footage of the booming Chicano rights movement is juxtaposed with interviews in a long abandoned hospital. Interwoven are opinions from both sides of the landmark case Madrigal v. Quilligan. The women who brought the case to trial are represented by a young and fearless lawyer, Antonia Hernandez. Academy Award-nominated director Renee Tajima-Peña (Who Killed Vincent Chin) saved this important case from becoming a forgotten footnote, facilitating a measure of closure and raising a timely topic amid the ongoing battles over reproductive rights and discriminatory practices.
Llévate mis amores
A sensitive portrait of a group of women known as Las Patronas, who every day over the course of 20 years have prepared food for the Mexican and Central American migrants who pass through their town destined for the United States on the infamous freight train, La Bestia. Carrying out their labor with a sense of duty and a deep love for the anonymous stowaways who every day receive their offerings quite literally with open arms, Las Patronas find meaning through service in spite of their own difficult realities. Llévate mis amores (All of Me) enters into the well-worn territory of immigration-themed cinema with a fresh perspective and deep sense of humanity.
Los reyes del pueblo que no existe
Betzabé García’s documentary follows three families living in a village in northwestern México that has been partially submerged in water. All the families have every reason to leave, but their ties to their community are too strong to allow them to abandon their homes and their lives. Will the families stay put and help save their fellow neighbors from ruin, or will their own loss push them to the breaking point?
Kingdom of Shadows
This powerful documentary follows three people grappling with the hard choices and destructive consequences of the U.S.-Mexico drug war. Filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz weaves together the seemingly disconnected stories of an activist nun in deeply scarred Monterrey, Mexico, a U.S. Federal Agent on the border, and a former Texas smuggler to reveal the human side of an often-misunderstood conflict that has resulted in the “disappearance” of more than 23,000 people in Mexico — a growing human rights crisis that has only recently made international headlines.
El patio de mi casa
Director Carlos Hagerman creates a loving portrait of his parents, Oscar and Doris, on the eve of their retirement after a lifetime of community service. Incorporating archival material dating back to his parents’ childhood, first-person narration, and interviews, Hagerman reflects upon his parents’ lifelong vocation serving indigenous communities in rural Mexico, and gives them a space to reflect on their lives, the passing of time, and even the imminence of death. El patio de mi casa is a family album, a heartfelt homage, and a poetic meditation on aging.
Bikes vs. Cars
This multinational social-issue doc explores the explosion of urban biking across the world’s cities. Fixing his camera on the transportation cultures of Los Angeles, São Paulo, Toronto, and Copenhagen, Gertten shows us that the conflict between progressive, bike-friendly policies and the gas-guzzling old guard is actually fomented by deeply entrenched interests in the car, oil, and construction industries. Meanwhile, cyclists die every day in accidents caused by unsympathetic motorists.
The inspirational, true-life tale of a rag-tag team of underprivileged Arizona high school kids who beat the odds and 10 years later inspired a Hollywood tribute starring George Lopez and Marisa Tomei. Mary Mazzio’s documentary relives the glorious day when the all-Latino team’s improvised, low-budget underwater robot swept a fancy national robotics competition where schools like MIT also happened to be competing. Featuring interviews with the team and their coaches, Underwater Dreams also explores the positive legacy these students – some of whom were undocumented immigrants – left on their peers.