Since 2001, the Boston Latino International Film Festival has been “committed to using the power of film to break stereotypes, bring cultures and communities together and reveal the complex issues that affect the Latinx community in the United States, Latin America and Spain.” That is very apparent when you look at this year’s fest program. Opening with one of the most electrifying and timely hybrid doc films to hit the festival circuit this year (The Infiltrators) and featuring features that tackle everything from populism in Venezuela, campus activism in the US, religious dogma in Brazil and colorism in the Dominican Republic, BLIFF 2019 truly lives up to its mission.
In addition to its feature film selection, the program is peppered with a number of short films that are equally intriguing: where else will you find Mexico’s International Feature submission (La camarista) being screened alongside a black-and-white short about a young Cholo who earns his living by watching la Migra on the other side of the border in Juarez? Or a curated lineup of youth-directed films by the “Point & Shoot” filmmaking class at Zumix, featuring student work from Madison Park High School, Real to Reel and ICA’s Fast Forward media program? There’s truly no reason to miss out on any of the fest’s offerings. But should you need to narrow down your options, find our list of top picks you shouldn’t miss below.
Boston Latino International Film Festival runs September 25 – 29, 2019.
Without warning, Claudio Rojas is detained by ICE officials outside his Florida home. He is transferred to the Broward Transitional Center, a detention facility used as a holding space for imminent deportations. Terrified of never seeing him again, Claudio’s family contacts the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), a group of activist Dreamers known for stopping deportations. Believing that no one is free as long as one is in detention, NIYA enlists Marco Saavedra to self-deport in hopes of gaining access to the detention center and impeding Claudio’s expulsion. Once inside, Saavedra discovers a complex for-profit institution housing hundreds of multinational immigrants, all imprisoned without trial. Based on true events, The Infiltrators is both a suspenseful account of a high-stakes mission and an emotionally charged portrait of visionary youth fighting for their community.
In the Brazil of 2027, where raves celebrate God’s love and drive-through spiritual-advice booths have become the norm, Joana holds her faith and relationship with God in the highest regard. She uses her job as a notary to carefully goad divorcing couples into reconsidering their split, and she takes comfort in an unusual religious collective that helps keep her own marriage in check. Though she and her husband have struggled to conceive, their efforts to produce a child will eventually bring Joana closer to God than she had ever expected. Through an arresting visual style and vibrant, neospiritual imagery, award-winning director Gabriel Mascaro (Neon Bull, August Winds) draws us into a not-so-distant future where religion has seeped into the texture of daily life, laying bare the subtle hypocrisies that linger at its core.
The Great Mother
In Miami, immigration activist Nora Sandigo witnessed a crisis of U.S. born children being separated from their undocumented parents. It started with two children. She became their legal guardian to save them from being trapped in the foster care system where they would risk never being reunited with their real parents. Word spread and she eventually became a legal guardian to over 1,000 children facing a similar plight. This powerful documentary by directors Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker (I Am Big Bird) gives human faces to political headlines. We get to know some of the families whose lives have been impacted by Sandigo’s crusade. We watch her financial and emotional resources be tested to the breaking point. But she shows us the power of what one person can do when they open their heart.
Decade of Fire
In the 1970s, the Bronx was on fire. Left unprotected by the city government, nearly a half-million people were displaced as their close-knit, multiethnic neighborhood burned, reducing the community to rubble. While insidious government policies caused the devastation, Black and Latino residents bore the blame. In this story of hope and resistance, Bronx native Vivian Vazquez exposes the truth about the borough’s sordid history and reveals how her embattled and maligned community chose to resist, remain and rebuild.
Eve (Gabriela Cartol) works long hours as a maid at a luxurious hotel in Mexico City. A young, single mother who travels far to get to her place of work, Eve has aspirations for the future and hopes that her diligence will get her a coveted spot as the cleaner on an executive floor. She enrolls in the hotel’s adult education program in her quest for a better life but quickly discovers that it’s not necessarily the most hard-working who get noticed for advancement. The Chambermaid, Lila Avilés’s striking debut, employs a quasi-documentary approach as it accompanies Eve on her daily routine. She quietly enters one indistinguishable guest room after another and we are struck by the intimacy behind the act of cleaning a stranger’s mess. The disparity between the guests and those working at the hotel — who often do not have hot water in their own homes — accurately reflects the reality in many Latin American countries.
A quiet middle class world of good intentions begins to crumble ahead of 14-year-old Miriam’s quinces. Miriam’s mother (Pachy Méndez), who makes her daughter feel ashamed of her dark skin and so-called unruly hair — perhaps because she still harbors regret over marrying Miriam’s dark-skinned father (Vicente Santos) — is intent on making this party a lavish one. She hopes to distract people from her own ugly divorce proceedings which have Miriam growing up among her light-skinned side of the family. It’s there where plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle pejorative words are flung at anyone darker than them, be they dancing on TV or being part of “the help.” Amid this context, it’s no surprise to find Miriam acting out when she realizes the internet boyfriend everyone (including her!) wants to meet is Black. Quiet and unassuming, this sun-dappled family drama set in the Dominican Republic tackles prickly territory while showing the way colorism affects the youngest among us.
Building the American Dream
Across Texas, an unstoppable construction boom drives urban sprawl and luxury high-rises. Its dirty secret: abuse of immigrant labor. Building the American Dream captures a turning point as a movement forms to fight widespread construction industry injustices. Grieving their son, a Mexican family campaigns for a life-or-death safety ordinance. A Salvadoran electrician couple, owed thousands in back pay, fights for their children’s future. A bereaved son battles to protect others from his family’s preventable tragedy. A story of courage, resilience and community, the film reveals shocking truths about the hardworking immigrants who build the American dream of which they are excluded.
El pueblo soy yo: Venezuela en populismo
Carlos Oteyza, Venezuela’s most prolific documentary filmmaker, and renowned Mexican historian Enrique Krauze explore the forces that led to Hugo Chávez’s rise to power and Nicolás Maduro’s rule after Chávez’s death. This comprehensive and level-headed documentary leaves no stone unturned. More than merely offering a history lesson, I Am The People: Venezuela Under Populism uses Venezuela as a case study. It is a portrait of the kind of populist politics, from both the right and the left, that have shaken and are still shaking democratic governments worldwide, and those watching will not be able to ignore parallels to other nations in the continent (and closer to home).