Hoping to muscle their way up into the global cinema conversation in ways its nearby neighbors like Mexico and Cuba have been doing for decades, filmmakers from Central America are finally seeing their efforts flourish. Established fests like the Festival Internacional de Cine Panamá and the Costa Rica International Film Festival (CRFIC) have been focusing not just on showcasing but investing in cinema from the region. This has led to an interest in projects like Ixcanul, the Guatemalan film about a young indigenous woman, which became only the country’s second ever submission to the Oscar foreign language film category.
As local filmmakers take advantage of a slew of new funding opportunities and are finally able to tell their own stories, the Central American cinematic landscape has blossomed to include all kinds of genres. If you’re on the look out for films in Spanish from Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, or Nicaragua to check out, we’ve compiled a handy list of 15 flicks that are available to stream right now. Whether you want a full history lesson on Guatemalan politics or prefer a dreamy black-and-white rom-com; whether you wanna Netfllix and chill or opt to support Latin American streaming services like Pantaya, these 15 films have you covered.
Septiembre, un llanto en silencio
Based on a real life story and drawing upon the director’s own brother, Kenneth Muller’s Septiembre, un llanto en silencio is a heart wrenching and heartwarming of the importance of family. After a terrorist attack in Guatemala, a baby is rendered deaf and motherless and her father is left to raise her alone.
Resistencia: The Fight for the Aguan Valley
In 2009, the first coup d’etat in a generation in Central America overthrows the elected president of Honduras. A nation-wide movement, known simply as The Resistance, rises in opposition. Resistencia: The Fight for the Aguan Valley centers on the most daring wing of the movement, the farmers of the Aguan. Not satisfied with just marching and blocking highways, 2000 landless families take possession of the palm oil plantations of Miguel Facusse, the country’s largest landowner and a key player in the coup. The camera follows three farmers over four years as they build their new communities on occupied land, in the face of the regime’s violent response, while waiting for the elections The Resistance hopes will restore the national democratic project.
In Managua, Nicaragua, teenager Sujeylin Aguilar raises her newborn daughter Karla on the same streets she has been calling home for the past eight years. Based in a city park and part of a larger group of youngsters, mother and baby struggle to reach the little one’s first birthday. Beautifully told and full of hope, Karla’s Arrival offers an intense personal story about second generation street children.
Available on Netflix, Amazon, iTunes
Filmed almost entirely in the Kaqchikel dialect spoken in Guatemala’s coffee-growing highlands, Ixcanul dramatizes the story of María, a young Mayan woman who is promised to the coffee plantation foreman, despite her desire for a lowly coffee cutter named Pepe. Dreaming of absconding with Pepe to a romanticized vision of the United States, María eventually has the encounter with modernity she so yearned for, but not for the reasons she had hoped. In addition to the impressive naturalistic performances from the film’s non-professional cast, Ixcanul’s visuals are extremely powerful, with radiant bronze skin tones, textured interiors, and the requisite breathtaking landscapes.
Every day dozens of decommissioned school buses leave the United States on a southward migration that carries them to Guatemala, where they are repaired, repainted, and resurrected as the brightly colored camionetas that bring the vast majority of Guatemalans to work each day. Since 2006, nearly 1,000 camioneta drivers and fare collectors have been murdered for either refusing or being unable to pay the extortion money demanded by local Guatemalan gangs. La Camioneta follows one such bus on its transformative journey.
Available on Vimeo on Demand.
In this documentary, filmmaker Abner Benaim takes audiences back in history to December 1989 when 30,000 U.S. troops invaded Panama because then President George H.W. Bush wanted dictator General Manuel Noriega out of power and to keep control of the Panama Canal, an area the U.S. used heavily for shipping cargo. The invasion’s code name was “Operation Just Cause.” In the doc, Benaim interviews civilians, military personnel, politicians, and even gets to speak to former General Noriega to get his take on the incident 15 years later. Was the invasion by the U.S. justifiable, or was there more to the politics of the time than most people think?
Focusing on how the armed conflict that unfolded in Guatemala in the 1980s affected the country’s indigenous population, this documentary aims to revisit the memories of the genocide perpetrated under the “scorched earth” military campaigns in order to seek justice. Five central characters provide diverse perspectives into the events that resulted in the deaths of 200,000 Maya people, including 45,000 disappeared, and that indelibly marked their homeland’s past, present, and future.
When the Mountains Tremble
Centered on indigenous leader and Nobel Peace Laureate, Rigoberta Menchú, one of the most iconic and influential figures in recent Latin American history, the filmmaking duo use an amalgamation of distinct visual materials to chronicle the struggles of Guatemala’s indigenous population against their own government’s oppressive policies. Menchú emerged as a voice for social revolution during wartime, which makes her contributions to her people’s fight all the more remarkable, as the engaging doc depicts.
Available on Amazon.
The third film in a trilogy about Guatemala, this installment explores the sweeping historical significance of the war crimes trial of General Ríos Montt and the toppling of corrupt president Otto Pérez Molina. Pamela Yates gracefully engages the indigenous Mayan population who experienced genocide at the hands of a long-standing repressive government. Silenced family members and eyewitnesses come forward to share their individual stories with the desire that their underreported, horrific treatment receive the attention it deserves. Spoken in Spanish and native Mayan languages, 500 Years delicately weaves archival footage with new interviews and emotional courtroom scenes to shine light on a growing movement to fend off the systematic aggression toward an underrepresented people. Focusing on the recent events of a country that has suffered for generations at the hands of a ruling elite, the film hails the nation’s citizens banding together on a quest for justice – and emerging as a beacon of hope.
Available on Amazon.
In 1982, an elite Guatemalan government squad massacred over 200 residents of the rural village of Dos Erres. The number merely added to the hundreds of thousands who lost their lives, or were disappeared during the country’s 36-year-long civil war. As it turns out, two young boys survived the massacre. More improbably, their story and survival was the only key to finding out precisely what happened back in 1982. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall, Finding Oscar traces the story of finding one of the boys and the quest for justice that followed.
Victoria is a young, middle-class woman whose family is going through a serious financial crisis, forcing her to enroll in night classes so that she can finish high school and to take an inconvenient job that leads her to the La Reforma penitentiary. In the prison, Victoria meets Jason, an inmate. As she explores his world behind bars, she begins to question her own limitations and her sense of freedom. Inspired by his father’s documentary on Costa Rican prisons, Tico director Esteban Ramírez takes the same social themes and translates them to the big screen, showing that one doesn’t need to be in prison in order to be a prisoner.
Uno: la historia de un gol
In the early 1980s, as El Salvador was in the midst of its brutal civil war, a group of Salvadoran futbol players emerged to unite their entire nation with their game. Achieving an unforgettable qualification to the 1982 World Cup in Spain, they would try to score El Salvador’s first World Cup victory. With a homeland ripped apart by guns and guerrillas, their team’s selection provided hope for all Salvadorans. This insightful and honest film recounts a David-and-Goliath story of great hope and terrible disappointment.
Forced to leave their lives in Nicaragua and resettled in Costa Rica, two young girls, Claudia and Antonia, must adapt to their new environment in a country mostly unaffected by the turmoil in the region during the 1980s. As the daughters of two Sandinista activists on the run, the sisters experience abandonment, betrayal, and a double life driven by secrecy. Meanwhile, their parents are confronted with their loyalty to the movement they once believed in and their uncertain future.
Available on Fandor.
In this romantic drama, free-spirited Luciana and Pedro meet at a party. They don’t believe in traditional relationships or commitments, but they immediately give in to their intense chemistry; the only thing they abstain from is learning each other’s names and backgrounds. The film’s black-and-white format sits in stark contrast to the varying shades of their passion. When the pair takes a spontaneous trip to the to the gorgeous Rincón de la Vieja National Park together, we watch them go through a process of self-discovery as their relationship develops and frays.
Nicaragua’s first full-length feature in 20 years, La Yuma tells the story of a young woman who dreams of transcending her bleak life in the slums of Managua by becoming a boxer. The film provides a glimpse of life in a country where gender and class inequality are an everyday challenge.