Once again the Chicago Latino Film Festival is headed to the Windy City. In its 35th year, the established fest will showcase films from Colombia, Brazil, Cuba, the Unites States and all over the continent. Those looking for female-led and female-directed films are also in luck. In the words of Pepe Vargas, the founder and executive director, “The Chicago Latino Film Festival has long acknowledged the contributions Iberoamerican women have made to film, and this year we will once again feature the incredible visions and stories from first-time women filmmakers and veterans alike.”
The expansive program for this year’s fest may look daunting — it includes more than sixty feature films and more than thirty short films — but we’ve narrowed it down with our top picks. Whether you’re in the mood to catch documentaries on Guatemala and Venezuela’s recent history, US Latino films dealing with ICE detainees, LGBT dramas from around the region, or merely wish to be frightened by Cuba’s first psychological horror flick, we’ve got you covered. Take a look at our list below.
Chicago Latino Film Festival runs March 28 – April 11, 2019
Richard Levien’s feature debut couldn’t be more timely given the current administration’s stance on immigration and immigrants. Twelve-year-old Itan and her 6-year-old brother Neto come home from school one afternoon to find all the furniture upturned and no sign of their mother, Yoana (Ana de la Reguera). Itan locates her at an Arizona detention center and convinces her estranged uncle Evencio to take them there. Itan’s and Neto’s efforts to stop their mother’s deportation will be hampered by a nightmarish bureaucracy and the dark side of human nature.
Muere, monstruo, muere
Rural police officer Cruz investigates the bizarre case of a headless woman’s body found in a remote region by the Andes Mountains. David, the husband of Cruz’s lover Francisca, becomes the prime suspect and is sent to a local mental hospital. David blames the crime to the inexplicable and brutal appearance of the “Monster.” Cruz stumbles on a mysterious theory involving geometric landscapes, mountain motorcyclists and a mantra stuck in his head: Murder Me, Monster.
Ariel is a young religious dressmaker who, after a failed sexual encounter, discovers a secret her family has tried to hide all of her life: she was born intersex but, after corrective surgery, raised as a girl. A decision is now on her horizon: she can either keep living as a socially accepted but oppressed woman or live her life as an intersexual person and face the judgement of society. Venezuelan director Patricia Ortega turns Being Impossible into a careful examination of the tricky territory that comes with figuring out one’s gender identity belatedly.
Read Remezcla’s review.
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.
This vibrant portrait of six troubled teenagers showcases the talents of a young charismatic cast as it explores the ongoing challenges of economic disparities, gentrification, displacement, and evictions faced through the lens of Latino and Afro-Latino American youth in South Houston. Matías is a bright teenager whose family struggles with harsh financial troubles. When he discovers “Los Ricos,” a wealthy family, are out of town, Matías breaks into their mansion where he and his friends spend an afternoon basking in the good life. The party is soon disrupted when a trouble-making relative shows up uninvited. Loyalties are pushed to the breaking point as Matías’s desire for power in the house rises.
La mala noche
Dana (Nöelle Schönwald), a smart and beautiful woman resorts to prostitution to make a living. She must deliver most of her income to a mafia boss, who protects and exploits her. She’s good at what she does, a job she landed by mistake, out of love. Perhaps, if she behaves well enough, she might get her freedom, but her daughter’s illness and addiction to a pharmaceutical drug will prevent her from reaching her goals. An unexpected incident will give her the opportunity to break free from her captor and seek justice with her own hands.
Belmonte (Gonzalo Delgado) is preparing for an upcoming exhibition of his work at Montevideo’s National Museum. His paintings are sensual, fantastical, and at times colorful, yet all have a melancholic undertone. A divorced dad, Belmonte has of late been more obsessed with his relationship with his young daughter, Celeste, than with his work, especially as Celeste’s mom is about to have a baby with her new partner.
Spanish director Icíar Bollaín (Even the Rain) and her partner Paul Laverty (Ken Loach’s longtime collaborator) try something completely different with this adaptation of acclaimed Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta’s autobiography. Yuli, the nickname given to Acosta by his father Pedro, runs wild in the streets of Havana where he participates in dance-offs with other kids. Recognizing Yuli’s natural talent, Pedro forces him to attend Cuba’s National Dance School. Yuli is reluctant at first, but is eventually seduced by this world. Seventeen years later, he would become the first black artist to dance the role of Romeo in the Royal Ballet in London. Combining a straightforward narrative with scenes where Acosta is seen working with his company on choreographies based on his life, Yuli is a moving fusion of dance, words and images.
Neri, a fisherman, splits his time between two women: his wife Juanita with whom he has a daughter and his lover Magdalena, mother of three additional children. Things are about to change for Neri as Juanita falls gravely ill and Magdalena prepares to take her place. Shot entirely in the beautiful beaches of Corralera in Oaxaca and featuring a cast of non-professional actors from the nearby communities, Black Mexicans — the first Mexican film about the Afro-mexican community — explores the social mores of and the discrimination faced by Mexico’s unacknowledged black community.
¿Eres tú, papá?
Riverón Sánchez’s atmospheric feature debut takes place in Cuba’s countryside where a mother and a daughter live in fear of the domineering Eduardo. He controls every aspect of their lives, imposing his rather conservative values on them. Even though his sudden death should set them free, they are so dependent on Eduardo that his daughter uses a black magic ritual to bring him back to life with disastrous consequences for all. What follows is an eerie and terrifying ghost story about what it means to ward off the influence of an abusive father and spouse.
It all began with the discovery, in 1999, of a diary with the names of 200 people disappeared by Guatemala’s military dictatorship. Three years later, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemned Guatemala for the massacre and disappearance of thousands of indigenous people and opponents to the regime. Commissioned and guided by some of the relatives of the disappeared, Claudio Zulian’s powerful documentary uses drawings, photographs and primary sources to honor the victims of a brutal, decades-long repression that claimed over 200,000 lives.
Rodrigo Triana, one of Colombia’s most prolific filmmakers, delivers a hilarious satire of such reality talent shows as The Voice and American Idol. Born with a silver spoon, Camilo discovers his passion for singing and pop music while studying abroad. It will be hard to convince his family that he wants to pursue a career in the music industry, though. So, he and a friend concoct a scheme: in order to audition in Colombia’s most popular talent reality show, Camilo will pretend to be blind and poor and hire a humble and charming family to pass off as his own family. But life is not a reality show.
The deeds of a professional musician who abandons his trumpet and family to live the clandestine life of an armed revolutionary for Puerto Rican independence. Filiberto follows the tragic tale of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos.
Maria de Medeiros (Pulp Fiction) plays Judith Ferreto, Frida Kahlo’s personal nurse during the famed Mexican artist’s final years. In Ishtar Yasin Gutiérrez’s surreal biopic, past and present, memory and the imagination meld in one continuous reverie, making for an elegiac take on the a Mexican icon. Frida and Judith’s paths crossed at a hospital in Mexico City in 1949. And even though they were complete opposites both women developed a symbiotic and complex relationship to the point where Judith’s life began to mirror Frida’s in every aspect. Joining Medeiros are the director herself as Frida, José Sefami as Diego Rivera, Luis de Tavira as Sigmund Freud and Mauricio Jiménez as Karl Marx.
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).