From Peruvian Thrillers to Cuban Rom-Coms: 15 Must-See Movies at San Francisco Latino Film Festival

Lead Photo: 'El techo' still courtesy of Miami Film Festival
'El techo' still courtesy of Miami Film Festival
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With a poster featuring an image of racial unity and cross-cultural empowerment, this year’s Cine+Mas: San Francisco Latino Film Festival is clearly aiming to present timely on screen stories about the Latino experience. True to that mission, its opening film – the punny title, Ruta Madre – will take audiences on a cross-country trek from San Diego through Baja and into Mexico where a young Mexican-American will try and get over his recent heartbreak by learning more about his heritage. The weeks-long festival is truly a celebration of the strong filmmaking work coming from all across the Americas. It’s why they’ll be screening movies from Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, Honduras, and Nicaragua, among others.

In addition to that wide selection of projects, Cine+Mas partnered with the San Francisco Public Library to present a special series examining the women of the golden era who made significant contributions to the silver screen. The one-day screening series – which will be free to the public – will feature the spooky Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost, starring Lupe Velez, the Western High Noon which stars Katy Jurado, and the legendary Maria Felix vehicle Doña Diabla/Lady Devil. 

With director Q&As throughout and plenty of programs like “¡Viva Mexico!”, “Caribbean Cruise!” and “Music in Film,” the fest truly has something for everyone. We know you won’t be able to catch everything on offer so we’ve singled out 15 flicks – from Peruvian marital thrillers to Cuban rom-coms – to keep an eye out for. Check out our list of highlights below.

Cine+Mas: San Francisco Latino Film Fest runs Sept 15 – 30, 2017


La soledad

Jorge Thielen Armand

Imagined as a poetic metaphor for Venezuela’s current socio-political crisis, director Jorge Thielen Armand set La soledad in his grandparents’ old home which was then inhabited by their lifelong maid and grandson (who play themselves in the film). As young José learns that the nature-riddled and near-dilapidated house will be demolished, he sets out to find the treasure legend tells has been buried in the estate. He sees it as his last chance at providing for his grandmother and getting them out of their squatting situation. But he’ll soon find this get rich quick scheme may not be the best way out of the poverty he’s come to know. Mixing fiction with documentary flair, La soledad is a timely indictment of the inequality that’s run rampant in Venezuela.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Rodrigo Michelangeli, Jorge Thielen Armand
Manon Ardisson


Ó Paí, Ó

Monique Gardenberg

It is the last day of the most famous carnival in the world and a group of residents of Pelourinho, the historical center of Salvador, Bahia, living in a run-down tenement house are ready to have fun. They may not have the means, but that won’t stop them from embracing the vibrancy of Brazil’s carnival. Starring Narcos‘ Wagner Moura and a star turn by Lázaro Ramos (who went on to reprise his role of Roque in Globo’s television spinoff), Ó Paí, Ó is a colorful and music-infused celebration of life among fabulous friends.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Music, Comedy
Monique Gardenberg
Paula Lavigne, Sara Silveira


Raising Zoey

Dante Alencastre

Raising Zoey depicts an eventful year in the life of transgender 13 year old girl, Zoey Luna, her mom, Ofelia and her older sister, Letty.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
United States
Dante Alencastre, John Johnston


El techo

Patricia Ramos

A pizzeria may seem a modest venture, but for the three enterprising habaneros at the center of Cuban filmmaker Patricia Ramos’ winsome feature debut, success in the pizza business holds the promise of prosperity, purpose and, just maybe, love and happiness. A deliciously off-beat romantic comedy, On the Roof offers an impeccable balance of colloquial charm and universal appeal. Ramos and her excellent cast have crafted highly relatable characters with varying degrees of ambition, ingenuity and quirk. Some current Cuban films seek to correct sweeping social ailments; by contrast, Ramos and her collaborators understand that sometimes the world is changed one dream at a time

Nicaragua, Cuba
Romantic Comedy
Patricia Ramos
Humberto Jiménez Penha



Ricardo Aguilar Navarro, Manolito Rodriguez

When his father, a famed boxer, is sentenced to jail, Andres’s family decide that it’s best to ship off the young boy to Washington where he’ll have a chance to have a better life. But ten years later, when he returns to Panama to mourn his grandfather, Andres’s life (and his relationship with his father, family, and childhood sweetheart) will upend everything he had established for himself abroad. Named after a fictional run-down neighborhood in Panama City that all but tells you to get out while you can, Salsipuedes is at once a celebration of the resilience of Panamanians and an indictment of the status quo which keeps people in lower class barrios from the presumed economic boon the country so exults.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Manolito Rodriguez
Ricardo Aguilar Navarro


Sin muertos no hay carnaval

Sebastían Cordero

Looking at the social tensions in Guayaquil, Sebastián Cordero crafts this unflinching drama about the conflict between a wealthy young man and the 250 families who are squatting in the territory he’s just inherited from his father. Aiming for a sleek thriller aesthetic rooted in the broken down neighborhoods of Guayaquil, Cordero’s film reveals the violence and corruption that unfortunately echoes what the film’s English title promises us: “Such is the life in the Tropics.”

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Ecuador, Germany, Mexico
Sebastián Cordero, Andrés Crespo
Sebastián Cordero, Arturo Yepez, Bertha Navarro


La Habitación

Alejandro Valle, Iván Ávila Dueñas, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Carlos Bolado, Alfonso Pineda Ulloa, Natalia Beristáin, Carlos Carrera, Ernesto Contreras

Can a room tell the history of a country? That’s the premise behind this anthology film. Directed by 8 different filmmakers, including Natalia Beristáin, Carlos Carrera and Alfonso Pineda Ulloa, Tales of Mexico offers vignettes set in key moments of the country’s 20th Century history—the Ten Tragic Days of the Mexican Revolution, the anti-Chinese campaign, the Tlatelolco Massacre, and the 1985 Earthquake. Together they weave together a painfully personal tapestry of the impact national events have on the everyday lives of its population.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt

Poland, Mexico
Anthology, Drama
Maria Diego Hernandez
Marta Habior, Marta Lewandowska, Luis Salinas, Edher Campos


Voices Beyond the Wall: Twelve Poems from the Murder Capital of the World

Brad Coley

Over the last quarter-century, in a bunker-like building in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, 70 girls ranging in age from one to 18 have found refuge from poverty and violence. Our Little Roses is Honduras’ only orphanage for girls. Its charges are looked after by a devoted staff who supply food, shelter, medical attention and nurturing care. The debut documentary from filmmaker Brad Coley is a moving, eye-opening tribute to the courageous work performed at Our Little Roses. Voices Beyond the Wall tracks the long and difficult process of recovering from trauma, healing deep wounds, and preparing for a better future.

Cassidy Friedman



Jose Maria Cabral

Tall, dark, and handsome, Julián steps off a bus, hands over his clothes, gets his long curly locks chopped off, and becomes fresh meat walking inside the Najayo Prison in the Dominican Republic. He locates his cellblock underneath the moist corner where the Woodpeckers perch. Woodpeckers—prisoners who romance ladies incarcerated at the women’s prison 150 meters across the way—spend their days in affectionate conversation with their lovers through sign language. When Julián encounters Yanelly, a gorgeous spitfire of a woman, he finds love in the last place he imagined. Now he must find a way, through cement, barbed wire, dozens of guards, and murderous exes to win Yanelly’s love, all the while keeping it secret.

Dominican Republic
Jose Maria Cabral
Maria Jose Ripoll, Jose Maria Cabral


Visitor’s Day

Nicole Opper

Visitor’s Day is an observational documentary centered on Juan Carlos. At sixteen, the young man had already escaped an abusive home and lived in the streets of Mexico City before having found himself at IPODERAC. Founded in Puebla, the unique group home fosters a positive sense of community where everyone involved helps in the enterprise’s production of artisanal goat cheese. Learning the ropes of his newfound home, we slowly see Juan Carlos coming to terms with his new life. Will the upcoming visitor’s day disrupt his progress?

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
United States
Manuel Adrian Tsingaris, Carlo Corea


Ruta Madre

Agustin Castaneda

After his first love breaks his heart, a young American singer reluctantly leaves his home in San Diego, California and embarks on an epic road trip through Baja with his uncle in order to reconnect with his Mexican roots. A dusty-streaked road trip/odd couple film, Ruta Madre is full of over-the-top characters including a soothsaying bruja, bizarre scenarios that end up involving a burro, and even a lovers spat that reveals a pair of boxer briefs with the word “VIVA” written on them.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Mexico, United States
Comedy, Drama
Joey Molina, Agustin Castaneda
Javier Bertran, Jeros Bertran


El sueño del Mara’akame

Federico Cecchetti

Nieri is a young Huichol (indigenous Mexican) in the country, whose dream is travel with his rock band to play a concert in Mexico City. But his father, a shaman, wants to start him on his path to becoming a spiritual healer. He must find the Blue Deer in his dreams. What does this mean?

Federico Cecchetti
Masha Kostiurina


Últimos días en La Habana

Fernando Pérez

Miguel and Diego are friends sharing an apartment in Central Havana. Miguel – a dishwasher at a restaurant, who dreams of leaving Cuba for New York is waiting for his exit visa – and Diego, a gay man afflicted by AIDS who dreams and cheerfulness to good use in his struggle to carry on enjoying every single day of his life from a rickety old bed in his small bedroom. This peculiar pair are surrounded by characters from all walks of life.

Cuba, Spain
Comedy, Drama
Abel Rodríguez, Fernando Pérez
Danilo León, José María Morales


Trails of Hope and Terror

Vincent De La Torre

Based on a book of the same title, Trails of Hope and Terror attempts to answer why we, in the United States, have an immigration dilemma along our southern border. Filmmakers traveled to the US/Mexico to walk the desert and interview humanitarian groups, social workers, legal professionals, the undocumented, and anti-immigration protesters. The film explores the historical and economic reasons for the current immigration crisis and how politicians have used this issue to garner votes.

Mexico, United States
Miguel A. De La Torre
Deborah De La Torre


La última tarde

Joel Calero

Laura was a young woman from Lima’s upper class who met Ramon, an idealistic university student, in Cusco. Today they meet again to sign their divorce papers. Nothing, not even the past, will be safe this day.

Peru, Colombia
Thriller, Drama