It’s Official: Argentina, Panama, and Guatemala Produced The Best Latin American Films Of 2015

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Awards season is always an exciting time for film fans, entertainment publications, gossip writers, celebrity watchers, and any number of professional and lifestyle niches. But for your average José, it might just seem like list after list of the same names and titles with minimal variation from one statuette to the next. But beyond all the red carpets, press conferences, and awards forecasts, most of these ceremonies are at there core an effort to recognize great achievements in cinematic art and, perhaps more importantly, celebrate the art form itself.

New York’s Cinema Tropical Awards came about six years ago with this very idea: that Latin American cinema also deserved an event that celebrated its vitality and diversity by recognizing each year’s most outstanding achievements. By now, the unpretentious undertaking is the longest-running awards ceremony for Latin American cinema in the world, and finds itself accompanied by other upstart projects doing similarly important work, like Mexico’s Premios Fénix.

This time around, as the jury sat down to make their selections, it was clear 2015 was a special year for Latin American film. With big showings for the region at Cannes, Berlin, Venice, and Rotterdam, it was only logical that features like Colombia’s El abrazo de la serpiente or Chile’s El Club would show up on the lists at name brand awards shows like The Golden Globes and The Academy Awards. But these honors still only show a small slice of the incredible work that came out of Nuestra Ámerica over this last year. Notably, countries like Guatemala and Paraguay made powerful cinematic statements despite their young and largely inactive film industries, while ‘up-and-comers’ like Colombia and Venezuela officially up-and-came with not one, but several productions picking up top prizes at the world’s most elite festivals.

Here’s the rundown of the big winners announced at last night’s Cinema Tropical Awards ceremony, held at the New York Times headquarters in Manhattan.

Best Latin American Film

Director: Lisandro Alonso
Country: Argentina

19th century Patagonia. A Danish engineer takes a job as with the Argentine army, but must cross into enemy territory when his teenaged daughter elopes with a soldier.

Best Latin American Documentary

Invasión (Invasion)
Abner Banaim
Country: Panama

A recuperation of collective memory surrounding the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama, which the U.S. carried out with the pretext of arresting then-president Manuel Noriega.

Best First Film

Ixcanul (Volcano)
Director: Jayro Bustamante
Country: Guatemala

María is a young Mayan woman who is promised to the coffee plantation foreman, despite her desire for a lowly coffee cutter named Pepe.

Best Director of a Fiction Film

Pablo Larraín
Film: El Club
Country: Chile

An isolated penitence center for pedophile Catholic priests is shaken by the sudden appearance of one of the resident’s victims.

Best Director of a Documentary Film

Betzabé García
Film: Los reyes del pueblo que no existe (Kings of Nowhere)
Country: Mexico

After being flooded by a government dam project, the town of San Marcos, Sinaloa, takes on an eerie desolation as a handful of remaining residents battle the encroachment of nature.

Best U.S. Latino Film

Mala Mala
Directors: Antonio Santini, Dan Sickles

A radiography of Puerto Rico’s trans community seen through the eyes of a diverse array of subjects.

Best U.S. Latino Film - Special Mention

The Book of Life
Director: Jorge Gutiérrez

A young man embarks upon a fantastic journey in which he must face his fears and ultimately decide whether to follow his heart, or his family’s wishes.