It’s Official: Brazil, Mexico, and DR Produced the Best Latin American Films of 2016

Lead Photo: 'Boi Neon' ('Neon Bull')
'Boi Neon' ('Neon Bull')
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Another edition of New York’s Cinema Tropical Awards has wrapped, and the verdict is officially in on yet another year of outstanding Latin American and US Latino films. Of course, we’ve already witnessed a litany of festivals and awards ceremonies over the past year, and many of this year’s nominees have taken home armfuls of statuettes; but there’s something decidedly refreshing about this unpretentious celebration of Latin American moviemaking in the beating heart of the Big Apple.

Perhaps it’s because the Cinema Tropical Awards is free of all the industry politics and celebrity spectacle of other ceremonies, or perhaps it’s because the Cinema Tropical Awards isn’t so much about winners and losers as it is about the region’s ever-increasing diversity, quality, and thematic depth. That may be why this year’s winners by and large flew under the radar of the awards circuit, with low-key dramas like Gabriel Mascaro’s Boi Neon (Neon Bull) winning out over Oscar-nominated critical darlings like El abrazo de la serpiente (Embrace of the Serpent), or Nelson Carlo de los Santos’ Santa Teresa y otras historias (Santa Teresa and Other Stories) beating out the Cannes-winning Land and Shade (La tierra y la sombra).

Of course, you’re free to disagree with the judges’ decisions, but at the very least they’ve put the spotlight on a number of films that haven’t had the high profile clout they may have deserved. And, as always, if you haven’t caught all of the big winners yet, Cinema Tropical will be following up with a series of screenings at New York City’s Museum of the Moving Image shortly.

Here’s a rundown of the results.

Best Feature Film

Neon Bull (Boi Neon)
Director: Gabriel Mascaro
Country: Brazil

Iremar is a skilled vaqueiro living in Brazil’s Northeast. Together with his makeshift family of rodeo workers, Iremar travels from show to show, sleeping in the back of a truck as he dreams of becoming a fashion designer.

Best Feature Documentary

‘Tempestad’ Courtesy of Claudia Tomasinni

Director: Tatiana Huezo
Country: Mexico

Several years ago, Tatiana Huezo received a box full of poems from a childhood friend who had been imprisoned for nearly a year in a violent Matamoros prison; a victim of a corrupt system that arrested her on charges of human trafficking with no evidence.

Best First Film

Santa Teresa and Other Stories (Santa Teresa y otras historias)
Director: Nelson Carlos de los Santos
Country: Dominican Republic/Mexico

Vignettes from a fictional Mexican town contrast images of beauty with a sense of encroaching violence. A heterogeneous tapestry of stories inspired by Roberto Bolaños’ epic novel 2666.

Best Director, Feature Film

Photo: Víctor Mendiola

Arturo Ripstein
Film: Bleak Street (La calle de la amargura)
Country: Mexico

Two aging prostitutes are solicited by twin dwarf wrestlers celebrating a recent victory on the town, and decide to drug them and rob them of their winnings. When things go awry, the prostitutes find themselves on the wrong end of a murder investigation and must go into hiding.

Best Director, Documentary Film

Maya Goded
Film: Plaza de la Soledad
Country: Mexico

A window into lives of five Mexico City sex workers who embody the human complexity of the sex trade in a world where men still set the terms. Ranging in age from 50 to 80 years old, these women show tremendous resilience and character despite the very real toll of their job, yet still yearn for companionship and security.

Best U.S. Latino Film

Jacqueline (Argentine)
Director: Bernardo Britto

In this twisted mockumentary, an experimental filmmaker from the US is called to a Argentina by a would-be French whistleblower claiming to have information on an impending assassination.

Special Mention, U.S. Latino Film

Los Sures
Director: Diego Echevarría

A 1984 documentary about the challenges residents faced living in the South Williamsburg, Brooklyn neighborhood known as Los Sures. Director Diego Echeverría celebrates the Puerto Rican and Dominican community where drugs, gangs, crime, and racial tension were on some of the problems in everyday life.