Film

From the Bronx on Fire to Skateboarding in Cuba: 10 Movies to See at the San Francisco Latino Film Festival

Lead Photo: Dira Paes and Julio Machado appear in Divine Love by Gabriel Mascaro, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Gabriel Mascaro.
Dira Paes and Julio Machado appear in Divine Love by Gabriel Mascaro, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Gabriel Mascaro.
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Labor Day has come and gone, which means that the fall festival season is now in full swing. In the coming weeks, whether you’re in Toronto, New York, Boston or San Francisco, you’ll get a chance to see some of the most critically acclaimed features of the year. As usual, this year’s Cine+Mas San Francisco Latino Film Festival is making sure Bay Area folks get a good look at films from and about U.S. Latinos and Latin Americans. With projects from Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and Argentina, there’s no shortage of amazing movies to check out in this annual fest.

Whether you want a religious-infused, sexually explicit dystopian allegory set in Brazil, a heartwarming political doc about a hotel maid turned councilwoman in Providence, Rhode Island, a touching same-sex love story from Guatemala or a thrilling docu-fiction feature about activists fighting against cruel detention centers in Florida, the San Francisco Latino Film Festival has you covered. Take a look at our top picks below. Oh, and don’t forget to take a look at its various shorts programs, the titles (“Working Women Shorts,” “LATINxUSA Narrative Shorts” and “El/Ella/They Queer Shorts”) of which already show you what kind of variety you’ll find therein.

Cine+Mas San Francisco Latino Film Festival runs September 20 to September 29, 2019. 

Councilwoman

Margo Guernsey

Politicians aren’t often full-time hotel housekeepers, grandmothers, union members and immigrants working service jobs. But Carmen Castillo changes that when she wins a seat on the City Council in Providence, Rhode Island. Castillo is a Dominican City Councilwoman, who maintains her job cleaning hotel rooms, as she takes on her new role in politics. She faces skeptics who say she doesn’t have the education to govern, the power of corporate interests who take a stand against her fight for a $15/hourly wage in the city and a tough reelection against two contenders — all of this while balancing the challenges of managing a full-time job cleaning hotel rooms and a personal relationship. It’s a journey behind the scenes of politics after the victory.

Puerto Rico, United States
Documentary
Margo Guernsey, Patricia Benabe
2018
57

Divino amor

Gabriel Mascaro

In the Brazil of 2027, where raves celebrate God’s love and drive-through spiritual-advice booths have become the norm, Joana holds her faith and relationship with God in the highest regard. She uses her job as a notary to carefully goad divorcing couples into reconsidering their split, and she takes comfort in an unusual religious collective that helps keep her own marriage in check. Though she and her husband have struggled to conceive, their efforts to produce a child will eventually bring Joana closer to God than she had ever expected. Through an arresting visual style and vibrant, neospiritual imagery, award-winning director Gabriel Mascaro (Neon Bull, August Winds) draws us into a not-so-distant future where religion has seeped into the texture of daily life, laying bare the subtle hypocrisies that linger at its core.

Denmark, Norway, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil
Drama
Esdras Bezerra, Rachel Daisy Ellis, Lucas Paraizo, Gabriel Mascaro
Rachel Daisy Ellis
2019
101

The Infiltrators

Cristina Ibarra, Alex Rivera

Without warning, Claudio Rojas is detained by ICE officials outside his Florida home. He is transferred to the Broward Transitional Center, a detention facility used as a holding space for imminent deportations. Terrified of never seeing him again, Claudio’s family contacts the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), a group of activist Dreamers known for stopping deportations. Believing that no one is free as long as one is in detention, NIYA enlists Marco Saavedra to self-deport in hopes of gaining access to the detention center and impeding Claudio’s expulsion. Once inside, Saavedra discovers a complex for-profit institution housing hundreds of multinational immigrants, all imprisoned without trial. Based on true events, The Infiltrators is both a suspenseful account of a high-stakes mission and an emotionally charged portrait of visionary youth fighting for their community.

United States
Crime, Drama
Aldo Velasco, Alex Rivera
Cristina Ibarra, Daniel J. Chalfen, Darren Dean
2019
93

Sea of Shadows

Richard Ladkani

The Sea of Cortez is facing total collapse because of a war at sea. Mexican drug cartels have discovered the “cocaine of the sea,” a valuable fish called the totoaba—which is at the center of a multimillion-dollar business with the Chinese Mafia. To find the fish, these cartels are destroying the ecosystem with illegal gill nets and, in doing so, are killing the Earth’s smallest whale—the vaquita. Local fishermen, caught between the tight grip of the cartel and fighting to protect their livelihood, find themselves in a desperate dance for survival. A dramatic documentary thriller, Sea of Shadows follows undercover investigators, environmentalists, journalists, and the Mexican navy in their furious, last-minute efforts to rescue the vaquita from extinction and uncover this expansive black-market ring.

Austria
Walter Köhler, Wolfgang Knöpfler
2018
105

José

Li Cheng

José is a 19-year-old who lives with his mother in Guatemala, one of the world’s most dangerous, religious, and impoverished countries. He spends his days on crowded buses and delivering food on the streets. Resigned to his fate, he plays with his cellphone during free time, goes on dating apps, and hooks up in street corners. When he meets Luis, he is thrust into a dimension of passion, pain, and self-reflection.

Guatemala
Drama
Li Cheng
2018
85

Yuli

Icíar Bollaín

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.

United Kingdom, Germany, Cuba, Spain
Biopic, Music, Drama
Paul Laverty
Andrea Calderwood, Juan Gordon
2018
104

Decade of Fire

Vivian Vazquez, Gretchen Hildebran

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.

United States
Documentary
Julia Steele Allen, Neyda Martinez
2018
72

Amigo Skate, Cuba

Vanesa Wilkey-Escobar

Skateboarding is as much a passion as a leisure activity—but to skate in Cuba requires a level of ardor, we Americans know nothing about. Vanesa Wilkey-Escobar’s debut documentary tracks a transnational effort led by Miami’s own Rene Lecour, founder of Amigo Skate, to get Cuban skaters the gear and space they need. The journey is uphill: the only current skate-park in Havana is built on a drainage ditch and the Cuban government is reluctant to recognize skateboarding—an American invention—as a valid sport. What’s more, negotiating with government officials demands a demonstrative respect for authority that can feel antithetical to those whose credo is founded in skate culture’s outlaw mentality. Filled with thrilling sequences of skate virtuosity, Amigo Skate, Cuba presents a fascinating case of cooperation overcoming culture clash—and a universal portrait of freedom on four little wheels.

United States
Documentary
Vanesa Wilkey-Escobar
Chris Wedding and Vanesa Wilkey- Escobar
2018
72

Carlos Almaraz: Playing With Fire

Elsa Flores Almaraz, Richard Montoya

This stunning documentary explores the brief, rich, and contradictory life of the artist Carlos Almaraz: a Chicano activist, sexual outlaw, and visionary painter whose images of his longtime home of Los Angeles are as iconic as those of David Hockney and Edward Ruscha. Almaraz was just 48 when he died of complications of AIDS, but he packed many lifetimes of accomplishments into those intense years. In the 1960s, Almaraz lost himself in New York, exploring the outer limits of his homoerotic desires and nearly drinking himself to death. After returning to L.A. in the 1970s, he reinvented himself as an activist Chicano artist, working alongside Cesar Chavez and joining the heralded artist collective Los Four. In his final transformation, as a married man and father, Almaraz turned to more personal, visionary art; his canvases exploded with color and a near mystical energy. Playing With Fire is an intimate portrait that pays tribute to Almaraz’s genius without glossing over his demons and contradictions.

United States
Richard Montoya
Mark Roberts
2018
71

Los días de la ballena

Catalina Arroyave Restrepo

Cristina and Simon are two young graffiti artists who paint the city that they live in. Their restless spirit leads them to defy a criminal gang when they decide to paint the mural of a whale over a threat written in a wall. The love that unites them, their friendship with other artists at La selva, an old house they use as a refuge, and familiar tensions, come together to tell a story where the powerful strength of youth faces fear, violence and the difficulties of growing up.

Colombia
Drama
Catalina Arroyave Restrepo
Jaime Guerrero Naudin, Natalia Agudelo, Nicolás Herreño
2019
80