Over the course of nine days, starting on September 19, the sixth annual Cine+Mas San Francisco Latino Film Festival will offer Bay Area audiences an eclectic selection of 42 films from the United States, Latin America, and Spain — feature-length and short, narrative and documentary. The program samples the pulse of Latino film, at home and abroad. And this year it contains a strong Califas component, with three feature-length films ‘hechos en California’ being shown.
As an audience committed to uplifting our own, it is imperative that we attend the screenings and support the production of Latino film — enjoy the stories, the laughter, the tears, and the emotions provided by this eclectic selection of films. With our backing, maybe next year we can even have ‘más y mejor.’ Here are our top picks from the robust program of the 2014 edition.
La jaula de oro
Director: Diego Quemada-Díez
Country: México, Spain
Hundreds of people fleeing poverty in Central America perched on top of a train travel across Mexico, where they are subject to harassment by authorities, hustlers and thugs. For those who saw Sin nombre (2009), the film by Bay Area’s Cary Fukunaga on the same subject, La jaula de oro has a grittier look and feel — muted, with less artifice.
It is a masterpiece; a very well rounded film that follows, from beginning to end and in detail, the precarious journey of three teenagers who leave Guatemala to come to the USA. Harsh and emotional, it concentrates on the feelings of helplessness, jealousy at times, and overall camaraderie that springs up between them.
Director: Carlos Lechuga
Life at a standstill. With the slow cadence of a rocking sugarcane kissed by the breeze, Melaza (molasses) takes place in a small Cuban town that suffers from the restructuring of the sugar industry in 2011. This engaging and elegant film is a slice of life that depicts the human drama that a family goes through in an environment of scarcity. Mónica lives with her daughter, her disabled mother, and her boyfriend Aldo. When the couple wants to have sex, they have to go to the sugar factory where Mónica works to have some intimacy. A simple and sober first film by young Cuban, Carlos Lechuga, from a country with a long cinematic tradition.
Roque Dalton ¡Fusilemos la noche!
Director: Tina Leisch
Country: Austria/Cuba/El Salvador
Leisch travelled from Austria to El Salvador with the internationalist solidarity movement during the civil war (1980-1992). She noticed slogans graffitied on university walls; they were Roque Dalton’s poems. So, she decided to make a film about him. The documentary portrays the history and legacy of Roque Dalton (1935–1975) the human being, the avant-garde poet, and the political activist — from when he was imprisoned for the first time at age 24, through his exile in Cuba, Czechoslovakia and Austria, until his death at 30.
Dalton was killed by his own compañeros during turbulent times in Latin America in which espionage, counter-intelligence, and foreign interference prevailed. The film presents statements from family, friends, and Dalton’s compañeros who, for the first time, talk openly and in great detail about his murder. This well-crafted documentary, delivered with its wit and originality, is significant in its contribution to the historical memory of El Salvador. It should heal wounds and redress the historical and political maturity of a country in the process of overcoming trauma.
Director: Aaref Rodriguez
Amongst the ‘películas hechas en California’ this one stands out as a heartfelt and carefully executed first movie by Aaref Rodriguez, a South Sacramento native. Based on the life experiences of the actors Rene Arreola and Israel Montano, the film follows Saul Sanchez as he returns home to the Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood of Highland Park — also known as The Avenues — after serving ten years in prison. He fights back against the “once a crooked tree, always a crooked tree” paradigm.
Shot in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Sacramento, Folsom, and Madera by a crew of five over a period of eight weekends, the film brandishes sparse dialogues, an austere soundtrack, solid performances, a polished cinematography, and an overall intimate tone.
Future filmmakers begin their careers with shorts, a challenging format that calls for a simple idea presented in a very compact manner and in a very short period of time. Among the thirteen shorts presented by the festival, two of them stand out for the marvelous direction of their actors that deliver captivating and subtle performances.
Alma y Esperanza
Director: Itandehui Jansen
Country: México, Netherlands
In Alma y Esperanza, a ten-year old girl living in the United States loses her mother and travels to the mountains of Noxichtlá, Oaxaca, México, to meet her 75 year-old grandmother. The girl and her grandmother have never met before, have no common language, and communicate without words. Jansen made this short as part of her studies at Leiden University, in the Netherlands.
Director: Alexandra Latishev
Country: Costa Rica
Irene portrays the life of a single mother who works at a photocopy shop and is unsatisfied with her life as a result of the emotional blackmail her mother submits her to. Latishev made this short as part of her studies at the promising new film and television school at Universidad Veritas in San José de Costa Rica in Central America.