If you’re a college student, you may have heard of Kanopy. It’s a streaming service used by more than 2,000 universities across the country and contains tens of thousands of films in its catalog. Offerings include titles from the Criterion Collection, cult directors like David Lynch, and classics starring Charlie Chaplin. If you dig even deeper you’ll find contemporary world cinema and American indies.
The San Francisco-based company recently announced the expansion of its platform into public libraries. Los Angeles and New York are already on board with the service. Check on Kanopy.com to see if your local library is plugged in. All you need is your library card number to get free access to Kanopy’s 30,000 movie titles.
For those who already signed up and are all set to stream, here are just a few of our top picks (40 of them, to be exact) from the more than 500 Latino and Latin American films available to stream for free.
Los Punks: We Are All We Have
Los Punks is an intimate look at the punk scene in South Central and East Los Angeles. Wanting to go beyond the preconceived notions you may have of punk (that it’s loud, chaotic, violent, etc.) Angela Boatwright thrusts you deep into the backyard gigs that attract mostly Latino crowds and which are keeping the punk scene alive. You’ll see the crazy hairstyles, the outrageous outfits, the makeshift stages, but more importantly, you’ll see the essence of punk. Her images contrast the energetic and seemingly rage-filled performances with a vision of the community that the music creates. As one punk rocker in the film who admits his band is the thing that’s kept him from committing suicide, “punk rock is about persevering rather than giving up.”
Junior is a young boy whose outward appearance just doesn’t match up with what he feels inside. He fervently hopes for “pelo bueno” instead of “pelo malo”– for him this means elusively straight, free flowing locks that he can only achieve by applying enormous amounts of effort and sometimes oil or mayonnaise to his naturally curly, kinky hair. As the darker-skinned older boy of his mother’s two children, it’s not just his more African features but also his more effeminate ways that make him the brunt of her anger. However, his grandmother understands and even encourages young Junior’s differences. She helps him blow out his hair and encourages him to sing and dance along to saucy 60s tunes.
Director Gregory Nava made movie history when his 1983 film El Norte became the first American independent picture to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay (Places in the Heart won that year). The film, which would be selected only 10 years later for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, told the three-part story of two Guatemalan immigrants, a brother and sister, who travel north through Mexico in hopes of reaching Los Angeles to start a new life. In the first part of the film, the siblings, Rosa and Enrique (Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez and Ernesto Gómez Cruz), escape Guatemala after their father is killed by government troops and their mother disappears. In the second part, Rosa and Enrique try to cross the Mexican border with the help of a coyote. In the final chapter, the duo makes it to the U.S but find that life is more difficult that what they had expected, especially since they are undocumented. One of most powerful quotes of the film comes when Rosa says, “In our own land, we have no home. They want to kill us. … In Mexico, there is only poverty. We can’t make a home there either. And here in the north, we aren’t accepted. When will we find a home, Enrique? Maybe when we die, we’ll find a home.”
Filmed on the Mar de Plata coastline, XXY shows an unpredictably wild but gorgeous seaside where Alex’s father works to protect and rescue sea turtles endangered by the area’s fishing industry. Kraken seems to feel his primary role is protector especially when it comes to his child Alex, a secretive and aggressive wild child who provokes Álvaro another young teen who has come to visit along with his family but both kids, each feeling themselves misfits, end up developing an intense connection. Eventually we learn that Alex, an intersex child, is beginning to go through puberty and is grappling with her (so far she’s been raised as a girl) sexuality. Fed up with hormone pills and forcing her complex body into a strictly female form. Alex, or at least her mother, is looking into whether Alex will undergo gender reassignment surgery. Then they discover that the head of the family staying with them is a renowned plastic surgeon specializing in sex changes. Fluid camera work filled with shots of window frames, mirrors, and reflections emphasizes the story’s doubling, narrowness of view, and constant thinking about fixed ideas and viewpoints of themselves, of others, and of how others might perceive them.
Black in Latin America
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a Harvard professor, an expert in African and African-American history, and the host of Black in Latin America. Gates has taken his knowledge of African history and racial dynamics in the U.S. and focused his attention on the rest of the Americas in this four-part PBS documentary series. He uncovers the hidden history that most Americans, African-Americans, and even Latinos don’t know about. In the series, Gates teaches us that that more than 11 million africanos were taken to Latin America as slaves. That is 25 times the number sent to the United States. He visits Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru. He discovers the similarities in religion, food, and music – tracing their common origin to Africa.
Leidy, Fina and Clara have all left their children behind, under the care of their family members, to be able to take jobs taking care of other people’s children. Looking at the lives of live-in nannies, and the motherly connections that are created in their wake, Nana offers a touching portrayal of the expansive notion of “motherhood.”
Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America
When Moises Serrano was a baby, his parents risked everything to flee Mexico in search of the American Dream. Growing up in the rural South as an undocumented gay man, forbidden to live and love in the country he calls home, Serrano sees only one option — to fight for justice and equality. Driven by a deep love for his family, who have come to accept being treated as invisible, Moises seeks to change the world.
Like a fairy tale (not the Disney sticky sweet kind but like the Brothers Grimm) where a path of magical things unfolds for its characters but also unfailing leads toward a really wacked out, disturbing ending Machuca’s story unfolds in Allende-era Chile. If you have even the slightest grasp of Latin American history, you know what happens next is not good. But for now, the promise of Allende’s inclusive, socialist government has made the impossible possible: a friendship between two young boys from vastly different circumstances happens because Pedro Machuca, the kid from the wrong side of the tracks, has won a scholarship to upper middle-class Gonzalo’s private school. Harassed in the private school by day Machuca and Gonzalo bond. Machuca shows sheltered Gonzalo what life’s like on the other side of the tracks in Santiago. Machuca also shares his friendship with tough girl Silvana and the three make a tight circle doing things any kids their age would do and forming tight bonds across class and race lines. But as we sadly know the coup to come and Pinochet will not let this everyday magic last much longer…
This two-part special examines the many roots of the Latino dropout crisis through the eyes of six inspiring young students who are part of an ongoing effort to increase graduation rates for a growing Latino population.
The third film in a trilogy about Guatemala, this installment explores the sweeping historical significance of the war crimes trial of General Ríos Montt and the toppling of corrupt president Otto Pérez Molina. Pamela Yates gracefully engages the indigenous Mayan population who experienced genocide at the hands of a long-standing repressive government. Silenced family members and eyewitnesses come forward to share their individual stories with the desire that their underreported, horrific treatment receive the attention it deserves. Spoken in Spanish and native Mayan languages, 500 Years delicately weaves archival footage with new interviews and emotional courtroom scenes to shine light on a growing movement to fend off the systematic aggression toward an underrepresented people. Focusing on the recent events of a country that has suffered for generations at the hands of a ruling elite, the film hails the nation’s citizens banding together on a quest for justice – and emerging as a beacon of hope.
When Two Worlds Collide
In this tense and immersive tour de force, audiences are taken directly into the line of fire between powerful, opposing Peruvian leaders who will stop at nothing to keep their respective goals intact. On the one side is President Alan Garcia, who, eager to enter the world stage, begins aggressively extracting oil, minerals and gas from untouched Indigenous Amazonian land. He is quickly met with fierce opposition from Indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, whose impassioned speeches against Garcia’s destructive actions prove a powerful rallying cry to throngs of his supporters. When Garcia continues to ignore their pleas, a tense war of words erupts into deadly violence.
Las vacas con gafas
Cows Wearing Glasses follows Marcelino (Daniel Lugo), a painter and art professor who has recently been informed that he’s suffering from a disease that will leave him blind. Forced to look at his life anew, he embarks on a journey towards redemption as he rethinks his relationship with his daughter and plunges into a world that is slowly receding from view.
Mexico is the setting for Reygada’s 2007 film, but chances are slim you’d guess that just by watching it. The language spoken 99% of the time is low German (what, you didn’t know about high and low German?) and it is only when a tow truck driver shows up near the end of the film that you finally hear a bit of Spanish spoken. “Mi nombre es Juan,” explains Johan, a member of a Mennonite community that makes its home in Northern Mexico and has its own closed community of blonde haired, blue-eyed inhabitants. Living simply and austerely, Johan and his wife Esther seem fine enough in their simple life of hard farm work and lots of hustle around the house full of lots of kids. And in that respect their lives seem no different from the lives of many rural Mexican families in Mexico. But the Mennonites adhere to a strict set of moral and community rules, and Johan has broken them in a major way. He’s fallen for Marianne, a woman at the local café with a face like a Picasso portrait. Johan’s morals and passion are fighting a quiet war inside him and he’s told his wife the truth about what’s going on feeling terrible about the torment that he’s causing her. With Reygada’s signature long takes that drink in the gorgeous countryside and let the quiet of the environment be and the undercurrent of devotion, passion and torment that pulses throughout, the film has the feel of Wim Wenders Paris, Texas. Like that title, which plays with locations, dreams and expectations, you’ve probably never seen a better Mexican, German film.
East Side Sushi
The cutthroat world of the sushi kitchen is an unforgiving cauldron where failure is not an option. Struggling single mom Juana has the mettle to mix with the toughest, but faces discrimination over her gender and background. Will she be given the opportunity to prove her worth? It’s a well-worn narrative path that gets a new lease of life thanks to the performances of Diana Torres and Yutaka Takeuchi in the Daniel and Mr. Miyagi roles. Equal parts social commentary and guilty food porn secret, this against-the-odds tale of determination and courage gobbled up awards like they were salmon futomaki on the festival circuit. There’s only one thing you’ll be having for dinner once the credits roll.
Somos Mari Pepa
Rock ‘n’ roll is hard when your band only has one song. Especially when you’re too busy trying to pop your cherry to write the second one you need for the local Battle of the Bands contest. Alex’s split priorities alienate his bandmates, who one by one drop out of Guadalajaran garage-punk outfit Mari Pepa (named in honor of marijuana and female genitalia). To make matters worse for 16-year-old Alex, his grandma is getting no younger and is becoming increasingly reliant on her Cobain-aspiring grandson. This coming-of-age tale, a big hit on the 2013 festival circuit for its quirky homemade style and heartening performances, is a nostalgic salute to the end of an era when all of life’s tribulations can be eliminated simply by turning it up to eleven.
In this romantic drama, free-spirited Luciana and Pedro meet at a party. They don’t believe in traditional relationships or commitments, but they immediately give in to their intense chemistry; the only thing they abstain from is learning each other’s names and backgrounds. The film’s black-and-white format sits in stark contrast to the varying shades of their passion. When the pair takes a spontaneous trip to the to the gorgeous Rincón de la Vieja National Park together, we watch them go through a process of self-discovery as their relationship develops and frays.
Rosenfeld’s film focuses on the most earnest of dreams a Brazilian young man: that of becoming a professional soccer player. Junior (Ariclenes Barroso) works nights at a warehouse alongside his friend Bento (Sergio Malheiros), and despite Junior’s training, he’s devastated when it is his talented friend who’s signed to a professional team. This, coupled with the news that his girlfriend is pregnant, make Aspirantes a film about dashed dreams and grim realities.
Willie Velasquez: Your Vote is Your Voice
“For decades Latinos in America had no political power.” That’s the line with which Hector Galán opens his documentary on Willie Velasquez, one of the greatest advocates for US Latino voter registration of the 20th century. Tracing his rise from a butcher’s son born in the 1940s to an admired political activist in the civil rights era, the PBS-produced Willie Velasquez – Your Vote is Your Voice is a history lesson on the Latino electorate in the twentieth century.
Brothers Tomás (Sebastián Aguirre) and Fede aka Sombra (Tenoch Huerta) are desperately seeking famed singer Epigmenio Cruz in this road movie/coming-of-age tale hybrid. The 1999 UNAM strike provides historical context and some drama, but this is mostly a story of a “lost generation”: Sombra and his friends consider joining the protests for lack of anything else to do, and Tomás clings to a cassette tape and his past. When they hit the road to track down the aforementioned music legend, hilarity and edification ensue. A seminal work of twenty-first century Mexican cinema, Alonso Ruizpalacios’ debut feature bristles with an electricity of the very youth it’s portraying, managing to create a colorful portrait even as its cinematography is in black and white.
Dólares de arena
The Dominican feature Dólares de arena (Sand Dollars), by husband-wife directing duo Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas, features none other than Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie and a brilliant actress in her own right) as an elderly French tourist who falls in love with a young Dominican woman and makes plans to move her back to France. Not your typical story of tropical romance told through the eyes of a white foreigner, this film is equally interested in exploring the predicament of the young Dominican woman, played by Yanet Mojica, and the shady power dynamics that may be at work.
Filmed in a densely textured black-and-white in Mexico’s mountains, El violín follows the story of a group of Mexican rebels. The otherwise quiet villagers grew tired of the government’s abuse and tyranny and begin to secretly plot a rebellion and amass the means by which to do it. Don Plutarco is the very elderly musician who plays the violin for centavos along with his son earning a meager extra bit of money while they also exchange secrets about the uprising. When their village is captured by the army while they are away the duo plots for ways to regain their arms and ammo still hidden in the village. Only Don Plutarco, with his violin, finds a way to charm the Colonel into letting him back and despite his age and infirmity Plutarco does what he can to help the cause. With its black-and-white style that shows the dense countryside can hold many secrets and truths and with a smartly crafted sound design that lets music and silence speak volumes El violín definitely deserves to be heard and seen.
Few films document New York history from a Latino perspective as honestly and intimately as Diego Echeverria’s Los Sures did back in 1984. By following local residents in their daily struggles for basic necessities, Echeverria delivers an authentic portrait of what it was like to be Puerto Rican in Williamsburg, Brooklyn prior to gentrification.
The Salt Mines
In 1990, filmmaker Susana Aikin befriended Sara, Gigi, and Giovanna, three Latina trans women who supported their drug addiction by becoming prostitutes. Painting a portrait of their lives and their “home” (the broken garbage trucks next to New York City’s salt deposits), Aikin crafted a powerful and empathetic documentary about gender, sexuality, and friendship.
The Last Colony
The provocative title of Juan Agustín Márquez’s film refers to the island of Puerto Rico, America’s “last colony.” Filmed in the weeks leading up to the 2012 plebiscite that hoped to redefine the political relationship between the U.S. and the Caribbean island, The Last Colony is an attempt at untangling the vexed status issue that has plagued Puerto Rico ever since its American colonization in 1898.
Focusing on how the armed conflict that unfolded in Guatemala in the 1980s affected the country’s indigenous population, this documentary aims to revisit the memories of the genocide perpetrated under the “scorched earth” military campaigns in order to seek justice. Five central characters provide diverse perspectives into the events that resulted in the deaths of 200,000 Maya people, including 45,000 disappeared, and that indelibly marked their homeland’s past, present, and future.
Raising Victor Vargas
Raising Victor Vargas details the romantic foibles of a group of Lower East Side teenagers, featuring breakout actors Victor Rasuk and Melonie Diaz (both of whom will show up in a few years on How to Make it in America.) After getting caught with Fat Donna, Victor sets out to rehabilitate his reputation by getting with Judy, the hottie on the block who has to be careful who she winds up with. The whole film is an ode to stoop sitting, public pools, blaring salsa, and teenage lotharios.
When happy couple Carmen (Daniela Rincón) and Alfredo (Andrés Almeida) decide to move to Mexico City and leave their quaint suburban lives behind so Alfredo can start a new job, they get more than they bargain for. The change in location puts a burden on both of them as they try to get settled in. But when Carmen starts feeling bad about her weight and Alfredo begins to stray from their relationship, can the couple survive in their new environment or will life in the big city destroy the happiness they once shared?
One of the most successful Argentine films of recent years, Clandestine Childhood follows young Ernesto, whose left-wing militant parents are forced underground during Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ of the 1970s. Preparing to lead the resistance against the repressive military dictatorship, the entire family must adopt aliases so as to avoid detection, as many of their comrades are arrested and disappeared by the authorities. For Ernesto, the massive responsibility of protecting his family’s identity sits uncomfortably with the desire to behave like a normal kid. The film is partly based on the personal experience of director Benjamín Ávila, whose own mother, a member of the Montoneros revolutionary movement, was disappeared when he was just seven years old.
Que horas ela volta?
Regina Casé is impressive in the role of a live-in maid, Val, who works for a wealthy family in São Paulo. The arrival of Val’s daughter, whom she has not seen for years, creates a revolution in the household. She calls the boss Bárbara, instead of Dona Bárbara, while both the husband and son fall in love with her. “You’re born knowing what you can and cannot do,” Val reprimands her daughter. She confronts her by putting into question her servitude. The film raises class issues and examines generational gaps. Director Anna Muylaert, who has worked as a film critic and reporter, drafted a thoughtful script and put care into directing the actors, with a big payoff. Que horas ela volta? (The Second Mother) was Brazil’s submission for the 88th Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category.
Eva no duerme
Eva Perón remains one of the most iconic figures of twentieth century history. When she died in 1952 at the age of 33, an expert anatomist embalmed her so as to leave her looking her best; you could be forgiven for thinking she was merely a sleeping beauty. In Pablo Agüero’s film we see the impact she still has on a country run by the Armed Forces who will stop at nothing to eradicate her image from popular memory.
Mercedes Sosa: The Voice of Latin America
An intimate portrait tracing Mercedes Sosa’s forty year career as a folk singer, from her start in Argentina to her tours around the globe, this doc features emotional interviews with her family, closest friends, and collaborators together with archival footage of her most notable performances. Having sold millions of records, she attained worldwide commercial success all the while leading the charge to call out the dictatorship in her home country. As a member of the Nueva Canción movement, a group of Latin American musicians whose lyrics had strong political messages, she became known as the “voice of the voiceless.” Narrated by her son, this stirring portrait of her life and career gives an in-depth look at her start as a singer, her loves and heartbreaks, plus her motivations and inspirations. It’s a must-see for any Mercedes Sosa fan and a great introduction to her music for newbies.
Reportero follows Sergio Haro, a veteran photojournalist for Zeta, a Tijuana-based weekly newspaper. Even in the face of constant death threats, Zeta’s reporters refuse to censor themselves and routinely publish the names and photos of narco traffickers and corrupt politicians. At the heart of film is Haro’s daily life as a journalist. He sometimes questions himself — the danger, the threats to his life — is journalism really worth dying for? His devotion to his craft is unshakeable. This chilling documentary succeeds at painting a powerful portrait of a man committed to social justice and exposing the truth, no matter the cost.
El Canto del Colibrí
El Canto del Colibrí is the intimate testimonial of a group of Latino immigrant fathers who, in the face of personal hardship, faith, and the expectations of machismo culture, find acceptance and love for their LGBTQ children. Marco Castro-Bojorquez’s film, simple in style but vital in content, is an important contribution to fighting stigma and isolation in the Latino/a immigrant LGBTQ community.
Set in Montevideo, Uruguay, this comedy by director/writer Adrián Biniez sounds like director Christopher Nolan’s first film, 1998’s Following if it was written as a weird romantic comedy. In Gigante, security guard Jara watches cleaning lady Julia through the security cameras at a local supermarket and immediately falls in love with her. Instead of sharing his feelings, Jara decides to follow her around the city, watching her every move. Sounds more creepy than comical, but we’re sure there aren’t any restraining orders in this emo rom-com.
Los Wild Ones
A lot of record labels like to talk about the family dynamic within, but Wild Records in Los Angeles is truly a home for the prodigal sons and daughters of rock ‘n roll. The label’s rockabilly sound is personified by mostly Mexican-American performers (modern day greasers), but label owner Reb Kennedy is quick to point out the international appeal of the bands. Yes, Los Wild Ones first entered the pop culture consciousness last year, but this award-winning documentary continued its film festival wins well into 2014.
Set in a semi-fictional world where the global economy has collapsed and Mexico is racked by street protests, Flavia is a rebellious adolescent with artistic inclinations, left homeless and adrift after she is evicted from her apartment. Necessity leads her to strike up a tenuous and conflictive relationship with her elderly neighbor, Martin: a tailor forced into early retirement and strapped for cash. After Flavia sets up shop in Martin’s pristine apartment, their friendship blossoms when Flavia invites protesters camped outside into Martin’s house to use the bathroom each day. Together they begin to rediscover the sense meaning that had long been missing from their lives.
Named after its protagonist, Madeinusa is a story about three Holy days in the life of a small Peruvian town of Manayaycuna—literally “the town no one can enter” in Quechua). The young Madeinusa (played by Magaly Solier) has been set to play the festival’s Mater Dolorosa during their Semana Santa festivities, a time when no sin is allowed in the town. But when she meets a young stranger from Lima, she’ll begin rethinking her world and the traditional strictures that have ruled her life.
As is the case with Eimbcke’s earlier film, Temporada de patos, the director shows he is the master of showcasing disaffected young people in all of their slouchy, mumble-mouthed glory in minimalist scene after scene. The major plot here (i.e. don’t invest too much in plot devices early on) is seemingly the quest to find a car part to replace the one that teeange Juan has smashed up in a wreck with a telephone pole. As they say, it’s all about the journey. As Juan encounters a mechanic/wannabe Shaolin disciple, the auto parts clerk who yearns to go to a punk concert pawns her baby off on Juan and an elderly dog-owner does the same with his hyperactive dog Sica. Speaking of Sica, you can make a game of picking out the fleeting but well-realized homages to Jim Jarmusch, Jacques Tati, and yes, Vittorio de Sica, in Eimbcke’s gorgeously filmed examination of youth and loss.
Don Cleo is a humble seller of Piñatas, who lives in a little town in El Salvador. He’s having a rather bad week: he’s just found an extortion letter at his house. Pay $500 in 72 hours or else. Don Cleo is very worried about that “or else” which he knows means death. On top of this a young man just showed up claiming to be his son, the woman he’s courting seems indifferent to his advances, and he can’t seem to find anyone who will help him. The Crow’s Nest, the first fiction film from El Salvador to be produced since 1969 and the first ever to see a worldwide release is rife with deadpan humor and a killer central performance which gives a look at the everyday life for a segment of the population of El Salvador who look North and yearn for the American Dream.
Eubanks (Danny Glover), an old-school pig farmer from Georgia on the brink of losing his family farm, sets off on a road trip with Howard, his beloved and very large pig. As they make their way across the border to Mexico to find “Howie” a new home, Eubanks’ drinking and deteriorating health begin to take a toll, derailing their plans. His estranged daughter, Eunice (Maya Rudolph), is forced to join them on their adventure. Driven by strong convictions and stubbornness in his old ways, Eubanks attempts to make peace through his devotion to Howie and desire to mend his broken relationships.