Film

Netflixeando: 8 Latin American Documentaries You Should Stream on Netflix

Lead Photo: 'Bellas de noche' still courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
'Bellas de noche' still courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

Scrolling through endless film categories on Netflix (“Award-winning Binge-worthy Crime TV Shows,” “Critically-acclaimed Biographical Documentaries,” “Women Making History”) can sometimes feel overwhelming. Especially when you want to look further afield from your usual go-to picks. Like, say you want to sit back and enjoy a well-crafted documentary set in Latin America: How would you even go about finding a curated list of said films to stream? Thankfully, you don’t have to wonder any longer as we’ve compiled a handy list to get you started.

Whether you’re on the hunt for a music doc about The Rolling Stones, an informative look at what’s going on politically in Brazil or eager to learn more about what environmental activism in the Amazon looks like today, you’ll find something to add to your queue from the eight documentaries singled out below.

1

When Two Worlds Collide

Heidi Brandenburg, Mathew Orzel

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.

Peru
Documentary
Taira Akbar
2016
100

2

The Edge of Democracy

Petra Costa

Once a nation crippled by a military dictatorship, Brazil found its democratic footing in 1985 and then, in 2002, elected a hugely popular political disrupter: steel-worker-turned-activist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Under his watch, 20 million Brazilians were lifted out of poverty, and his country rose to international prominence. In 2010, Lula passed the presidential baton to his prodigy, a fierce female guerrilla named Dilma Rousseff. But beneath their sunny legacy, rumblings of populist rage and institutional corruption seeped into the mainstream – much of it abetted by a partisan judge who fed news outlets sensational, deeply flawed corruption reports that targeted Lula, Dilma and anyone else who refused to scratch the backs of powerful politicians and special interest groups. With remarkably intimate access, The Edge of Democracy follows Brazil’s embattled leaders as they grapple with a scandal born out of their country’s fascist past and inflamed by a furious and ideologically divided nation.

Brazil
Documentary
David Barker, Moara Passoni, Carol Pires, Petra Costa
Joanna Natasegara, Shane Boris, Tiago Pavan
2018
113

3

Bellas de Noche

María José Cuevas

In the 1970s and 1980s, Mexico’s burlesque culture was at its disco-era heyday. The clubs were filled with beautiful women who razzled and dazzled. Decades later, Beauties of the Night introduces us to five of those former showgirls who recount their lives in the spotlight and give us a glimpse of what they’re up to nowadays. Shot over eight years, María José Cuevas’s documentary is a thrilling look at these exotic dancers who continue to search for the love and adoration they got on stage all those years ago.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Mexico
Documentary
María José Cuevas
María José Cuevas, Moisés Cosío, Gerardo Gatica, Christian Valdelièvre
2016
91

4

Hija de la laguna

Ernesto Cabellos

Nélida lives in the Andes and communes with water spirits. Her connection to her natural environment is what tethers her to this land she grew up in. But now, in the midst of the gold rush in Perú, she finds herself needing to take on mining companies who are too keen on accessing the precious resources under Nélida’s lake. Ernesto Cabellos’ urgent documentary chronicles this young woman’s fight (after going to law school in the city and promising her family she’d stand up for them) as well as the environmental effects that mining has had on the Peruvian landscape, offering stark reminders of how industry can ravage natural ecosystems that once sustained us.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Peru
Documentary
Ernesto Cabellos
Nuria Frigola Torrent
2015
87

5

Elena

Petra Costa

Elena, a young Brazilian woman, travels to New York with the same dream as her mother, to become a movie actress. She leaves behind her childhood spent in hiding during the years of the military dictatorship. She also leaves Petra, her 7-year-old sister. Two decades later, Petra also becomes an actress and goes to New York in search of Elena. She only has a few clues about her: home movies, newspaper clippings, a diary and letters. At any moment Petra hopes to find Elena walking in the streets in a silk blouse. Gradually, the features of the two sisters are confused; we no longer know one from the other. When Petra finally finds Elena in an unexpected place, she has to learn to let her go. Costa’s dreamy autobiographical documentary is unlike anything else out there.

Brazil
Documentary
Carolina Ziskind, Petra Costa
2012
80

6

Los Tigres del Norte at Folsom Prison

Tom Donahue

The beloved norteño band Los Tigres del Norte performs for the inmates of Folsom Prison on the 50th anniversary of Johnny Cash’s iconic concert. In California, where 43% of prison inmates are of Latin American descent, the presence of Los Tigres del Norte further establishes the band as wholly committed to, as they put it in the doc, speaking for and to those who have lost their way. The music doc, which also includes the band’s Spanish take on Cash’s iconic “Folsom Street Blues” song, includes footage from the two concerts the band performed at Folsom, one in each gender-segregated ward, capturing the joy and hope they instilled in those who saw them live and up close.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
United States
Music, Documentary
Ilan Arboleda, Zach Horowitz
2019
64

7

Para sempre Chape

Luis Ara

In 2016, a plane carrying 77 people, including the staff and players from the Associação Chapecoense de Futebol club, crashed as it approached Medellín, Colombia. 71 people, including most of the club’s first team, died. It was a devastating loss for a soccer club that was to play one of the most important matches in its history. Tracing the history of the Brazilian club from its founding in the 1970s all the way through to the aftermath following the 2016 crash, Forever Chape is a rousing sports documentary about what it means to rebuild anew in the face of tragedy.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Brazil
Sports, Documentary
Luis Ara
Luis Ara
2018
80

8

The Rolling Stones Olé, Olé, Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America

Paul Dugdale

This feature documentary follows The Rolling Stones’ tour of early 2016 through 10 Latin American cities. Part concert film and part travelogue, Olé Olé Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America combines the band’s electrifying live performances from across the tour, which take them from Mexico and Peru all the way down to Uruguay and Argentina. Giving an intimate look at the iconic rock band, Paul Dugdale’s doc ends with footage from the historic tour finale, which found Mick Jagger and company in Havana, Cuba, where the Stones became the first-ever rock band to perform on the island.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
United Kingdom
Music, Documentary
Sam Bridger, Paul Dugdale
2016
106