There is no cooler film festival around than SXSW. It’s not just the fact that it’s in Austin, Texas, arguably one of the most effortlessly cool cities around. And it’s not just that it runs alongside other SXSW programs that gather some of the best musicians, podcasters and think leaders working today. It’s the fact that its lineup is always a welcome breeze of favorites making the fest rounds (looking at you Mucho Mucho Amor) and some highly anticipated flicks that already have cinephiles chomping at the bit (see, for example, the buzz about David Lowery’s The Green Knight).
Given its location, it’s no surprise to find a number projects from U.S. Latinos and Latin American filmmakers making the program. From a new directorial effort from John Leguizamo and new films starring the likes of Catalina Sandino Moreno and Eiza González, this year’s SXSW lineup is chock-full of Latino talent. We’ve combed the feature film selections to bring you this curated list of must-see flicks you should look out for in between enjoying a great set and any number of delicious tacos.
SXSW runs March 13-22, 2020 in Austin, Texas. UPDATE: SXSW has been canceled in response to the growing concern over the spread of the Coronavirus.
Charm City Kings
Fourteen-year-old Mouse (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) desperately wants to join the Midnight Clique, an infamous group of Baltimore dirt-bike riders who rule the summertime streets. His older brother, Stro, was their top rider before his tragic death — a loss that consumes Mouse as much as his passion for bikes. Mouse’s mom (Teyonah Parris) and his police mentor, Detective Rivers (William Catlett), work overtime to help the charismatic teen reach his full potential, but when the Midnight Clique’s leader, Blax (Meek Mill), takes the boy under his wing, the lure of revving his own dirt bike skids Mouse toward a road way past the straight and narrow. Puerto Rican director Angel Manuel Soto directs an astonishingly talented cast to create a narrative bursting with pitch-perfect performances and intoxicating emotion. Inspired by the bike culture seen in the documentary 12 O’Clock Boys, Charm City Kings is one boy’s unforgettable journey toward manhood.
The Quarry is a tense and harrowing tale of sin and redemption, violence and grace, and the lengths to which men will go to outrun their evil deeds. A mysterious new minister (Shea Whigham) takes up residence at a rundown church in a desolate Texas town. Despite the growing suspicions of the townsfolk — the hardened local police chief (Michael Shannon), the drug-dealing brothers caught in the chief’s crosshairs (Bobby Soto and Alvaro Martinez), and the mournful woman who keeps up the church (Oscar nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno) — the congregation grows. But how long can the minister keep his secrets safe and who can be forgiven when the truth comes to light? Based on the acclaimed novel by Damon Galgut.
Strap up your saddle and get ready for a wild ride. Boys State is a political coming-of-age story, examining the health of U.S. democracy through an unusual experiment: a thousand 17-year-old boys from across the state of Texas gather together to build a representative government from the ground up. High-minded ideals collide with lowdown dirty tricks as four boys of diverse backgrounds and political views navigate the challenges of organizing political parties, shaping consensus, and campaigning for the highest office at Texas Boys State — governor. Documenting impeachment threats, dramatic debates, underdog victories, and even nefarious internet memes, filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine chart the dramatic twists and turns of these intersecting stories to reveal profound truths about our political choices and civic obligations and to remind us, ultimately, that democracy is not a spectator sport. With cunning insight that will have audiences buzzing, Boys State holds a mirror up to our divided country. This is a film for the ages in every sense of the term.
Mucho Mucho Amor
Extravagant Puerto Rican astrologer, psychic, and gender nonconforming legend Walter Mercado charmed the world for over 30 years with his televised horoscopes. Equal parts Oprah, Liberace, and Mr. Rogers, Walter was a celebrated daily part of Latino culture — until one day in 2007 he mysteriously disappeared. Over a decade later, the filmmakers find Walter and invite us into his home and interior world as he prepares to restore his legacy in the public eye. The film explores Walter’s complex story from the rural sugar cane fields of Puerto Rico to international astrology superstardom, rising above homophobia and the heteronormative beliefs of Latino society with a message of love and hope. From Latinx co-directors Kareem Tabsch and Cristina Costantini, Mucho Mucho Amor is a love letter to Walter Mercado. The filmmakers, who grew up watching him with their abuelos, craft a film with levity and a playful spirit. Light-years ahead of his time, Walter has become a nostalgic cult icon of self-expression and positivity for the gender-fluid youth of today.
Read Remezcla’s review.
After a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School claims 17 lives, a number of students rally themselves around the tragedy as an opportunity to speak out against the national gun-violence epidemic. As their adrenaline propels a dive into full-on activism, their movement catalyzes, and students impacted by gun violence nationwide join in, giving voice to a generation of traumatized but determined youth. Director Kim A. Snyder carefully chronicles 18 pivotal months in the development of the March For Our Lives movement through a deeply personal lens. With extended access to the young activists (including Emma González) not only on stage but in their homes and among their friends, Us Kids allows us to see them through one another’s eyes — as “normal-ass kids” bravely dealing with the weight of their traumas. Snyder tells the touching coming-of-age story of this group of driven, resilient, empathetic individuals all navigating the personal consequences of their remarkable choice to dedicate their own lives to honor the fallen and take back democracy.
In a small Oregon community, a high school soccer team struggles to overcome class and racial divides in a quest for both individual and team success. While Domingo deals with the deportation of his father to Mexico and Eric painfully learns how to become a captain and command the respect of his Mexican-American teammates, Coach Riviera struggles to keep the team together amidst the pressure of academics and athletics. This coming-of-age feature documentary focuses on the friendship and maturation of three characters and is set against the backdrop of a segregated American town. Will Domingo graduate? Will Eric become a leader? Will the Eagles win a state championship?
Pólvora en el corazón
Claudia and Maria, newly in love, roam the streets of the city of Guatemala. Claudia works at a call center and is uninterested in the world around her. She lives with her activist grandfather, who tries to persuade her to join his cause. Maria, unlike Claudia, is more spontaneous and lives with her mother in the outskirts of the city. The chaotic streets are filled with common stories of abuse, unforgiving police officers, and charming secret corners. Everything changes one night when they are attacked by three men. Although they manage to escape, Claudia is faced with the dilemma of choosing revenge or listening to her grandfather’s advice.
In the Barba Azul Cabaret in Mexico City, the women dance and drink with the men who can afford it. In the little restroom upstairs, Mami looks after them at the start and end of their shifts. As long as Mami gets her tip, she looks after the bags, makes sure there’s enough toilet paper, and is always ready for a comforting or supportive heart-to-heart. She’s quick to deliver one of her idiosyncratic maxims, such as, “Men are only good for two things: for nothing, and for money.” This intimate documentary is largely set within the four walls of Mami’s domain which has become a safe haven in a nocturnal world that’s slowly being transformed.
Some years in the future, the Brazilian government, as an excuse to repay all the debts from the slavery years, decides to send all the black population back to Africa. People are hunted and, against their will, sent to different African countries. While the army and police enforce the law, a lawyer, with the help of his uncle, tries to get together with his wife, a fellow doctor, who has been on the run since the beginning of the conflict. The three of them try to resist the madness that has taken over the country. Directed by Lázaro Ramos, the film stars UK actor Alfred Enoch (How to Get Away With Murder) shooting his very first project in his mother’s home country.
What if being born is not the beginning but the goal? In a house distant from the reality we know, a reclusive man named Will interviews prospective candidates—personifications of human souls—for the privilege he once had: to be born. Five contenders emerge. During the course of nine days, Will tests each of them, but he can choose only one. The victor will be rewarded with a coveted opportunity to become a newborn in the real world, while the others will cease to exist—nine days is everything they’ll ever experience. Supernatural, metaphysical, and packed with the deepest, most human emotions, this spiritual child of Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry will hit you in the head and the heart. Propelled by an extraordinary performance from Winston Duke as Will and buoyed by a stunning supporting cast of highly accomplished actors, Nine Days marks not only the feature debut but the cinematic birth of Brazilian writer-director Edson Oda, a singular, visionary artist.
It’s 1998 in Miami. Rampant poverty, broken families and a prejudiced system push underprivileged youth to the fringes of society. But for a magnetic group of teens, there’s a reprieve. A game where it’s not about where you come from, but how you play. That equalizer is chess. Mr. “T” Martinez (played by the film’s own director, John Leguizamo), a chess militant and passionate coach, leads them to a completely foreign field of battle: the National Chess Championship. With an underfunded school district, Martinez and his team can’t just waltz into the arena. They have to fight for it. Chess runs parallel to their own experiences as Martinez teaches them that the power of critical thinking can not only save their kings, but also their lives.
From lowriding to tattooing to photography, perhaps no other contemporary duo has been at the forefront and influenced hip hop and street culture like Estevan Oriol and Mister Cartoon. Through their craft they have catapulted the Chicano art movement onto the world stage and influenced countless other artists. LA Originals traces back the steps of these two O.G. street artists to their childhoods. The documentary chronicles an art child prodigy who rises through the ranks of graffiti bombing, before later becoming a celebrity tattooer, as well as a troubled youth who becomes a hip hop tour manager, photo-documentarian, portrait photographer and filmmaker. Among those featured in the doc are Michelle Rodriguez, Wilmer Valderrama, Danny Trejo, George Lopez and Snoop Dogg himself.