Film

From Reggaetón Musicals to a La Llorona Horror: 16 Must-See Latino Movies Playing Miami Film Festival

Lead Photo: Courtesy of TIFF
Courtesy of TIFF

There were already plenty of reasons for us take notice of this year’s Miami Film Festival but the fact that its closing film will be the Walter Mercado documentary Mucho Mucho Amor truly sealed the deal. A homecoming of sorts for the film about the famed Puerto Rican astrologer (much of the movie is centered on a Miami exhibit that took place in 2019), the film will close out a program as diverse as we’ve come to expect. Spotlighting local filmmakers and playing their films alongside festival favorites from around the globe, this year’s Miami Film Festival is full of timely stories that speak to our current political moment.

Whether it’s a documentary about a high school gathering that aims to recreate the U.S. political machine, dramas about the immigrant experience that deal with police brutality and cruel immigration policies, or powerful takes on economic inequality set all along the Americas, there’s plenty to seek out at this year’s fest. Add in the fact that the weeklong festivities will include a celebration of rising Latinx talent, parties with Oscar-winning director Juan José Campanella and master classes on everything from poster design to experiential storytelling and you have the kind of enviable program that makes this a must-see for Latinx audiences.

In case you feel overwhelmed by the many films playing over the course of the festival’s many sections, we’ve combed through them and chosen 16 you should definitely put on your radar. Take a look at our top picks below.

The 37th edition of Miami Film Festival runs March 6-15, 2020.

Boys State

Jesse Moss, Amanda McBaine

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.

United States
Documentary
Jesse Moss, Amanda McBaine
2020
105

Charm City Kings

Angel Manuel Soto

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.

https://youtu.be/97Wn4fEScDM

United States
Drama
Sherman Payne
Caleeb Pinkett, Marc Bienstock, Clarence Hammond
2019
125

Ema

Pablo Larrain

Set in the scenic seaport city of Valparaíso, the latest from Pablo Larraín reunites the visionary Chilean auteur with Mexican superstar Gael García Bernal (No, Neruda) for an incendiary drama about art, desire, and family. Ema (Mariana di Girolamo) is a talented young dancer whose roots lie in the carnal reggaeton grooves she and her friends perform to in the city streets, but she’s forged a career as part of a more cerebral modern-dance ensemble helmed by her husband, choreographer Gastón (García Bernal). As the film opens, the couple is reeling from a terrible crisis: their adopted 12-year-old son Polo has set fire to their home, severely burning the face of Ema’s sister in the process. With her child taken from her and her marriage crumbling, Ema sets out on a strange, secretive, and risky quest to reset her life.

Read Remezcla’s review.

Chile
Music, Drama
Alejandro Moreno, Pablo Larraín, Guillermo Calderón
Juan de Dios Larraín
2019
106

Las buenas intenciones

Ana García Blaya

Set in Argentina during the economic slump of the 1990s, writer-director Ana García Blaya’s feature debut is a poignant, semi-autobiographical portrait of a family fractured by fraught circumstances and unruly personalities, but united by an invincible love. Aging slacker Gustavo (Javier Drolas) lives for three things: fútbol, rock ‘n’ roll, and his children. Having separated some years ago, Gustavo and the kids’ mother Cecilia (Jazmin Stuart) share custody and remain more or less amicable, despite Gustavo’s inability to adhere to timetables or generate enough income to cover his share of the expenses. Gustavo runs a record store with his old buddy Néstor (Sebastián Arzeno), but business is poor, with bargain-priced pirate cassettes comprising the bulk of their sales. This tentative status quo is upset when Cecilia announces that she and her current partner want to start a new life in Paraguay, and take the kids with them. Gustavo is in no position to argue, but Amanda (Amanda Minujin) — the eldest sibling, and at 9-years-old already accustomed to taking on adult responsibilities — is determined to stay with her father in Buenos Aires.

Read Remezcla’s review.

Argentina
Ana García Blaya
Joaquin Marques Borchex, Juana García Blaya, Juan Pablo Miller
2019
86

La Llorona

Jayro Bustamante

The story of La Llorona (The Weeping Woman), concerns a Medea-like figure who drowns her children after being abandoned by her husband. She’s thereafter condemned to wander the earth, bringing misfortune to all who cross her path. A perennial myth in Latin American culture, La Llorona has appeared in countless works of music, literature, and cinema — but she’s never been re-imagined with the level of trenchancy found in the latest work from writer-director Jayro Bustamante. Transplanting the ancient tale to a contemporary Guatemala still struggling to find justice for the victims of its Civil War, La Llorona is a horror story whose deepest chills are generated by real-life atrocities. Once a fearsome commanding officer, General Enrique Monteverde is now an elderly man in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Decades after the Civil War, Monteverde is belatedly brought to trial and found guilty of genocide, but his conviction is swiftly overturned on judicial technicalities. Accompanied by his wife and daughter — as well as their faithful housekeeper and her mysterious new subordinate — Monteverde is brought home. While demonstrators clamor daily for retribution outside the walls of his property, Monteverde begins to hear and see strange things transpiring within his home during the wee hours.

Guatemala, France
Drama
Lisandro Sánchez, Jayro Bustamante
Gustavo Matheu, Georges Renand, Jayro Bustamante, Marina Peralta
2019
96

Lina de Lima

María Paz González

A delightful renovation of the musical comedy and a timely examination of the realities of migrant labor, the inventive debut fiction feature from Chilean director María Paz González tackles heavy themes with a light touch and a saucy sense of humor. It’s been 10 years since Lina left her home country of Peru to work in Chile as a housekeeper to a wealthy family. The job has provided Lina with sufficient earnings to live frugally and have enough left over to send money back home to her son Junior, who’s grown from a small child to an adolescent in her absence. Now, with Christmas just around the corner, Lina is finally preparing to return to Lima for a belated visit. The thing is, Junior seems more concerned about getting an authentic soccer jersey than reuniting with his mother. Simultaneously, Lina’s bank account is in danger of getting drained when her employer’s newly installed pool is unexpectedly damaged under her watch. As the resourceful heroine navigates a scenario full of pitfalls and disappointments, González’s largely observational approach to storytelling gives us glimpses into the daily life of this hardworking single woman abroad: her endearing camaraderie with her employer’s young daughter and her online hookups with various men.

Read Remezcla’s review.

Peru, Chile, Argentina
Musical, Comedy
María Paz González
Giancarlo Nasi, Maite Alberdi
2019
83

The Mole Agent

Maite Alberdi

Sergio is a Chilean spy. Sort of. At least, he is offered the role of one after a casting session organized by Detective Romulo, a private investigator who needs a credible mole to infiltrate a retirement home. Romulo’s client, the concerned daughter of a resident, suspects her mother is being abused and hires him to find out what is really happening. However, Sergio is 83, not 007, and not an easy trainee when it comes to technology and spying techniques. But he is a keen student, looking for ways to distract himself after recently losing his wife. What could be a better distraction than some undercover spy action? While gathering intelligence, Sergio grows close to several residents and realizes that the menacing truth beneath the surface is not what anyone had suspected. Maite Alberdi’s The Mole Agent is a stylish combination of an observational documentary and a spy movie, with sleek camerawork and wonderfully watchable characters. It’s a unique meditation on compassion and loneliness that will infiltrate your heart and never let go.

Chile
Documentary
Maite Alberdi
Marcela Santibañez
2020
84

Mucho Mucho Amor

Kareem Tabsch, Cristina Costantini

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.

United States
Documentary
Kareem Tabsch, Alex Fumero, Cristina Costantini
2020
96

Nuestras madres

Cesar Diaz

César Díaz’s Nuestras madres follows Ernesto, a young anthropologist working for the Forensic Foundation whose mission is to identify those who disappeared during the Civil War. One day while listening to an old woman tell her story, he thinks he’s found a clue which could take him to his father, a guerrilla fighter who also disappeared during that period. Against his mother’s wishes, he throws himself body and soul into the case with the aim of learning the truth. Powerfully grounding this historical trauma in a family drama, the Belgian-Guatemalan director’s film offers a chilly portrait of a country left numbed by violence and silence.

Read Remezcla’s review.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Belgium, Guatemala, France
Drama
Cesar Diaz
Delphine Schmit, Géraldine Sprimont
2019
78

Tu me manques

Rodrigo Bellott

Starring Argentine actor Oscar Martinez and Spanish actress (and Pedro Almodóvar muse) Rossy de Palma, Tu Me Manques is an emotional exploration of three men’s struggles to reconcile identity and heritage. Following his son Gabriel’s death, Jorge travels from conservative Bolivia to New York City to confront Gabriel’s boyfriend Sebastian. While the two battle over Jorge’s inability to accept his son, Sebastian channels his grief into a bold new play in honor of his lost love, in which Gabriel’s inner turmoil is transformed into an eye-popping gay fantasia. Directed by Rodrigo Bellot, the film in itself is an adaptation of his own stage play, a sensation in his native Bolivia.

Read Remezcla’s review.

Bolivia, United States
Drama
Rodrigo Bellott
Rodrigo Bellott, Elisa Lleras
2019
105

Us Kids

Kim A. Snyder

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.

United States
Documentary
Kim A. Snyder, Maria Cuomo Cole, Lori Cheatle
2020
98

Mano de obra

David Zonana

In contemporary Mexico City, construction workers toil to complete an expensive home. Suddenly, one of the men, Claudio, falls from the upper floor to his death. Claudio’s brother Francisco, who worked alongside him, and his wife, Lupe, are devastated. Their grief shifts to fury when medical tests allegedly indicate there was alcohol in Claudio’s system. Claudio never drank. However, by claiming he was intoxicated on the job, the house’s owner evades responsibility and the need to pay Claudio’s widow. Disgusted by how life goes on in the wake of injustice, Francisco begins to look at his daily labor in a new light. The boss brings a plastic bag full of polo shirts to give out to the workers, like charity. They’d rather have their back pay. Francisco watches and waits for an opportune moment. This feature debut from writer-director David Zonana progresses like a quietly humming thriller, with each scene contributing to the film’s gathering power. As Francisco’s determination to win justice for his dead brother leads him to take surprising action, the meanings of worker and boss, workplace and home, shift decisively.

Mexico
Drama
David Zonana
David Zonana, Erendira Nuñez Larios, Michel Franco
2019
82

Paper Children

Alexandra Codina

Paper Children explores America’s invisible refugee crisis through the eyes of one Miami family who navigate a broken system with unwavering resilience. The Gonzalez parents are working hard on a new start in south Florida to create hope for their four beautiful children, as far away from the frightening gang violence in their native Honduras as possible. Yet the thorny complexities of the U.S. immigration system as they apply for legal status lead to some dispiriting setbacks that once again threaten their sense of security. Through it all, the family members awake to each new day holding on to a loving and optimistic spirit. Paper Children goes beyond the traditional immigration narrative into a nuanced consideration of how the United States cares for the most vulnerable found in its embrace

United States
Documentary
Lorena Luciano, Alexandra Codina
Alexandra Codina, Susan Margolin, Aymée Cruzalegui
2020
68

El último balsero

Carlos Rafael Betancourt, Oscar Ernesto Ortega

After risking his life crossing the Florida Straits on a raft, a young Cuban searches Miami for his long-absent father. When a political shift makes him America’s first Cuban undocumented immigrant, he must battle the new and bigger fear of deportation, while trying to find where he really belongs. Mining rich detail from their own experiences finding a footing in the United States as well as featuring a glittering though authentic view of Miami, filmmakers Carlos Rafael Betancourt and Oscar Ernesto Ortega have crafted a powerful film that is at once personal and strikingly timely.

United States
Carlos Rafael Betancourt, Oscar Ernesto Ortega
Alina Rodriguez
2020
80

Reefa

Jessica Kavana Dornbusch

Israel “Reefa” Hernandez is an 18-year-old Colombian immigrant and award-winning artist with a bright future. He is spending his last summer in Miami with friends, family and his new girl Frankie before hopefully moving to New York on an art scholarship. That summer, anxieties emerge twofold: Israel and his family nervously await their Green Cards while he desperately seeks recognition for his art. On August 6, 2013, as Israel spray paints one last wall, a fatal encounter leaves his family devastated, the Miami community outraged, and the country reeling from another case of police brutality. Jessica Kavana Dornbusch, who was born in New York to immigrant parents from Uruguay, has crafted an urgent and timely tale for our political moment.

United States
Drama
Jessica Kavana Dornbusch
Ed Arenas, George Perez, Alejandro Suaya, Cindy Teperman, Elayne Keratsis
2020
96

La odisea de los giles

Sebastian Borensztein

The year is 2001, and Argentina is hitting the lowest point in its great depression. His glory days far behind him, retired soccer star Fermín (Ricardo Darín) now runs a service station in a sleepy provincial town. Hoping to pull his family and their community out of decline, Fermín seeks to convert some abandoned grain silos into a viable storage facility. He convinces friends to invest in the cooperative, but is railroaded by a conniving bank manager into placing their cash into a savings account just as the banks are about to be frozen by the government, rendering their money useless and their plans quashed. For a time things seem only to get worse, until rumors spread of a secret depository containing the cooperative’s pilfered cash and much, much more. With Fermín as their Robin Hood-esque leader, the group conspires to infiltrate the cache, but it’s going to take some serious resolve, a little inspiration, and a lot of luck to pull off this honest-person heist.

Spain, Argentina
Drama
Sebastian Borensztein, Eduardo Sacheri
Ricardo Darín, Chino Darín, Federico Posternak, Simón de Santiago, Fernando Bovaira, Leticia Cristi, Matías Mosteirín, Hugo Sigman
2019
117