Film

These Are the Must-See Latino & Latin American Movies at SXSW Film Festival

Lead Photo: 'The Infiltrators' film still courtesy of Sundance Institute
'The Infiltrators' film still courtesy of Sundance Institute

Every year in March, Austin becomes the epicenter for all things culture. Music diehards can find their favorite acts playing. Comedy fans can drop by a set or two by established and emerging stand-up comedians. And film aficionados? Well, they have an overabundance of riches. Having established itself as one of the coolest festivals around, South by Southwest (aka SXSW) needs no introduction. This year, their program encompasses 134 feature films including 101 world premieres as well as 64 films from first-time filmmakers.

Moreover, there is plenty of US Latino and Latin American talent to celebrate, both in front and behind the camera. And while we know you’ll be checking out that new Seth Rogen-Charlize Theron film as well as that Beto O’Rourke doc which followed his campaign, we wanted to compile a list exclusively for Latinos. Below you’ll find our favorites from the feature film lineup, from Sundance standout docs about AOC to long-awaited horror films which hope to capitalize on our fears of La Llorona.

Beyond these titles, SXSW also has plenty of VR projects and shorts (some created by Texas filmmakers and others by high schoolers) worth checking out. That includes Nonny de la Peña’s Border Stories and Jorge Caballero’s attempt at recreating the Bogotá from the ’30s and ’40s chronicled by famed journalist Ximénez.

Oh, and we haven’t mentioned the fact that Alita: Battle Angel‘s Robert Rodriguez himself is teaching a master-class in micro-budget guerrilla filmmaking, featuring behind-the-scenes moments from his new $7,000 film, RED 11. Which is all to say, we’re very jealous of everyone in the hip Texan city come mid-March.

SXSW Film Festival runs March 8 – 16, 2019.

The Garden Left Behind

Flavio Alves

Tina (Carlie Guevara), a 30-year-old transgender woman, and Eliana (Miriam Cruz), her grandmother, have been struggling to make a life for themselves in New York since emigrating from Mexico when Tina was only six. Tina’s father abandoned them before she was born and her mother died in prison shortly after they arrived in America. Eliana was left alone to raise her grandchild, both as undocumented immigrants, whose dreams of home are markedly different — Eliana longs to return to Mexico, while Tina desires acceptance in America. The ineffable bond formed between the two formidable women has made them not only each other’s stalwart support in a hostile world, but a potential millstone as well.

Brazil, United States
Drama
John Rotondo, Flavio Alves
Roy Wol
2019
88

The Infiltrators

Cristina Ibarra, Alex Rivera

Without warning, Claudio Rojas is detained by ICE officials outside his Florida home. He is transferred to the Broward Transitional Center, a detention facility used as a holding space for imminent deportations. Terrified of never seeing him again, Claudio’s family contacts the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), a group of activist Dreamers known for stopping deportations. Believing that no one is free as long as one is in detention, NIYA enlists Marco Saavedra to self-deport in hopes of gaining access to the detention center and impeding Claudio’s expulsion. Once inside, Saavedra discovers a complex for-profit institution housing hundreds of multinational immigrants, all imprisoned without trial. Based on true events, The Infiltrators is both a suspenseful account of a high-stakes mission and an emotionally charged portrait of visionary youth fighting for their community.

United States
Crime, Drama
Aldo Velasco, Alex Rivera
Cristina Ibarra, Daniel J. Chalfen, Darren Dean
2019
93

Knock Down the House

Rachel Lears

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young, bold Puerto Rican bartender from the Bronx, works double shifts to save her family’s home from foreclosure. Struggling with her own financial problems, she knows many of her neighbors are also hard-pressed to make a living. In order to bring representation to one of the most marginalized constituencies in America, Alexandria runs for office. This film follows four women — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin — who join a movement of insurgent candidates to topple incumbents in an electric primary race for Congress. At a moment of historic volatility in American politics, these four women — all political outsiders — unite to do what many consider impossible. Their efforts result in a legendary upset.

United States
Documentary
Rachel Lears, Robin Blotnick
Sarah Olson, Rachel Lears, Robin Blotnick
2019
86

Pahokee

Patrick Bresnan, Ivete Lucas

Four high school students embark on their senior year in Pahokee, a small Florida town on the shores of Lake Okeechobee. One of the students is Jocabed Martinez, a young Latina who came from Mexico when she was two and works shifts at her family’s taqueria. The teens navigate sometimes exciting, sometimes heartbreaking rite of passage rituals as they make profound decisions about their futures. As they do, the pressure of Pahokee’s economic hardships weighs heavily on their shoulders — the community has placed all hopes for opportunity on them, the next generation. The documentary is directed by Brazilian-born, Mexico-raised Ivete Lucas and her co-director Patrick Bresnan.

United States
Documentary
Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan, Maida Lynn
2019
110

Sister Aimee

Samantha Buck, Marie Schlingmann

The sensational evangelist Sister Aimee Semple McPherson has pulled off her latest marvel: vanishing in plain sight of a devout disciple! Except that this disappearance was a cleverly orchestrated ploy to run away with her lover, a married writer named Kenny. Outfitted with new identities and a courageous guide named Rey, Aimee and Kenny head for Mexico, searching for inspiration and adventure. When Aimee tires of Kenny’s literary ineptitude, she enlists Rey’s help to ditch him in the desert. Yet getting Aimee back to Los Angeles—where the news, the police, and her devotees are anxiously searching for her—will take a real miracle. Writer/directors Marie Schlingmann and Samantha Buck construct a playful, carnivalesque world saturated with campfire folktales and irreverent characters. The core of the film’s power lies in Anna Margaret Hollyman’s performance as cunning show-woman Aimee and in her undeniable chemistry with Andrea Suarez Paz (the valiant Rey). Part 1920s radioplay, part western, part musical, and an all-around screwball comedy, Sister Aimee embraces one woman’s legend to validate the power of spectacle and the magic of a good storyteller.

United States
Musical, Drama
Samantha Buck, Marie Schlingmann
Bettina Barrow, David Hartstein, Katherine Harper
2018
87

Ms. White Light

Paul Shoulberg

Ms. White Light is the story of Lex Cordova (Roberta Colindrez), a young woman who counsels terminally ill clients that have trouble letting go. While proving uniquely talented in her ability to connect with the dying, Lex is at a total loss when it comes to dealing with everyone else. Armed with only the misguided guidance of Gary, her father and business partner, unsolicited loyalty from Nora, a former client obsessed with samurai culture, and an awkward romance with Spencer, a seductive, but morally ambiguous psychic, Lex struggles to help Valerie, her most challenging client yet.

United States
Drama
Paul Shoulberg
Zachary Spicer, John Robert Armstrong, Gordon Strain
2018
96

Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy

Elizabeth Carroll

At five feet tall and 95 years old, Diana Kennedy is larger than life: a foul-mouthed fireball far more feisty and energetic than her age and petite frame let on. British ex-pat and the author of nine Mexican cookbooks, Diana has spent over sixty years researching and documenting the regional cuisines of Mexico on her own. Diana has lived ‘off-the-grid’ on an eight-acre ranch outside Zitácuaro, Michoacán since the 1970s: composting, growing her own crops, and using solar power to run her home. Aware of her own mortality, she is working tirelessly to solidify the legacy of her life’s efforts, with the hope of turning her home into a foundation for culinary education in Mexico.

Mexico, United States
Documentary
Dan Braun, Elizabeth Carroll
2019
68

We Are The Radical Monarchs

Linda Goldstein Knowlton

A group of tween girls chant into megaphones, marching in the San Francisco Trans March. Fists clenched high, they wear brown berets and vests showcasing colorful badges like “Black Lives Matter” and “Radical Beauty.” Meet the Radical Monarchs, a group of young girls of color at the front lines of social justice. Set in Oakland, a city with a deep history of social justice movements, the film documents the journey of the group as they earn badges for completing units including being an LGBTQ ally, preserving the environment, and disability justice. Started by two fierce, queer women of color (Anayvette Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest) whom we follow as they face the challenge to grow the organization, the film tracks the moment right before and soon after the 2016 election.

Read Remezcla’s review.

United States
Documentary
Linda Goldstein Knowlton, Katie Flint
2018
97

The Curse of La Llorona

Michael Chaves

La Llorona. A horrifying apparition, caught between Heaven and Hell. In Latin American lore, she drowned her children in a jealous rage, throwing herself in the river after them as she wept in pain. In the centuries since, she creeps in the shadows, preying on the children of others to replace her own. Ignoring the warning of a troubled mother suspected of child endangerment, a social worker and single mom is soon drawn into the terrifying supernatural realm of La Llorona. With the lives—and souls—of her own kids at stake, she seeks the help of a disillusioned priest-turned-curandero, whose mystic faith and practices may represent their only hope to survive La Llorona’s deadly curse.

United States
Horror
Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis
James Wan, Gary Dauberman, Emile Gladstone
2019
98

The Wall of Mexico

Zachary Cotler, Magdalena Zyzak

Don, a young handyman, is hired by the Aristas (Esai Morales and Alex Meneses), a wealthy Mexican-American family with two outrageously decadent daughters. The source of the Aristas’ wealth is a mystery to Don. Living in nearby Winfield, he soon learns tensions are high between the Aristas and the poor white townspeople, and that this has something to do with the Aristas’ well, which Don is asked to guard at night. People are superstitious about the well. Don learns the Aristas are selling wellwater at alarming prices. Don becomes infatuated with the younger daughter, Tania. As the water level drops, possibly from theft, the situation comes to a boil, and the Aristas decide to build a massive wall.

United States
Comedy, Drama
Zachary Cotler
Adrian Durazo, Sarahi Castro, Marla Arreola
2019
110

Building the American Dream

Chelsea Hernandez

Across Texas, an unstoppable construction boom drives urban sprawl and luxury high-rises. Its dirty secret: abuse of immigrant labor. Building the American Dream captures a turning point as a movement forms to fight widespread construction industry injustices. Grieving their son, a Mexican family campaigns for a life-or-death safety ordinance. A Salvadoran electrician couple, owed thousands in back pay, fights for their children’s future. A bereaved son battles to protect others from his family’s preventable tragedy. A story of courage, resilience and community, the film reveals shocking truths about the hardworking immigrants who build the American dream of which they are excluded.

United States
Documentary
Chelsea Hernandez, Marisol Medrano
2019
75

RED 11

Robert Rodriguez

Adapted from story notes written 25 years ago that was based on Robert Rodriguez’s experiences in a Medical Research Facility, RED 11 is a horror thriller set in a dark, twisted version of the Legal Drug Research business. At these Facilities, college kids turn Lab Rats to make quick money, and our hero, Rob (who is assigned the color and number RED 11) is here to buy his way out of a huge debt to the tune of $7,000. This story shows the quirks, characters, and comedy of Rodriguez’s experiences of being a human Lab Rat, but with a sci fi and horror twist, for Red 11 isn’t sure if the hospital is really trying to kill him, or if it’s side defects from the drugs.

United States
Science Fiction, Thriller, Horror
Racer Rodriguez, Robert Rodriguez
Racer Rodriguez, Robert Rodriguez
2019
76

Amazônia Groove

Bruno Murtinho

Leaving Belem and crossing much of the Para State Amazon region, its towns and riverside villages, Amazônia Groove reveals artists and their traditions, faith and mysticism, music and life that pound in the northern region of Brazil, little known through the eyes of Brazilians themselves.  Such a force, the result of ancient cultures, of a particular spirituality – called “enchantment” – a rich miscegenation, gives off a unique sonority, an impressive musical energy unlike anything. Through its artists, Amazônia Groove gives voice to a fundamental part of Planet Earth, extending Brazil and the world’s eyes to an almost unknown musical tradition that has so much to reveal to us.

Brazil
Documentary
Bruno Murtinho
Leonardo Edde
2018
84

Yo, imposible

Patricia Ortega

Ariel is a young religious dressmaker who, after a failed sexual encounter, discovers a secret her family has tried to hide all of her life: she was born intersex but, after corrective surgery, raised as a girl. A decision is now on her horizon: she can either keep living as a socially accepted but oppressed woman or live her life as an intersexual person and face the judgement of society. Venezuelan director Patricia Ortega turns Being Impossible into a careful examination of the tricky territory that comes with figuring out one’s gender identity belatedly.

Read Remezcla’s review.

Venezuela, Colombia
Drama
Patricia Ortega, Enmanuel Chávez
Patricia Ortega, Jhony Hendrix, Laura Barbosa
2018
85

Cachada

Marlén Viñayo

Five Salvadoran women -poor, single mothers, street vendors- have decided to embark on an unlikely dream: they want to become theater actresses.  After forming their own company, they accept the challenge of putting on a play through which they’ll bring their cruel life stories to the stage. What began as an experiment has turned into the only opportunity to transform their lives, but will they be able to face their past and get over their fears, traumas and dark secrets? Filmed over a year and a half, this observational documentary is witness to the process of creating their play, through which they’ll discover themselves as victims and victimizers in a cycle of multigenerational violence

El Salvador
Documentary
Marlén Viñayo
Marlén Viñayo, André R. Guttfreund
2019
82

Los días de la ballena

Catalina Arroyave Restrepo

Cristina and Simon are two young graffiti artists who paint the city that they live in. Their restless spirit leads them to defy a criminal gang when they decide to paint the mural of a whale over a threat written in a wall. The love that unites them, their friendship with other artists at La selva, an old house they use as a refuge, and familiar tensions, come together to tell a story where the powerful strength of youth faces fear, violence and the difficulties of growing up.

Colombia
Drama
Catalina Arroyave Restrepo
Jaime Guerrero Naudin, Natalia Agudelo, Nicolás Herreño
2019
80

La mala noche

Gabriela Calvache

Dana (Nöelle Schönwald), a smart and beautiful woman resorts to prostitution to make a living. She must deliver most of her income to a mafia boss, who protects and exploits her. She’s good at what she does, a job she landed by mistake, out of love. Perhaps, if she behaves well enough, she might get her freedom, but her daughter’s illness and addiction to a pharmaceutical drug will prevent her from reaching her goals.  An unexpected incident will give her the opportunity to break free from her captor and seek justice with her own hands.

Ecuador, Mexico
Thriller, Drama
Gabriela Calvache
Gabriela Calvache, Geminiano Pineda
2019
94

The River and the Wall

Ben Masters

The River and the Wall follows five friends on an immersive adventure through the unknown wilds of the Texas borderlands as they travel 1200 miles from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico on horses, mountain bikes, and canoes. They set out to document the borderlands and explore the potential impacts of a border wall on the natural environment, but as the wilderness gives way to the more populated and heavily trafficked Lower Rio Grande Valley, they come face-to-face with the human side of the immigration debate and enter uncharted emotional waters. Joining Masters are Brazilian NatGeo Explorer Filipe DeAndrade, ornithologist Heather Mackey, Guatemalan-American river guide Austin Alvarado, and conservationist Jay Kleberg

United States
Documentary
Hillary Pierce
2019
109