Singers, Survivors, and Social Justice: 9 Latino Movies to Check Out at SXSW

Lead Photo: 'Neurotic Quest for Serenity' film still courtesy of SXSW
'Neurotic Quest for Serenity' film still courtesy of SXSW
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Latin American filmmakers are riding on Cloud 9 this week. Guillermo del Toro just won two Academy Awards for directing and producing The Shape of Water, marking the fourth time in the last five years that the Best Director statue was awarded to a Mexican-born filmmaker. Hopefully, the trend continues in 2018 and extends across all film industry events.

At the South by Southwest Film Festival, Latin American directors are being represented fairly well and looking to be recognized during the fest March 9-17. Films from countries like Nicaragua, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia are making their world and U.S. premieres across a variety of genres, including documentary, comedy, animation and drama.

Work, however, still needs to be done for U.S.-born Latino filmmakers, especially in a week where we saw the deadline to fix the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program come and go. It’s important now more than ever to show people that Latino voices in the U.S. are a vital part of the American fabric—whether it’s in the business sector, media field or entertainment industry.

Demanding more inclusion at film festivals like SXSW is one way U.S. Latinos can push for change and put more pressure on the Hollywood system to make some inherent shifts in the way talent is hired and projects are greenlit.

If you’re in Austin, Texas, for SXSW, remember to give some love to those Latino filmmakers who are fighting for a place at the table. Below are a handful of films to get you started. We chose to include movies by Latino and non-Latino directors, but always focusing on Latino stories.

SXSW Film Festival runs March 9–17, 2018. 


Nossa Chape

Julian Duque, Michael Zimbalist, Jeff Zimbalist

Imagine being a part of a sports club during a tragic accident that sees most of your teammates killed in a deadly airplane crash. This is the situation the Brazilian Chapesoense football team finds itself in when it loses all but three of its players in a serious accident on November 28, 2016. Hoping to show how an entire city handles immense tragedy, directors point their cameras on the families of the deceased, the three men who survived the crash and new members who have stepped in to fill the roster spots on the team. Should the new team move on or are the memories connected to their deceased teammates too significant to put by the wayside?

Synopsis By: Kiko Martinez
Colombia, Spain, Brazil
Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist
Colby Gottert


Ruben Blades Is Not My Name

Abner Benaim

Considered by many as the first musician to bring salsa music to an international audience, Panamanian singer, songwriter, and actor Ruben Blades is highlighted in a documentary that spans his 50-year career and gives audiences an in-depth look at his musical and political aspirations. (Does he really want to run for president of Panama?). The doc attempts to help Blades decide what the term legacy actually means. Blades has won 17 Grammys, earned a law degree from Harvard University, and has starred in such films as the 1988 comedy drama The Milagro Beanfield War, 2000’s drama All the Pretty Horses, and 2016’s biopic Hands of Stone. He currently stars on AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead.

Synopsis By: Kiko Martinez
Panama, Colombia, Argentina
Abner Benaim, Gema Juarez Allen, Cristina Gallego


Agave: The Spirit of a Nation

Nicholas Kovacic, Matthew Riggieri

Keeping their longstanding traditions alive by distilling agave in Mexico, generations of families have many reasons they continue to carry on the legacy of transforming the plant into a “sacred spirit.” From the bio-diverse landscapes of Jalisco to Oaxaca, the film follows the journey of three rural agave producers as they work from pure ambition to protect a perennial that is used to create tequila and mezcal. The documentary, which delves into the relationship between the plant and its people and explores its rich cultural heritage and history, is narrated by actor Damián Alcázar (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian).

Synopsis By: Kiko Martinez
Mexico, United States
Chantal Martineau
Matthew Riggieri, Nicholas Kovacic, Paola Villanueva Bidault


Virus Tropical

Santiago Caicedo

Adapted from a graphic novel memoir by Colombian-Ecuadorian cartoonist Paola Gaviria (aka Power Paola), the black and white, Spanish-language animated film features Paola (voiced by María Cecilia Sánchez), an exceptional and independent young girl who grew up between Ecuador and Colombia and is trying to find her place in the world. But growing up in a traditional Colombian family with an estranged priest as a father, a psychic as a mother and two older sisters, gives Paola a unique perspective on life, which shapes her personality. It is reported that this coming-of-age, adult-themed animation contains approximately 5,000 individual drawings created by Gaviria.

Synopsis By: Kiko Martinez
Enrique Lozano
Carolina Barrera Quevedo


A Tuba To Cuba

T.G Herrington, Danny Clinch

Take a tour through Cuba with filmmakers T.G Herrington and Danny Clinch as they uncover the musical roots of Ben Jaffe, a New Orleans jazz band leader and tuba player and attempt to discover how he is connected the country’s indigenous music, which gave birth to the music he now knows and loves. The trip came after President Obama lifted restrictions on the communist country, which included travel. Making their way through Cuba, the crew meets up with iconic musicians. According to Jaffe, the trip inspired him so much, he and his New Orleans jazz group recorded a new album based on their experience.

Synopsis By: Kiko Martinez
Cuba, United States
T.G Herrington
Nicelle Herrington, Han Soto


Teatro de guerra

Lola Arias

Six veterans from the Falklands War, a war that lasted 74 days in 1982, reunite to tell their stories, reminisce about old memories and make a film about their experience fighting in a battle that saw more than 900 British and Argentinian soldiers die. In the experimental documentary, three British and three Argentine vets come together to reenact stylized battle scenes from the war from inside an abandoned building and to think about the repercussions that are felt by the men 35 years later and the cultural impact it left on both countries, which includes a number of film and television productions.

Synopsis By: Kiko Martinez
Germany, Spain, Argentina
Experimental, Documentary
Lola Arias
Alejandra Grinschpun, Gema Juarez Allen


Las Sandinistas

Jenny Murray

After stepping into battle during the 1979 Sandinistas Revolution in Nicaragua and leading combat and social reform to reshape their country, a group of female rebel troops returns to their home country almost 40 years later to help transform their society’s idea of feminism and to face gender violence and their own government head on. Through these untold true stories, director Jenny Murry explores the work of the democratic socialist political party and how they were able to seize power over the Somoza dynasty and expose their revolutionary government’s suppression of women’s rights. With a strong voice, these women refuse for their history to be forgotten.

Synopsis By: Kiko Martinez
Nicaragua, United States


Neurotic Quest for Serenity

Paulinho Caruso, Teodoro Poppovic

Comedy actress and fake author Kika K (Tatá Werneck) is looking for happiness but doesn’t seem to have luck on her side. Sure, she’s famous and beautiful, has millions of adoring fans, and is about to star in a new soap opera, but she’s also suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder and trying to keep a lie from spreading too quickly. When her manager surprises Kika by telling her that she has written book, something she has actually not done, she must pretend the book is hers even after the real author begins to send her mysterious messages that plunge her into an existential crisis.

Synopsis By: Kiko Martinez
Paulinho Caruso, Teodoro Poppovic
Bianca Villar, Fernando Fraiha, Karen Castanho


Operation Odessa

Tiller Russell

From the director and producers of The Seven Five comes Operation Odessa, a true crime thriller about a Russian mobster, a Miami playboy, and a Cuban spy who teamed up to sell a nuclear submarine to a Colombian drug cartel. A gangster epic that hopscotches from Brooklyn to Miami and Cali to Moscow, the documentary tells the story of three friends who set out to hustle the Russian mob, the Cali cartel, and the DEA for the score of a lifetime.

Israel, South Africa, Russia, Spain, United States
Eli Holzman, Aaron Saidman, Sheldon Yellen