From Border Hunters to Blind Ballerinas: 6 Must-See Latino Films at the Los Angeles Film Festival

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Superheroes! Reboots! Remakes! Sequels! You can’t escape it: summer movie season is upon us. But if you’re not quite as taken with what Hollywood has to offer you, you may want to check out the many film festivals coming your way in the warm months ahead. The Los Angeles Film Festival, just released its program and it’s a welcome change of pace from the reheated and re-branded marketing efforts Hollywood is passing off as entertainment this summer. For starters, take these stats: across the five feature competition categories in the fest’s program, 43% of the films are directed by women and 38% of the films are directed by people of color. Try seeing that type of diversity at your local multiplex!

With an impressive Competition lineup, intriguing Buzz and Limelight sections, and a number of free screenings, combing through the festival’s program can be a daunting task. But don’t worry, we’ve gone through and singled out the Latino films you don’t want to miss. Yes, they include some films that rely on tired Latino tropes like a certain Cuarón feature on immigrants that was tapped as the Closing Night of the fest, but they also include innovative docs on juvie inmates and blind ballerinas, plus the groundbreaking docufiction Lupe Under the Sun that uses real farmworkers as actors. Check them out below.

The Los Angeles Film Festival runs June 1-9, 2016 at the ArcLight Cinemas.


They Call Us Monsters

Ben Lear

In California, juveniles between the ages of 14 and 17 can be tried as adults for violent crimes. With unprecedented access to The Compound—a high-security facility in the middle of Sylmar Juvenile Hall in California—director Ben Lear wants you to get to know Juan, Jarad and Antonio, three inmates who are facing adult sentencing that would keep them in the prison system for life. As we witness these young men try and rewrite their childhoods in a screenwriting workshop, Lear also offers us the legislative debates around SB260, which gives children a so-called second chance by allowing them parole eligibility after 35 years.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
United States
Sasha Alpert, Gabriel Cowan


Lupe bajo el sol

Rodrigo Reyes

Straddling the line between documentary and narrative filmmaking, Rodrigo Reyes has turned his grandfather’s story into a meditation on the struggles of immigrants. Set in California’s Central Valley and featuring a cast of non-actors, Lupe Under the Sun follows a field laborer who learns he’s about to die and who must head back home to Mexico to make amends before it’s too late.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Mexico, United States
Rodrigo Reyes
Su Kim



Ricardo de Montreuil

Where teenaged Danny is from, lowrider culture is about more than just spectacular cars—it’s about ethnic heritage, community expression and family traditions. When an annual lowrider event forces him to choose between his traditional father (Demian Bichir) and his estranged criminal brother (Theo Rossi), Danny’s loyalties are severely tested.

United States
Joshua Beirne-Golden, Cheo Hodari Coker, Elgin James, Justin Tipping
Brian Grazer


Olhando pras estrelas

Alexandre Peralta

Alexandre Peralta’s documentary takes us inside the world’s only ballet school for the blind, the Fernanda Bianchini Ballet Association for the Blind in São Paulo, Brazil. Following Geyza, the school’s prima ballerina who is torn between her young family and her aspirations to become a better dancer, and Thalia, one of Geyza’s students who’s still navigating the world of middle school without the benefit of sight, Looking at the Stars is as inspiring as it sounds, reminding us that the beauty of art transcends so many obstacles.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Nicaragua, Brazil, United States
Alexandre Peralta, Melisa Rebelo Kerezi
Alejandro Ernesto Martinez B., Alexandre Peralta, Melisa Rebelo Kerezi, Corina Maritescu, Chao Thao, Thais Peralta



Ari Issler, Ben Snyder

After being involved in the fatal shooting of a local drug dealer, U.S. Marine Nelson Sanchez returns to the neighborhood he fled years ago. Amid the fanfare and celebration, the brother of the deceased learns of Nelson’s homecoming and vows revenge. Word reaches Nelson but instead of fleeing, he charts an unlikely path to break the cycle of violence that defined him.

United States
Ari Issler, Ben Snyder, Victor Almanzar
Danny Mendoza, Joshua Blum, Gia Walsh, Kara Baker, Matthew Thurm



Jonas Cuaron

Tackling the ever timely issue of immigration, the younger Cuarón’s Desierto takes that one crossing-the-border plot line from Babel, adds in a ruthless minuteman (Watchmen‘s Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and for good measure, gives us Gael García Bernal in full-on survival mode. When a group of Mexicans try to cross over into the United States, they are forced to face a rifle-toting vigilante who’s intent on putting a bullet in them before they get any further along the border.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
France, Mexico
Jonas Cuaron, Mateo Garcia
Jonas Cuaron, Carlos Cuaron, Charles Gillibert, Alfonso Cuaron, Alex Garcia