On July 9, actor Edward James Olmos announced the program that will be featured at the 2019 Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF). This year the festival, which includes 15 features, 17 shorts, five episodics, two special events, and two Latino podcasts live from the festival, will shine a spotlight on U.S.-born Latinx filmmakers like Cristina Ibarra, Alex Rivera, Rashaad Ernesto Green, Ben DeJesus, and Chelsea Hernandez among others. Which is to say, there’s plenty to check out at the largest Latinx film festival to be hosted in Los Angeles.

Reminding us that The Infiltrators is bound to be one of the most buzzed-about documentaries of the year, the Ibarra and Rivera-directed hybrid doc will open the five-day affair. “The Infiltrators represents everything LALIFF aspires to be — a film for our U.S. community by our U.S. community with international ramifications,” said LALIFF co-founder Olmos. “The film was made by a Latinx duo and focuses on the real-life story of undocumented youth that sacrificed everything to help others like them being held inside migrant detention centers. Nothing can be more timely.”

It’s a must-watch — as is every other project that will be screened during the fest. Nevertheless, we couldn’t help ourselves from choosing a select few that should definitely be at the top of your list. From a coming-of-age story set in Harlem, powerful real-life political victories, and an ode to one of the greatest Latino actors of his generation, you won’t want to miss any of our top picks. Read about them below.

LALIFF runs July 31 – August 4For $2 off your ticket use the discount code REMEZCLA19

1

The Infiltrators

Director Alex Rivera, Cristina Ibarra
Country United States
Production Year 2019
INFILTRATORS KEY-LUNCH-LINE-SMALL
'The Infiltrators' film still courtesy of Sundance Institute
Synopsis

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.


Film Details

Director: Alex Rivera, Cristina Ibarra
Country: United States
Genre: Crime, Drama
Writer: Alex Rivera, Aldo Velasco
Producer: Cristina Ibarra, Daniel J. Chalfen, Darren Dean
Production Year: 2019
Running Time: 93
2

Building the American Dream

Director Chelsea Hernandez
Country United States
Production Year 2019
building-the-american-dream
Courtesy of SXSW
Synopsis

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.


Film Details

Director: Chelsea Hernandez
Country: United States
Genre: Documentary
Producer: Chelsea Hernandez, Marisol Medrano
Production Year: 2019
Running Time: 75
3

Premature

Director Rashaad Ernesto Green
Country United States
Production Year 2019
Premature 02
Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival
Premature 01
Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival
Synopsis

Ayanna is making the most out of her last summer in Harlem before heading to college. She’s bold, confident, and not really looking for love — until she meets the slightly older Isaiah. After one of those rare first dates that lasts for hours, she knows there’s something different about him. Ayanna has found herself at an intimidating crossroads: one foot is still under her mother’s roof, while the other is primed to step out on her own with Isaiah. Bronx-born Boricua director Rashaad Ernesto Green captures youthful, uninhibited conviction through Ayanna’s world in flux: transitional outbursts at home with her mother, deep and sensuous encounters of intimacy with Isaiah, and moments of unfiltered honesty with her girlfriends.


Film Details

Director: Rashaad Ernesto Green
Country: United States
Genre: Romance, Drama
Writer: Rashaad Ernesto Green, Zora Howard
Producer: Joy Ganes, Rashaad Ernesto Green, Darren Dean
Production Year: 2019
Running Time: 86
4

Carlos Almaraz: Playing With Fire

Director Elsa Flores Almaraz, Richard Montoya
Country United States
Production Year 2018
Carlos Almaraz doc 01
Courtesy of San Diego Latino Film Festival
Synopsis

This stunning documentary explores the brief, rich, and contradictory life of the artist Carlos Almaraz: a Chicano activist, sexual outlaw, and visionary painter whose images of his longtime home of Los Angeles are as iconic as those of David Hockney and Edward Ruscha. Almaraz was just 48 when he died of complications of AIDS, but he packed many lifetimes of accomplishments into those intense years. In the 1960s, Almaraz lost himself in New York, exploring the outer limits of his homoerotic desires and nearly drinking himself to death. After returning to L.A. in the 1970s, he reinvented himself as an activist Chicano artist, working alongside Cesar Chavez and joining the heralded artist collective Los Four. In his final transformation, as a married man and father, Almaraz turned to more personal, visionary art; his canvases exploded with color and a near mystical energy. Playing With Fire is an intimate portrait that pays tribute to Almaraz’s genius without glossing over his demons and contradictions.


Film Details

Director: Elsa Flores Almaraz, Richard Montoya
Country: United States
Writer: Richard Montoya
Producer: Mark Roberts
Production Year: 2018
Running Time: 71
5

Councilwoman

Director Margo Guernsey
Country Puerto Rico, United States
Production Year 2018
COUNCILWOMAN_PubStill
Courtesy of the filmmakers
Synopsis

Politicians aren’t often, all in one, full-time hotel housekeepers, grandmothers, union members and immigrants working service jobs. But Carmen Castillo changes that when she wins a seat on the City Council in Providence, Rhode Island. Castillo is a Dominican City Councilwoman who maintains her job cleaning hotel rooms, as she takes on her new role in politics. She faces skeptics who say she doesn’t have the education to govern, the power of corporate interests who take a stand against her fight for a $15/hourly wage in the City, and a tough reelection against two contenders — all of this while balancing the challenges of managing a full-time job cleaning hotel rooms and a personal relationship. It’s a journey behind the scenes of politics after the victory.


Film Details

Director: Margo Guernsey
Country: Puerto Rico, United States
Genre: Documentary
Producer: Margo Guernsey, Patricia Benabe
Production Year: 2018
Running Time: 57
6

Raúl Juliá: The World’s a Stage

Director Ben DeJesus
Country United States
Production Year 2019
Raul julia documentary
Courtesy of LALIFF
Synopsis

Raúl Juliá: The World’s a Stage examines the life and career of the inspiring entertainer, Raúl Juliá. The feature documentary is a revealing portrait of the charismatic actor, who earned recognition across the world for his versatility on stage and on screen before his life was tragically cut short. From his early days on local stages in Puerto Rico to stardom on Broadway (Nine and Man of la Mancha) and in Hollywood films (The Addams Family, Kiss of the Spider Woman), Raúl’s story is one of passion, determination, and a bit of magic — all qualities for which his performances were known for.


Film Details

Director: Ben DeJesus
Country: United States
Genre: Documentary
Production Year: 2019
Running Time: 82
7

Pahokee

Director Patrick Bresnan, Ivete Lucas
Country United States
Production Year 2019
Pahokee - Still 2
A still from Pahokee by Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan, an official selection at 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Photo by Patrick Bresnan. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
Pahokee - Still 4
A still from Pahokee by Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan, an official selection at 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Photo by Patrick Bresnan. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
Synopsis

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.


Film Details

Director: Patrick Bresnan, Ivete Lucas
Country: United States
Genre: Documentary
Producer: Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan, Maida Lynn
Production Year: 2019
Running Time: 110
8

De Lo Mío

Director Diana Peralta
Country United States
Production Year 2019
de lo mio img_0383-2
'De lo mío' still courtesy of LALIFF
Synopsis

Sibling bonds are both rekindled and tested in the achingly alive feature debut from Diana Peralta. Rita (Sasha Merci) and Carolina (Darlene Demorizi), two high-spirited sisters raised in New York, travel to the Dominican Republic to reunite with their estranged brother Dante (Héctor Aníbal) and to clean out their grandparents’ old home before it is sold and knocked down. As they rifle through the remnants of their family’s legacy, shared joys, pains, and traumas resurface that they must confront once and for all. Sensitively attuned to the intricacies of sibling relationships — from the playful teasing to the way a favorite childhood song can trigger an impromptu dance party — De lo mío is a richly human look at cherishing the past while learning to let go.


Film Details

Director: Diana Peralta
Country: United States
Genre: Drama
Production Year: 2019
Running Time: 73