Film

These Are the Must-See Movies at San Diego Latino Film Festival

Lead Photo: 'Harvest Season' image courtesy of DOC NYC
'Harvest Season' image courtesy of DOC NYC

Now in its 26th year, the San Diego Latino Film Festival continues to celebrate the wide variety of US Latino and Latin American cinema. With over a hundred films – including screenings of classics like Allison Anders’s Mi vida loca and the 4K restoration of Mikhail Kalatozo’s Soy Cuba – the fest offers choices for every kind of moviegoer. Whether you’re itching to catch the latest Gael García Bernal flick, see the groundbreaking queer cinema coming out of Brazil, or watch a whole slew of soccer-themed films, you’re bound to find something worth catching.

Moreover, with its proximity to the border, this year’s festival will also be screening the 15 finalists of the “Migrant Voices Today” Film Challenge. These finalists (out of a pool of 293 entries) openly give voice to the immigrants who have arrived at the border, the realities of their everyday lives, and the struggle of being caught in the crosshairs of a binational debate. After the screening, two award winners chosen by a jury will be announced, one for an emerging artist and one for a professional media maker.

The entire program includes over 160 films from Latin America, Spain, the United States, Mexico and other parts of the world in celebration of Latino film, art, and culture. As always, find our top picks below.

San Diego Latino Film Festival runs March 14–24, 2019.

1

The Pushouts

Dawn Valadez, Katie Galloway

The Pushouts tells the story of celebrated professor Víctor Ríos, a Mexican immigrant, once gang-affiliated teen, who radically changes his life with the help of his mentor Martín Flores. The film weaves together compelling twenty-year-old archival footage of Víctor and his mentor Martín along with compelling contemporary footage of the two men today, as they work together to change the lives of other students on the margins of failure. Referred to as “push-outs,” these students have been suspended or expelled from school and, unfortunately, some are ultimately pushed into the criminal justice system.

United States
Documentary
2018
56

2

They Called Me King Tiger

Ángel Estrada

In 1967, Chicano leader King Tiger (born Reies Lopez Tijerina) along with armed men took over the court of Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico by force. The outcome of such bold action was the largest manhunt in recent US history. Tijerina managed to survive prison, a psychiatric hospital, and a several assassination attempts. The Chicano movement weakened, Tijerina faded away. People speak of him as a saint, an enlightened man, a man that used violence for a just cause. King Tiger is alive and he wants to tell his story.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWSkOa1Ha18

Mexico
Documentary
2017
88

3

Inventing Tomorrow

Laura Nix

Indonesia, India, Mexico, Hawaii, and many other countries, communities, and islands are rife with the ravages of environmental degradation. But hope comes with a surprising—and touching—group of young people. Meet six brilliant high school students as they prepare for the world’s largest high school science competition: the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Inspired by the issues and problems they’ve witnessed in their own communities, these teens propose big ideas and ingenious solutions to the world’s environmental challenges. With unfettered minds and ambition, they descend upon Los Angeles to participate in ISEF and meet thousands of their peers from all over the world. Soon, a sense of global community forms, focused on making the world a better place.

United States
Documentary
Diane Becker, Melanie Miller, Laura Nix
2018
100

4

Carlos Almaraz: Playing With Fire

Elsa Flores Almaraz, Richard Montoya

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.

United States
Richard Montoya
Mark Roberts
2018
71

5

Amigo Skate, Cuba

Vanesa Wilkey-Escobar

Skateboarding is as much a passion as a leisure activity—but to skate in Cuba requires a level of ardor, we Americans know nothing about. Vanesa Wilkey-Escobar’s debut documentary tracks a transnational effort led by Miami’s own Rene Lecour, founder of Amigo Skate, to get Cuban skaters the gear and space they need. The journey is uphill: the only current skate-park in Havana is built on a drainage ditch and the Cuban government is reluctant to recognize skateboarding—an American invention—as a valid sport. What’s more, negotiating with government officials demands a demonstrative respect for authority that can feel antithetical to those whose credo is founded in skate culture’s outlaw mentality. Filled with thrilling sequences of skate virtuosity, Amigo Skate, Cuba presents a fascinating case of cooperation overcoming culture clash—and a universal portrait of freedom on four little wheels.

United States
Documentary
Vanesa Wilkey-Escobar
Chris Wedding and Vanesa Wilkey- Escobar
2018
72

6

Bayoneta

Kyzza Terrazas

Miguel “Bayoneta” Galíndez (Club de Cuervos’ Luis Gerardo Méndez) is a retired boxer from Tijuana, who through a roll of the dice ends up living in a small complex in Turuk, Finlandia. When he’s not at the gym working as a boxing trainer, he is hitting the bottle somewhere. But an impending need for redemption will lead him back onto the ring to fight one of his worst enemies: his past. This is Kyzza Terrazas’ third feature film, a powerful piece in which he collaborates with Luis Gerardo Méndez, one of the most regarded actors of his generation; in it, he successfully portrays the emotional turmoil of a tortured character living in the vast Scandinavian landscape and its merciless cold.

Finland, Mexico
Drama
Rodrigo Márquez Tizano, Kyzza Terrazas
Stacy Perksie, Maria Jose Cordova, Rafael Ley
2018
95

7

Cómprame un revólver

Julio Hernández Cordón

Julio Hernández Cordón’s Cómprame un revolver i set in an imagined not-so-distant future world where women are a disappearing species. That’s why its young protagonist, Huck (played by Matilde Hernandez, the director’s own daughter) wears a mask. If the armed guys who employ her dad to keep up a baseball field ever found out she’s a girl, she’d surely be taken away. That’s what happened to her older sister and her mother. Shot in dusty desert landscapes with an eye for an anarchic sense of whimsy (Mad Max meets Hook), this narco-dystopia is a fascinating riff on contemporary Mexican violence.

Mexico
Drama
Julio Hernández Cordón
Rodrigo Sebastian Gonzalez, Maria Jose Cordova, Rafael Ley
2018
60

8

Somos calentura

Jorge Navas

Once a bustling center of international trade, the Colombian port city of Buenaventura has long since fallen on hard times. The docks have grown quiet, residents hustle to make ends meet, and the drug trade is king, giving Buenaventura the designation of being the nation’s deadliest city. For lifelong friends Harvey, Freddy, Baby and Caleñito, opportunities to get ahead are few and far between, but when their dance crew Buenaventura Mon Amour hits the stage, they are undisputed kings. But after Harvey’s desperate attempt to improve the lives of his young family ends in disaster, he soon feels the pull of quick money as a courier for dangerous local drug kingpin Ribok. When a major dance competition comes to town, with its badly needed cash prize, Harvey and the crew must navigate between the pull of the streets and the power of dance in this fresh, exciting film — with jaw-dropping dance battles that have to be seen to be believed — from director Jorge Navas.

Colombia
Steven Grisales, Diego Vivanco
Steven Grisales
2018
104

9

Tarde para morir joven

Dominga Sotomayor

It is the summer of 1990. As Chile returns to democracy after 17 years of dictatorship, a small network of previously urban families have decided to return to rural living, constructing their new community at the foot of the Andes. While the adults busy themselves with such essentials as electricity and plumbing, the children run free on a vast playground of woods and rivers. Sixteen-year-old Sofia, meanwhile, struggles with challenges of a more internal nature. Her father is withdrawn, while her mother, a popular musician, is largely absent, though she promises to visit the encampment for its imminent New Year’s Eve celebrations. Clearly adored by Lucas, a sensitive boy her age, Sofia has her sights set on Ignacio, a charismatic young man with a motorbike on which Sofia dreams of being swept off to some place far from this. With its sun-kissed images and magnificent ensemble cast, Too Late to Die Young immerses us in this experiment in communal renewal.

Qatar, Netherlands, Chile, Brazil, Argentina
Drama
Dominga Sotomayor
Dominga Sotomayor, Rodrigo Teixeira
2018
110

10

Las herederas

Marcelo Martinessi

Chela (Ana Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irun) are a middle aged lesbian couple living in present day Asunción, Paraguay. Descendants of Paraguayan aristocracy, the women have enjoyed a silver spoon lifestyle together for thirty years. When the couple is abruptly hit by financial hardship, they scramble to find work and auction off their respective heirlooms—silver spoons included—to stay afloat. When Chiquita is imprisoned for her fraudulent side hustle, Chela begins working as a taxi driver, gradually building new relationships and autonomy for the first time in her life. Each caged—one by a gutted lovenest, the other by razor wire—an irremediable distance grows between the two women. Set in writer-director Marcelo Martinessi’s hometown, The Heiresses embraces minimal dialogue, a twilight palette, and unconventional beauty to tell a melancholy yet satisfying story of new beginnings.

Norway, Paraguay, Germany, Uruguay, France, Brazil
Drama
Marcelo Martinessi
Sebastián Peña Escobar, Marcelo Martinessi
2018
98

11

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
Documentary
Abner Benaim, Gema Juarez Allen, Cristina Gallego
2018
85

12

La camarista

Lila Avilés

Eve (Gabriela Cartol) works long hours as a maid at a luxurious hotel in Mexico City. A young, single mother who travels far to get to her place of work, Eve has aspirations for the future and hopes that her diligence will get her a coveted spot as the cleaner on an executive floor. She enrolls in the hotel’s adult education program in her quest for a better life but quickly discovers that it’s not necessarily the most hard-working who get noticed for advancement. The Chambermaid, Lila Avilés’s striking debut, employs a quasi-documentary approach as it accompanies Eve on her daily routine. She quietly enters one indistinguishable guest room after another and we are struck by the intimacy behind the act of cleaning a stranger’s mess. The disparity between the guests and those working at the hotel — who often do not have hot water in their own homes — accurately reflects the reality in many Latin American countries.

Mexico
Drama
Lila Avilés, Juan Carlos Marquéz
Romy Tatiana Graullera, Lila Avilés
2018
102

13

Harvest Season

Bernardo Ruiz

Lush and luxurious, California’s Napa and Sonoma Valleys are known for their top-notch wine making. The unsung heroes of the industry are the vineyard workers and small producers, who lovingly oversee all aspects of the wine-making process, from vine to vintage. Unfolding over the course of one of the most dramatic harvests in history, Bernardo Ruiz’s film follows three people whose lives are rooted in wine making, immersing the audience in the challenging and unpredictable process.

United States
Documentary
Lauren Capps, Bernardo Ruiz
2018
83

14

Bixa Travesty

Claudia Priscilla, Kiko Goifman

Black Brazilian transgender singer Linn da Quebrada weaponizes the trans body and music for political protest. Linn and childhood friend Jup do Bairro use extravagantly costumed performances to dazzle audiences while opposing their country’s white heteronormative order. Figuring her embodied existence as resistance, Linn eschews the role of cis woman, instead choosing a fluid gender identity. Full of funny and intimate moments, the film advocates for personal choice against a society that imposes static gender identity.

Brazil
Documentary
Kiko Goifman, Claudia Priscilla, Linn da Quebrada
Kiko Goifman, Evelyn Mab
2018
75

15

Retablo

Alvaro Delgado Aparicio

As his name suggests, fourteen year-old Segundo Paucar (Junior Behar) is his father Noé’s (Amiel Cayo) most devoted apprentice. Together, they craft intricate storyboxes—consisting of a cabinet, hand-painted figurines, and a lot of heart—for Peruvian families. Upon discovering his father with another man, Segundo struggles to accept his father’s delicate touch and its beautiful byproducts. With this award-winning debut feature, Alvaro Delgado Aparicio emphasizes his devotion to the touching and fraught power structure that afflicts fathers and sons. In Retablo, patience in art and relationships might be tragically condemned by society, yet they are fiercely rewarded by family.

Norway, Peru, Germany
Drama
Alvaro Delgado Aparicio, Héctor Gálvez
2018
95

16

Los días más oscuros de nosotras

Astrid Rondero

Ana has a vague memory of her sister’s death near their family home in Tijuana. When she returns for work, her encounter with Silvia, the tenant who now lives in the house and wants to buy it, forces Ana to confront the violent events of her past.

Mexico
Drama
Lila Nieto, Astrid Rondero
Fernanda Valadez
2017
97

17

Salud sin papeles: Health Undocumented

Juan Freitez

Sparked by backlash to a neo-Nazi rally and a stream of strict anti-immigrant laws passing in Arizona, a group of activists organize to build Phoenix Allies for Community Health, a unique free clinic serving undocumented immigrants. The film follows their journey, delves into the heart and history of the clinic, and chronicles the poignant stories of undocumented patients as well as their courage and resilience. Salud sin papeles captures the inspirational birth of a local grassroots movement, full of beautiful human portraits including those of doctors, nurses, and activists who would stop at nothing to make a difference.

United States
2028
84

18

La boda de mi mejor amigo

Celso R. García

Julia (Ana Serradilla) is a well-known food blogger who is terrified of commitment and has never had a steady relationship. Despite that, she and her best friend Manuel made a pact with each other that if neither of them were married by the time they turned 35, they would marry each other. One afternoon, Julia gets a call from Manuel, who tells her that he will be married to someone else in four days. Knowing that she is the perfect woman for her friend, Julia will stop at nothing to keep the wedding from happening. Featuring Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Natasha Dupeyron, and Carlos Ferro.

Mexico
Romantic Comedy
Gabriel Ripstein
Daniel Birman Ripstein, Gerardo Moran
2019
90

19

La Casa Lobo

Joaquín Cociña, Cristóbal León

Evoking Colonia Dignidad, an infamous torture colony operating during the Pinochet regime, The Wolf House is an animated film unlike any other, an exquisitely handcrafted surrealist docu-horror-fairy tale about one of Chile’s darkest periods. It begins with Mary, a young girl who hides in a mysterious house in southern Chile after escaping from a sect of German religious fanatics. Using stop-motion techniques and combining elements of various fables, photography, drawing, sculpture, and stage performance, Joaquín Cociña and Cristóbal León have created a nightmarish shapeshifter of a film.

Germany, Chile
Animation
Joaquín Cociña, Cristóbal León, Alejandra Moffat
Niles Atallah, Catalina Vergara
2018
75

20

Muere, monstruo, muere

Alejandro Fadel

Rural police officer Cruz investigates the bizarre case of a headless woman’s body found in a remote region by the Andes Mountains. David, the husband of Cruz’s lover Francisca, becomes the prime suspect and is sent to a local mental hospital. David blames the crime to the inexplicable and brutal appearance of the “Monster.” Cruz stumbles on a mysterious theory involving geometric landscapes, mountain motorcyclists and a mantra stuck in his head: Murder Me, Monster.

Argentina
Drama
Alejandro Fadel
Fernando Brom
2018
109