From Trans Politicians to Musical Prodigies: 12 Must-See Movies at Chicago Latino Film Festival

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The Chicago Latino Film Festival is the chance for those in the Windy City to catch some of the best movies coming out of Latin America. Gathering films that have played festivals like Sundance, Rotterdam, and Venice as well some from first-time directors hoping to get their projects seen by a welcoming crowd, CLFF is back for its 33rd edition. This year the fest opens with the marital drama One Night of Love starring two of Argentina’s top TV stars, and closes with the Chicago premiere of Elia Schneider’s award-winning biopic Tamara about the first trans person elected to Venezuela’s National Assembly. In between, audiences will be greeted by 70 feature films and 40 shorts from which to choose from.

In addition to its varied roster of films, CLFF is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Pedro Infante, a legend of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. A special concert program titled “Pedro, Mi Amor” at the National Museum of Mexican Arts on April 26 and 27, some of Infante’s most beloved songs will be performed by flutist Elena Duran and pianist Santiago Piñeirua with clips from his iconic movies.

From Cuban rom-coms and Peruvian musicals to Venezuelan docudramas and Mexican period films, there’s plenty to catch at this year’s CLFF. Check out our top picks below.

The Chicago Latino Film Festival runs April 20 – May 4, 2017.


El techo

Patricia Ramos

A pizzeria may seem a modest venture, but for the three enterprising habaneros at the center of Cuban filmmaker Patricia Ramos’ winsome feature debut, success in the pizza business holds the promise of prosperity, purpose and, just maybe, love and happiness. A deliciously off-beat romantic comedy, On the Roof offers an impeccable balance of colloquial charm and universal appeal. Ramos and her excellent cast have crafted highly relatable characters with varying degrees of ambition, ingenuity and quirk. Some current Cuban films seek to correct sweeping social ailments; by contrast, Ramos and her collaborators understand that sometimes the world is changed one dream at a time

Nicaragua, Cuba
Romantic Comedy
Patricia Ramos
Humberto Jiménez Penha


El amparo

Rober Calzadilla

According to official reports, an armed scuffle between the Venezuelan military and guerrilla fighters on the border between Colombia and its western neighbor left 14 men dead. Seeing as The amparo is set in the 1980s, the story is shocking to those watching news reports but something seems off. For starters, two of the men who survived the crossfire and who are quickly taken to a jail in their hometown, claim they had all been fishing in the Arauca river and have nothing to do with Colombia’s armed conflict. As tensions begin, the two men will have to choose whether to fight for what they know is true and risk staying in jail or corroborate the official story, sully their friends’ names but walk away free. Based on true events and beautifully capturing the beauty of the Colombian/Venezuelan border, Calzadilla’s moral thriller illuminates the complexity of finding truth in a time of conflict.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Venezuela, Colombia
Karin Valecillos
Rober Calzadilla, Giovanni García, Karin Valecillos, Rubén Sierra Salles



Elia K. Schneider

Elia Schneider’s Tamara recounts the real life story of Tamara Adrian, Venezuela’s first transgender person elected to that country’s National Assembly. The film takes the biopic route and lets us witness Tamara’s former life as Tomas, an unhappily married middle-class man with two kids, all the way up to when she finally presents herself as a woman to the world. It’s not an easy transition, sadly. She’s heckled at the school where she teaches, shamed by police officers who relish stripping her of her clothes, and even scolded by her own wife. But she doesn’t waver, knowing that she’s living her truth. Starring Luis Fernandez as Tamara, this groundbreaking project is a powerful document of the transphobia that trans women and men deal with every day.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Venezuela, Peru, Uruguay
Biopic, Drama
Fernando Butazzoni, Elia K. Schneider
Joseph Novoa



Jonal Cosculluela Sanchez

Esteban, who lives with his mother in Havana, dreams of only one thing: becoming a pianist. The imposing instrument calls out to him even though he cannot even afford a single piano class. But through sheer determination, this young wide-eyed boy will fight to achieve this dream. Looking to show what director Jonal Cosculluela Sanchez calls the harsh side of the current situation in Cuba, this uplifting drama features music by Grammy Award-winning musician Chucho Valdés.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Cuba, Spain
Amilcar Salatti


La Habitación

Carlos Bolado, Alfonso Pineda Ulloa, Alejandro Valle, Iván Ávila Dueñas, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Natalia Beristáin, Carlos Carrera, Ernesto Contreras

Can a room tell the history of a country? That’s the premise behind this anthology film. Directed by 8 different filmmakers, including Natalia Beristáin, Carlos Carrera and Alfonso Pineda Ulloa, Tales of Mexico offers vignettes set in key moments of the country’s 20th Century history—the Ten Tragic Days of the Mexican Revolution, the anti-Chinese campaign, the Tlatelolco Massacre, and the 1985 Earthquake. Together they weave together a painfully personal tapestry of the impact national events have on the everyday lives of its population.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt

Poland, Mexico
Anthology, Drama
Maria Diego Hernandez
Marta Habior, Marta Lewandowska, Luis Salinas, Edher Campos


Locos de amor

Frank Pérez-Garland

Locos de amor is not a film you see every day. It is a homegrown jukebox musical centered on a group of middle-aged women. Featuring songs straight out of your mother’s CD collection (including those by Pimpinela, Perales, Montaner, and Mocedades among others) this Peruvian flick is an anthology of sorts, following a number of women dealing with heartbreak, betrayal, and the growing pains of maturity. More Mamma Mia! than La La Land, Frank Pérez-Garland’s joyous musical numbers (staged in outdoor parks, inside shopping malls, and in parking garages) lift up this celebration of female friendship that nevertheless hints at the melancholy that we all face when experiencing the passing of time.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Music, Comedy
Bruno Ascenzo, Mariana Silva
Miguel Valladares


UIO: Sácame a pasear

Micaela Rueda

Starting her senior year of high school, Sara is ready for adventure—especially as a way to break away from her overbearing mother. Enter: Andrea, her new schoolmate with whom she starts an intimate relationship that’ll force her to come to terms with herself. Boasting a pop-friendly soundtrack and a sun-dappled look at young love, Rueda’s film promises to be a lovely entry to the LGBT canon.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt

Juan José Vallejo
Micaela Rueda, Patty Maldonado


Mi Amiga del Parque

Ana Katz

Dubbed a “worrying comedy” (“una comedia preocupante”), Katz’s film centers on the budding friendship between Liz and Rosa, two women who bond over their newborn babies. But what begins like a lighthearted take on motherhood and female friendship soon takes a turn towards noir territory. Playing the fiery Rosa, Katz taps into the unraveling that greets new mothers while weaving an increasingly dangerous tale of betrayal and suspicion that threatens to rupture the quaint if fragile life Liz (Julieta Zylberberg) had built for herself while she cared for Nicanor while her husband is away shooting a documentary.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Uruguay, Argentina
Agustina Chiarino, Ana Katz, Gastón Rothschild, Fernando Epstein, Nicolás Avruj, Diego Lerman, Ignacio Rey


Tamara y la catarina

Lucía Carreras

Tamara lives an isolated life. Amidst the bustling world of Mexico City, her mental and physical limitations keep her cocooned in her house where she takes care of lizards and ladybugs. And so, when she finds an abandoned baby one day and takes it home with her, it disrupts her very own existence. With the help of Doña Meche, her upstairs neighbor (another recluse), Tamara sets out to find out how to find the baby’s parents, embarking on an adventure that will force her out of her comfort zone while putting into relief the loneliness that’s become a comforting part of her routine.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Spain, Mexico
Lucía Carreras
Ana V. Bojorquez, Sandra Paredes


La soledad

Jorge Thielen Armand

Imagined as a poetic metaphor for Venezuela’s current socio-political crisis, director Jorge Thielen Armand set La soledad in his grandparents’ old home which was then inhabited by their lifelong maid and grandson (who play themselves in the film). As young José learns that the nature-riddled and near-dilapidated house will be demolished, he sets out to find the treasure legend tells has been buried in the estate. He sees it as his last chance at providing for his grandmother and getting them out of their squatting situation. But he’ll soon find this get rich quick scheme may not be the best way out of the poverty he’s come to know. Mixing fiction with documentary flair, La soledad is a timely indictment of the inequality that’s run rampant in Venezuela.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Rodrigo Michelangeli, Jorge Thielen Armand
Manon Ardisson


Una noche de amor

Hernán Guerschuny

After 12 years of marriage, Leonel and Paola (Argentina TV stars Sebastian Wainraich and Carla Peterson) are having a hard time rekindling that spark that first brought them together. During one disastrous date night out—with their two young kids safe at home—the couple is forced to face the facts. In between an insufferable dinner at a fancy restaurant (which they hate), a run-in with old friends (that irritates them both), and a walk around the neighborhood, this bittersweet romantic comedy is about how hard it is to keep up the happily ever after.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Romantic Comedy, Comedy
Hernán Guerschuny, Sebastián Wainraich
Gabriela Ruggeri, Mili Roque Pitt, Alejandro Montiel, Matías Levinson, Hernán Guerschuny, Sebastián Wainraich, Pablo Udenio, Alejandro Cacetta, Juan Pablo Galli, Juan Vera


The Way to Andina

Arlen Parsa

Fresh-faced indie filmmaker Arlen Parsa wants to pull of the near-impossible. He wants to stage his Colombian great-grandfather Eustasio Rosales’s long lost opera “Andina.” Found among his family’s treasured troves, Arlen wants nothing more than to give life to that which Eustasio never lived to see. He doesn’t even know whether it’s any good or if it’ll be worth the trouble, but goddarn it, he’s gonna give it a try—and film the entire process! There’s only one catch: Arlen knows nothing about opera, nor does he speak any Spanish. That’s not gonna stop him. “This is musical theater, not rocket science!” he tells the camera. The Way to Andina is just as buoyant and eager as its young Chicago director. Chronicling this ambitious tribute, this documentary may be the most touching gift a young great-grandson could come up with.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
United States
Arlen Parsa
Arlen Parsa