Now in its 16th year, the New York Latino Film Festival (NYLFF), presented by HBO, continues to champion the work of U.S. Latino and Latin American filmmakers alike. This year, the festival will feature more than 83 films representing 10 countries, spanning all genres including features, shorts, documentaries, web series, and experimental films starring, about and for the U.S. Latino community. Opening the fest is the Martin Sheen-starrer Princess of the Row. Director Van Maximilian Carlson’s film tells the inspiring tale of a runaway foster child who will stop at nothing to live with the only family she knows: her father – a homeless, mentally ill veteran fighting to survive on the streets of LA’s skid row.
The feature presentations – including an anniversary screening of Darnell Martin’s Bronx-set I Like It Like That –will get plenty of the spotlight. But NYLFF is committed to serving various other aspects of the Latino entertainment community. Along with Google and in an effort to support and promote the next generation of online content creators, NYLFF will present FUTURO, a one-day digital conference featuring conversations from top thought-leaders, executives, and influencers in the digital space. And partnering with HBO Latino, the fest will also present “Latinos Stand-Up,” a competition in search of the best Latino stand-up comedians around the country.
In case you’re curious to see what you should check out at the festival, we’ve combed the program and picked 10 features you can’t miss. From buzzy documentaries about current immigration policies to indie dramas starring familiar Riverdale or West Wing faces, find our top picks below.
The New York Latino Film Festival runs August 12 – 18, 2019.
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.
De Lo Mío
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.
Building the American Dream
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.
Raúl Juliá: The World’s a Stage
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.
Read Remezcla’s review.
Ester (Riverdale‘s Camila Mendes) and her overbearing mother run (Academy Award-nominee Adriana Barraza) a small bed-and-breakfast near the US/Mexico border. One night, two unwanted guests arrive, threatening the safety of everyone. But the two women are hiding a secret, one that may prove the most dangerous of all. Sara Seligman’s feature film debut is a tense thriller inspired by the real-life Falcon Lake in Texas, a reservoir on the Rio Grande along a dangerous drug smuggling route that has become synonymous with cartel violence and mysterious disappearances.
The Deported features those All-American individuals who are part of the fabric of every community. They have played high school football, been in the Boy or Girl Scouts, been a cheerleader, coached football, gone to the prom, been valedictorian, joined the military. They may have children, parents, friends, coworkers, lovers – people who care deeply about them. They are pursuing their American Dream. But then an event happens: a misplaced document, a traffic stop, a DUI, a minor drug infraction. This launches a surreal journey that may eventually lead to loss of the right to reside in the U.S. We experience the final stages of the deportation process with them.
Una Great Movie
Susan is a black American woman traveling to Mexico to rekindle a romance with her former lover. Or is she? As a screenwriter struggles to tell the story she has dreamed of writing all her life, she is faced with pushback from the gatekeepers of the film industry who insist on white-washing the cast and treating the people of color as one-dimensional stereotypes. Funny, full of heart, and thoroughly entertaining Una Great Movie incorporates a professional cast mixed with local Mexican non-actors while introducing refreshing new perspectives that challenge common stereotypes and portraying a universal humanity rather than categories of difference.
Alonso Santos is an aspiring mixed martial arts fighter struggling to make it to the pro circuit, while battling a devastating mental illness: Multiple Personality Disorder. His illness is defined by blackouts and the emergence of his violent, reckless alternate personality called “Huracán.” Alonso is encouraged by his court appointed therapist to understand the root of his illness by diving deep into the darkness of his childhood trauma, but he is pushed by his MMA coach to embrace Huracán’s hostility and aggression to achieve victory in the combat sports cage. The struggle to uncover the mystery of his trauma, and make it as a pro fighter, cripple his defense mechanisms, and allow Huracán the opportunity to accomplish things his own way — and risk destroying everything Alonso’s worked for.
Jorge is a cantankerous widower living a lonely life in the Mexican desert. One day he receives a call from his estranged daughter, an undocumented immigrant in the US, who is in desperate need of his help. Faced with the possibility of losing her three children to the NY foster care system, she decides to send them to live with Jorge while she fights for her American dream, and a road to citizenship. Paper Boats reminds us of the unconditional bond of family, and how the innocence of children can touch the most hardened of hearts.
I Like It Like That
This Cannes-premiering New York film is a veritable who’s who of 90s Latino celebrities: Lauren Velez, John Seda, Rita Moreno, Jesse Borrego, etc. (Not to mention an appearance by the Barrio Boyzz, if you’re into that sort of thing.) The film, set in the South Bronx, tells the story of a young mother of three (Velez) who learns to make due with the help of her trans sister (Borrego) after her husband (Seda) is put in jail. It’s a generally upbeat movie about U.S. Latinos living their lives, the likes of which doesn’t seem to get made much these days. Extra points for including a trans character in 1994.