Film

From Ruben Blades to Power Paola: Must-See Movies at New York Latino Film Festival

Lead Photo: 'Rich Kids' courtesy of NYLFF
'Rich Kids' courtesy of NYLFF

The New York Latino Film Festival (NYLFF), the nation’s largest and most diverse Latino film festival, will be celebrating its 15th edition later this month. “We are proud to be celebrating our 15th year of serving and empowering our community,” said Calixto Chinchilla, founder of NYLFF. “This important festival, in celebration of inclusion, aims to highlight our untold stories, unique experiences and daily realities in this country. It is important now, more than ever, that we provide a strong platform for emerging and established filmmakers to showcase films that audiences can truly identify with. NYLFF is you.” Its programming does not disappoint on any of those accounts.

Opening the fest is Abner Benaim’s doc Ruben Blades Is Not My Name, which finds the usually private icon musing on his music and his legacy. But with a diverse slate representing 17 countries, spanning all genres and formats including features, shorts, documentaries, web series and experimental films featuring, about and/or for the U.S. Latino community, there’s no shortage of great films being screened at this year’s NYLFF. Check out our top picks below.

The New York Latino Film Festival runs August 22-26, 2018.

The Sentence

Rudy Valdez

Drawing from hundreds of hours of footage, filmmaker Rudy Valdez shows the aftermath of his sister Cindy’s incarceration for conspiracy charges related to crimes committed by her deceased ex-boyfriend—something known, in legal terms, as “the girlfriend problem.” Cindy’s 15-year mandatory sentence is hard on everyone, but for her husband and children, Cindy’s sudden banishment feels like a kind of death that becomes increasingly difficult to grapple with. Valdez’s method of coping with this tragedy is to film his sister’s family for her, both the everyday details and the milestones—moments Cindy herself can no longer share in. But in the midst of this nightmare, Valdez finds his voice as both a filmmaker and activist. He and his family begin to fight for Cindy’s release during the last months of the Obama administration’s clemency initiative. Whether their attempts will allow Cindy to break free of her draconian sentence becomes the aching question at the core of this riveting and deeply personal portrait of a family in crisis.

United States
Documentary
Sam Bisbee, Jackie Kelman Bisbee
2017
85

Rich Kids

Laura Somers

This vibrant portrait of six troubled teenagers showcases the talents of a young charismatic cast as it explores the ongoing challenges of economic disparities, gentrification, displacement, and evictions faced through the lens of Latino and Afro-Latino American youth in South Houston. Matías is a bright teenager whose family struggles with harsh financial troubles. When he discovers “Los Ricos,” a wealthy family, are out of town, Matías breaks into their mansion where he and his friends spend an afternoon basking in the good life. The party is soon disrupted when a trouble-making relative shows up uninvited. Loyalties are pushed to the breaking point as Matías’s desire for power in the house rises.

United States
Drama
Laura Somers, David Saldaña
Laura Somers, Eddie Rodriguez
2018
97

Make Love Great Again

Aaron Agrasanchez

Mexican-born director Aaron Agrasanchez’s second feature is a pointed comedy about transnational lovers in a dangerous time. Set in Miami during the Trump ascendancy, Make Love Great Again pits adorable newlyweds Chris and Natalie against a pair of unduly suspicious federal agents charged with approving the verity of their marriage. Chris is American, Natalie’s a Mexican in the US on a student visa; their nuptials can grant her that coveted permanent residency—but only if their love story seems credible. Darting between fun and tumultuous flashbacks and the unnerving weirdness of Chris and Natalie being interrogated about their intimacy, Make Love Great Again is about how sometimes you need to lie in order to tell the truth—and how, with a little luck and tenacity, love trumps all.

United States
Romance, Drama
Shane Kinsler
Alex Agrasanchez, Tom Musca, Jay Hemrajani, Shane Kinsler, Eduardo Prado
2017
98

American Curious

Gabylu Lara

Jordan Belfi (Grey’s Anatomy, Entourage), Ana Claudia Talancón and Isela Vega star in this romantic comedy about a Chicago-based stand-up comedian, David Green, who finds out that the Mexican biological mother he never knew has passed away and left him a restaurant in Mexico City. David travels to Mexico where, with the help of Sol, the restaurant’s chef, he embarks on a journey in search of his roots and the secret recipe for a soup created by his mother.

Mexico
Romantic Comedy, Comedy
Ricardo Aguado, Gabylu Lara
Monica Vargas Celis, Leonardo Zimbrón
2017
85

Virus Tropical

Santiago Caicedo

Adapted from a graphic novel memoir by Colombian-Ecuadorian cartoonist Paola Gaviria (aka Power Paola), the black and white, Spanish-language animated film features Paola (voiced by María Cecilia Sánchez), an exceptional and independent young girl who grew up between Ecuador and Colombia and is trying to find her place in the world. But growing up in a traditional Colombian family with an estranged priest as a father, a psychic as a mother and two older sisters, gives Paola a unique perspective on life, which shapes her personality. It is reported that this coming-of-age, adult-themed animation contains approximately 5,000 individual drawings created by Gaviria.

Synopsis By: Kiko Martinez
Colombia
Animation
Enrique Lozano
Carolina Barrera Quevedo
2017
97

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

Un Traductor

Rodrigo Barriuso, Sebastián Barriuso

In 1989 Havana, Russian literature professor Malin (Rodrigo Santoro) gets a mysterious note at the university with orders from the government sending him to a local hospital, where he learns he is expected to act as translator between the Cuban doctors and the families of young patients from the Chernobyl disaster. Initially raging against his new role, Malin is forced to stay on, and he eventually becomes deeply devoted to his patients. But while he becomes “king of the kids” at the hospital, his relationships with his pregnant wife and young son suffer. Meanwhile, life around all of them shifts as the “Special Period”—the economic crisis in Cuba that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union—begins. Rooted in the little-known true story of how twenty thousand Chernobyl victims were eventually treated in Cuba, Un Traductor immerses an emotional drama in crisply shot, beautifully realized period detail of Havana in 1989.

Canada, Cuba
Drama
Lindsay Gossling
Sebastián Barriuso, Lindsay Gossling
2017
107

Cenizas

Juan Sebastian Jacome

On the brink of eruption, Cotopaxi spews ash issuing an eerie shadow over Quito while a young woman confronts dormant familial conflicts in this stunning and poignant drama. Caridad hasn’t spoken to her father in years—not since he left the family under a cloud of suspicion and accusations. But that changes when Cotopaxi, a long dormant volcano overlooking Quito, suddenly threatens to erupt, and Caridad finds herself isolated and trapped within the blast zone. Out of options, she reaches out to her father and confronts the emotions she repressed for so many years.

Ecuador, Uruguay
Drama
Juan Sebastian Jacome
Irina Caballero, Andrew Hevia, Germán Tejeira
2018
97

La familia

Gustavo Rondón Córdova

Twelve-year-old Pedro roams the streets with his friends, raised by the violent urban atmosphere around him in a working class district of Caracas. After Pedro seriously injures another boy in a rough game of play, single father Andrés decides they must flee to hide. Andrés will realize he is a father incapable of controlling his own teenage son, but their situation will bring them closer than they have ever been. Director Gustavo Rondón’s paints a gritty, fast-paced picture of the violence of everyday life in Venezuela’s capital city while telling the story of a father willing to sacrifice everything for his son.

Norway, Venezuela, Chile
Crime, Drama
Gustavo Rondón Córdova
Natalia Machado Fuenmayor, Marianela Illas, Gustavo Rondón Córdova, Rodolfo Cova, Rubén Sierra Salles
2017
82