COVID-19 has disrupted the film festival circuit like no other global event before, yet despite these challenges, a handful of fests are soldiering on virtually, connecting filmmakers with audiences far beyond their physical screening venues. The Tribeca Film Festival in New York City is one such event still providing a platform to new works from filmmakers who have seen their premiere dates pushed or their plans to tour their films canceled.
In the lineup of dozens of features and shorts, here are some works from Latin American and U.S. Latino directors or center on stories from our countries that made up this year’s virtual edition.
Through the Night
Loira Limbal’s tender portrait of a child care facility is one of the underrated gems playing at Tribeca. In Through the Night, Limbal’s camera follows Nunu, a woman who spends most of her days and nights watching over the adorable children of working families and single moms in Westchester, New York. She is a lifeline, a parental figure both to the kids she cares for and the moms who turn to her for help and advice. And although it may seem fun to play with kids all day, the work is grueling, taking a physical toll on Nunu, a woman who hasn’t had a vacation day in years.
Although removed from the pandemic itself, the focus on childcare has become especially poignant in the past several months, as families are straining to teach and care for their children during business hours — and that’s if they have the privilege to work from home. Without making it too obvious, Limbal’s documentary shines a light on the unspoken backbone of our economy, the child care workers who make it possible for millions of parents to go to work each day and the precarity and challenges facing them each day. It accomplishes this through a sympathetic story, humanizing the experiences of a small community that blossomed out of this 24-hour daycare.
Rodrigo Reyes’s 499 is a much more experimental documentary, bending truth and fiction to explore Mexico’s current waves of violence, corruption and heartache. Following a stranded conquistador (Eduardo San Juan) displaced some 499 years from his timeline, this armored adventurer wanders through various areas listening to the sadness of strangers, the grief of parents who have lost children and the longing of migrants to make their journey north.
Although the stories are undoubtedly powerful and the cinematography of rural and urban Mexico looks beguiling, Reyes never clearly connects the ramifications of colonialism to the violence and loss his bemused explorer experiences, commenting on those souls he meets and majestic sights he sees. The modern-day subjects share their stories in solemn, somber scenes without too much intrusion from the conquistador’s semi-comical fish-out-of-water presence distracting from the details of migrants’ dangerous journey or the crimes that violently claimed loved ones. It’s an odd, meandering tempo between the past and the present.
Confronting the past and present to address our future seems to be a popular approach in some of these films. In Cecilia Aldarondo’s Landfall, we see an old crisis brought to new light. It’s no secret Puerto Rico has suffered unspeakable trauma and loss in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Years later, those who stayed on the island continue to struggle, now with more bureaucratic problems to worry about and a new generation of colonizers in the form of Bitcoin opportunists and vulture investors. It’s a mix of terrifying first-person accounts of the hurricane and its aftermath with lovely scenes soaking in the island’s natural beauty.
Landfall illustrates several of the island’s many contrasts between rich and poor, locals and tourists, nature claiming abandoned buildings and people fighting back through protests and action. Aldarondo, whose film Memories of a Penitent Heart played Tribeca back in 2016, returns with an incisive documentary that spans the island, following different residents in different towns as they share their heartbreaking stories and relive the troubled legacy of American colonialism, from naval bombing campaigns that shook the island for decades to its on-going debt nightmare.
We also travel to the recent past in Pacified, where a teenaged girl named Tati (Cassia Gil) must grow up fast in her Rio de Janeiro favela as she witnesses violence and gang war during the upheaval of the country’s preparations for the city’s Summer Olympic Games. In the midst of this already chaotic time, Tati is reintroduced to her father, Jaca (Bukassa Kabengele), a former gang leader who’s newly released from jail and butting heads with the neighborhood’s new crop of gang members. Unfortunately, Tati will find no comfort at home from her drug-addicted mother, Andrea (Débora Nascimento), and it seems like no one is safe in her tight-knit but tense community.
American filmmaker Paxton Winters keeps his camera focused on Tati’s coming-of-age, although it’s the grown-ups around her who commit most of the violence and wrongdoings around her. She’s just trying to keep her head above water with very little support. It’s an isolating feeling shared by nearly all of the other characters trying to survive this latest government intervention.
Gerardo Naranjo’s Kokoloko bears little resemblance to the original Miss Bala that put the Mexican director in the international spotlight. The only passing similarity is that the movies follow the harrowing experience of a young woman finding herself in the crosshairs of violence and the men who perpetuate it. In Kokoloko, Marisol (Alejandra Herrera) is under the control of her physically and sexually abusive cousin, Mauro (Eduardo Mendizábal), but she’s much more interested in his kinder associate, Mundo (Noé Hernández). Unfortunately, it’s Marisol’s cousin who holds more power, not her lover, and the secret couple are forced to hide their escapades over texts and online messages.
Set in a picturesque coastal town in Mexico, the trio meets a series of terrible events through an almost experimental, unpolished style in this stunning colorful 16mm film. While the film is unabashedly aggressive and sexual in nature, Marisol seems to have her will taken from her as the two macho men fight over her like a prize. But since the film is shot in glimpses, even keeping in the messy ends of when the film reel runs out, the characters feel more like abstractions, just essences of Marisol’s frustrating predicament.