The San Diego Latino Film Festival, now in its 24th year, is back and bigger than ever. Boasting over 160 films, more than 40 musical performances, and their 2nd Annual Sabor Latino Food, Beer and Wine Festival, the local program intended to highlight Latin American and US Latino culture will be catering to all five of your senses. Those hoping to hobnob with Mexican film luminaries like directors Arturo Ripstein, Manolo Caro, and actress/politician María Rojo, are in luck. All three are being celebrated by the fest, getting their own special tributes for their contributions to Mexican film.
Broken down by showcases, the festival has cast as wide a net as possible. Interested in rom-coms? Check out their “El Corazón” section. More into more esoteric filmmaking? “Mundo extraño” is probably for you. Eager to support female filmmakers? Look no further than the films filed under “Viva Mujeres.” Even those fans of Brazilian cinema should rejoice as Brazil is this year’s country of focus, with plenty of features repping for the expansive film industry found in South America’s largest nation. In addition to the many movies that will be shown at the festival, TV fans should also check out the special presentations of two shows that are looking to rewrite Latin American bicultural entertainment: Netflix’s One Day at a Time and Mextasy, both of which will be screened on the big screen. Add in the daily (and free!) concerts and musical performances as part of the fest’s Sonido Latino, and you have the biggest celebration of Latino culture in San Diego you could imagine.
If you need help sifting through the entire program, worry not. We’ve singled out our Top Picks which include several laugh-out comedies from PR and Brazil, a Demián Bichir/Eva Longoria double feature, and even a documentary on Peru’s most famous culinary export. Check them all out below.
24th San Diego Latino Film Festival runs March 16-26, 2017
Memories of a Penitent Heart
Like many gay men in the 1980s, Miguel moved from Puerto Rico to New York City; he found a career in theater and a rewarding relationship. Yet, on his deathbed he grappled to reconcile his homosexuality with his Catholic upbringing. Now, decades after his death, his niece Cecilia locates Miguel’s estranged lover to understand the truth, and in the process opens up long-dormant family secrets.
Death by a Thousand Cuts
Co-produced by Univision Noticias and Pivot, Death by a Thousand Cuts turns the murder of a patrolling Dominican park ranger into a metaphor for the growing rift between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Shot in the border between the two nations, which already signals the way each country has dealt with their natural resources (Haiti’s mass deforestation has led to illegal logging on the Dominican side fueling the black market for charcoal), this documentary exposes the long-simmering tensions that have led to xenophobia and racism on either side of the border.
Where teenaged Danny is from, lowrider culture is about more than just spectacular cars—it’s about ethnic heritage, community expression and family traditions. When an annual lowrider event forces him to choose between his traditional father (Demian Bichir) and his estranged criminal brother (Theo Rossi), Danny’s loyalties are severely tested.
Focused on the violence and impunity that afflicts Mexico, the film is driven by the voices of two women, Miriam and Adela. As we listen to their stories, director Tatiana Huezo offers us beautiful images of the cross-country journey that Miriam took after being released from a cartel-run prison, where she’d been held for her alleged involvement in human trafficking. After no evidence of her participation in trafficking was found, Miriam was eventually let go, becoming instead a public scapegoat for an increasingly common problem in Mexico. Interwoven with the harrowing tale of Miriam’s stay in this torturous environment is the story of Adela, a circus clown, who’s been searching for her abducted daughter who went missing over 10 years ago. Evocative of Terrence Malick, but infused with a staunchly politicized message, Tempestad is both lyrical and political.
Nostalgic, sweet, and at moments poignantly funny, Califórnia is a coming-of-age tale about a high school student, Estela, growing up in São Paulo in the 1980s. Estela is doing all she can to get to California to visit her glamorous and cultured uncle. While focused on keeping her grades up, her life is complicated by romance, sex, and social pressures.
As its title suggests, Austro-Argentine writer-director Lukas Valenta Rinner’s deadpan comedy hinges on the notion of “decency.” Belén (Iride Mockert) has started working as a maid at an upper-class residential complex, one captured by Valenta Rinner’s camera. Next door, though, as Belén soon learns, there’s a nudist colony. The young woman is intrigued, precisely because its freewheeling spirit stands in contrast with the antiseptic world she’s recently entered. Once she ventures in, A Decent Woman becomes a wry satirical look at class warfare, one which becomes increasingly discomfiting—you just know it can’t end well and the suspense Valenta Rinner builds is what makes the film such a mesmerizing accomplishment.
What better way to try and rekindle a waning relationship than a road trip? Better to be heading to the beach than to continue yelling at each other in front of a couple’s counselor. That’s precisely the set up of Hernan Jimenez’s sunny Entonces nosotros which obviously mines a relationship in crisis once Diego and Sofía hit the road. On the way they meet one of Sofía’s old friends, Malena, who’s outspoken and willing to cut through the tension between them, making what was supposed to be a peaceful getaway into an all out (and hilarious) romantic brawl.
A Filipino woman has recently moved to Montreal with her grandmother. A Mexican man has left his indigenous community behind and now lives in Mexico City. A Colombian fisherman in Buenaventura hopes to distance himself from the rural criminal gang life he’s left behind. Three stories of newcomers and immigrants are woven together in this striking multicultural film that tackles (in Mazahua, Tagalog, French, English, and Spanish, no less!) what it means to deal with the violence and loss around you in a foreign land. Colorfully depicting Canada, Mexico, and Colombia, X500 goes global by focusing on the local, immersing audiences in these disparate but ultimately similar stories around the world.
El ADN del ceviche
Ever wanted to know everything you could about Peru’s signature dish? Ceviche “is the epitome of simplicity,” we’re told in the film. After all, it’s merely raw fish marinated in lemon served with aji chiles, camote sweet potatoes, casava, and corn. And yet it’s become a world-class delicacy. Orlando Arriagada’s foodie documentary takes you on a journey throughout the North Coast of Peru, through Amazonia and Lima to explore the historical, culinary, environmental, and socio-political aspects of this dish. You’re bound to be left both hungry for some good ol’ ceviche, and eager to hop on a plane to the latest culinary capital of the world, Lima.
Ghost Magnet Roach Motel
This dizzying musical documentary lives up to its subtitle, “a Punk Musical.” Set in the border overlooking Tijuana and San Diego, and functioning as a meditation on addiction and expression, Ghost Magnet Roach Motel is the sum of its parts: Japanese filmmaker Shinpei Takeda, American musicians Tony Cozano and Brian Sweda, and Mexican visual artists Julio Orozco and Daniel Ruanova. Bringing to life their eclectic ‘artrip’ ensemble, Takeda’s film is as disorienting and hypnotic as their live performances, blending candid conversations between them all with striking black and white images of the border. It really is unlike anything else you’ve seen.
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.
A Cidade onde Envelheço
Capturing the restlessness of those young people who suddenly see themselves growing old in the blink of an eye, Marilia Rocha’s touching film serves also as a beautiful love letter to the vibrant city of Belo Horizonte. Francisca, a young Portuguese woman who’s made the Brazilian city her home in the past year, begins to see her life anew when a friend from back home comes to stay with her. As their friendship grows their conflicting desires will strain their newly built life together, forcing them to decide what and where it is they want to settle down.
La larga noche de Francisco Sanctis
No one does politically-tinged dramatic thrillers quite like Latin American cinema. In the vein of El Clan and El secreto de sus ojos, La larga noche de Francisco Sanctis takes us back to Buenos Aires in 1977 where an everyman will be given the choice of a lifetime. Having received information about an upcoming kidnapping—one of the then-routine disappearances that marked the military dictatorship—quiet middle-aged Francisco must decide whether to risk his life to save those whose names he’s received, or continue ignoring the political situation around him to save his own livelihood.
O Roubo da Taça
“Some of this actually happened,” the trailer for Jules and Dolores tells us. And it’s true. Back in 1983, the Jules Rimet Trophy (which Brazil had won in perpetuity after winning the World Cup for a third time) was stolen. Caito Ortiz’s retelling of this national tragedy is a farcical, soccer-themed riff on the heist film. It all begins with Peralta. The indebted gambler had hoped to steal the trophy’s replica to get enough money to satisfy the beautiful Dolores, but as he soon finds out, he and his happy-go-lucky buddy Borracha managed to steal the real deal. That’s when things begin to unravel and the laughs begin to pile on.
This uplifting and rollicking documentary follows the Ovarian Psycos Cycle Brigade, a new generation of women of color in East Los Angeles who are building a queer and trans inclusive community together by putting their feminist ideals in motion with raucous, irreverent activism, fighting the violence they’ve lived with all their lives, and hoping to make a difference. Through the personal stories of the crew’s rabble-rousing founder, Xela de la X, activist, poet M.C., and single mother; street artist and original Ovarian Psyco, Andi Xoch, and a bright-eyed young woman from the neighborhood, Evelyn (Evie), the film traces how the “Ovas” emerged from the diverse, youthful, Latino, working class, immigrant neighborhoods of Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles, a community situated within the historic legacy of the Chicano/a Civil Rights Movement that emerged from L.A. in the late 1960s.
Starring Venezuelan pop star Jesús “Chino” Miranda El malquerido is a biopic of Felipe Pirela, “the bolerista de América.” Telling his story of how a young kid growing up in Maracaibo became one of the most successful Latin American singers of his era, Diego Rísquez’s film glosses over most of Pirela’s life. Set against beautiful backdrops of mid-century Venezuela and using interviews as a framing device, El malquerido dives deep into Pirela’s lurid personal life, including his marriage to a teenager and their later messy divorce proceedings during which she accused him of being gay.
Sin muertos no hay carnaval
Looking at the social tensions in Guayaquil, Sebastián Cordero crafts this unflinching drama about the conflict between a wealthy young man and the 250 families who are squatting in the territory he’s just inherited from his father. Aiming for a sleek thriller aesthetic rooted in the broken down neighborhoods of Guayaquil, Cordero’s film reveals the violence and corruption that unfortunately echoes what the film’s English title promises us: “Such is the life in the Tropics.”
Un cuento de circo and a Love Song
Populated by acrobats, clowns, and various other circus performers, Demián Bichir’s directorial debut is focused on Refugio. Played by Bichir as an older man and by his nephew, José Angel Bichir, in his younger circus years, Refugio will come face to face with the father he never knew (Jorge Perugorría) and who’d left the big top harboring a secret he may finally have to own up to. And if that classy telenovelaesque synopsis weren’t enough, Bichir’s film also co-stars Eva Longoria, Stefanie Sherk, and Arcelia Ramírez in the film the famed Mexican actor-director calls “a tale about the possibility of love, redemption, and fate.”
Pepo pa’l senado
Want a laugh? This Puerto Rican comedy imagines a world in which an unscrupulous political adviser becomes a mastermind campaign manager for a bumbling ordinary balding citizen who has no qualities or political experience. She’s hell bent on getting him elected despite his utter incompetence, if only to prove that she can. Of course, he turns out to be quite the populist (it helps that he’s unconcerned by such important questions as statehood and independence), turning this political farce into quite the laugh out loud comedy where any similarities with our current reality is, as they say, pura coincidencia.
History tells us Cesar Chavez transformed the U.S. labor movement by leading the first farm workers’ union. But missing from this narrative is his equally influential co-founder, Dolores Huerta, who fought tirelessly alongside Chavez for racial and labor justice and became one of the most defiant feminists of the twentieth century. Like so many powerful women advocates, Dolores and her sweeping reforms were—and still are—sidelined and diminished. Even as she empowered a generation of immigrants to stand up for their rights, her relentless work ethic was constantly under attack. Peter Bratt’s provocative and energizing documentary challenges an incomplete history. Through beautifully woven archival footage and interviews from contemporaries and from Dolores herself, now an octogenarian, the film sets the record straight on one of the most effective and undervalued civil and labor rights leaders in modern U.S. history.