Film

12 Must-See Latino Movies at the San Francisco International Film Festival

Lead Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival
Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

As the Bay Area readies itself to welcome yet another edition of the San Francisco Film Festival, Latinx audiences will be happy to hear there’s plenty to enjoy in this year’s program. All eyes will understandably be on the opening night presentation, a sneak peek at Netflix’s upcoming miniseries sequel to Armistead Maupin’s San Francisco-set Tales of the CityOlympia Dukakis and Laura Linney will reprise their iconic roles as Anna Madrigal and Mary Ann Singleton, and this time they’ll be joined by a brand new cast that includes Ellen Page, Looking‘s Murray Bartlett as well as Latinx actors Josiah Victoria GarciaJuan Castano and Daniela Vega.

Elsewhere, Bay Area filmgoers will get a chance to see some of the most exciting independent cinema making waves here and abroad. In particular, there’s a wealth of films from Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Brazil, and the United States that showcase the vibrant work of Latinx filmmakers around the world. As you set about making plans to buy tickets, make sure to look at our list of everything Latino playing this year’s fest, which includes docs about AOC and CDMX’s private ambulances as well as feature films about Harlem romances and Colombian guerrillas.

San Francisco Film Festival runs April 10 – 23, 2019

Lapü

Juan Pablo Polanco, César Alejandro Jaimes

On a windy night in the Colombian desert, a young Wayúu woman named Doris sleeps in her hammock and has a dream that she reunites with a deceased cousin. When she awakens and shares the encounter with her grandmother, they agree that her vision suggests the beginning of an ancient ritual, one central to their culture’s relationship with death, dreams, and memory. According to custom, Doris must travel to her cousin’s grave and exhume the body from its coffin. Only after she cleanses her cousin’s bones will the physical and spiritual barriers of death crumble. Lapü documents Doris’s journey into the realm of death, layering her ritual with hypnotic visual and sonic abstraction.

Colombia
Documentary
Juan Pablo Polanco, César Alejandro Jaimes, María Canela Reyes
Julián Quintero
2018
75

Sueño Florianópolis

Ana Katz

Lucrecia (Mercedes Morán) and Pedro (Gustavo Garzón), psychoanalysts both, have been together many years. With their two children nearing adulthood, the couple has decided to re-evaluate their marriage and declare themselves separated. Sort of. The family takes a road trip to Florianópolis, the Brazilian island city where Lucrecia and Pedro once enjoyed an idyllic getaway. They rent a cottage from another middle-aged husband and wife who are also, as it happens, on the verge of a split. Between bouts of swimming, eating, drinking, and karaoke, opportunities arise for adults and adolescents alike to find sex or romance or both. As Lucrecia’s birthday approaches, however, these carefree days prompt deeper questions about the roles we play, the love we share, and the possibilities life still offers.

France, Brazil, Argentina
Family, Drama
Ana Katz, Daniel Katz
Beto Gauss, Camila Groch, Francesco Civita, Dominique Barneaud, Adrien Oumhani, Ana Katz, Nicolás Avruj, Diego Lerman
2018
106

Belmonte

Federico Veiroj

Belmonte (Gonzalo Delgado) is preparing for an upcoming exhibition of his work at Montevideo’s National Museum. His paintings are sensual, fantastical, and at times colorful, yet all have a melancholic undertone. A divorced dad, Belmonte has of late been more obsessed with his relationship with his young daughter, Celeste, than with his work, especially as Celeste’s mom is about to have a baby with her new partner.

Uruguay, Spain, Mexico
Drama
Federico Veiroj
Juan José López, Sandro Halphen, Charles Barthe, Fernando Franco, Federico Veiroj
2018
75

Premature

Rashaad Ernesto Green

Ayanna is making the most out of her last summer in Harlem before heading to college. She’s bold, confident, and not really looking for love — until she meets the slightly older Isaiah. After one of those rare first dates that lasts for hours, she knows there’s something different about him. Ayanna has found herself at an intimidating crossroads: one foot is still under her mother’s roof, while the other is primed to step out on her own with Isaiah. Bronx-born Boricua director Rashaad Ernesto Green captures youthful, uninhibited conviction through Ayanna’s world in flux: transitional outbursts at home with her mother, deep and sensuous encounters of intimacy with Isaiah, and moments of unfiltered honesty with her girlfriends.

United States
Romance, Drama
Rashaad Ernesto Green, Zora Howard
Joy Ganes, Rashaad Ernesto Green, Darren Dean
2019
86

We Are The Radical Monarchs

Linda Goldstein Knowlton

A group of tween girls chant into megaphones, marching in the San Francisco Trans March. Fists clenched high, they wear brown berets and vests showcasing colorful badges like “Black Lives Matter” and “Radical Beauty.” Meet the Radical Monarchs, a group of young girls of color at the front lines of social justice. Set in Oakland, a city with a deep history of social justice movements, the film documents the journey of the group as they earn badges for completing units including being an LGBTQ ally, preserving the environment, and disability justice. Started by two fierce, queer women of color (Anayvette Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest) whom we follow as they face the challenge to grow the organization, the film tracks the moment right before and soon after the 2016 election.

Read Remezcla’s review.

United States
Documentary
Linda Goldstein Knowlton, Katie Flint
2018
97

Knock Down the House

Rachel Lears

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young, bold Puerto Rican bartender from the Bronx, works double shifts to save her family’s home from foreclosure. Struggling with her own financial problems, she knows many of her neighbors are also hard-pressed to make a living. In order to bring representation to one of the most marginalized constituencies in America, Alexandria runs for office. This film follows four women — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin — who join a movement of insurgent candidates to topple incumbents in an electric primary race for Congress. At a moment of historic volatility in American politics, these four women — all political outsiders — unite to do what many consider impossible. Their efforts result in a legendary upset.

United States
Documentary
Rachel Lears, Robin Blotnick
Sarah Olson, Rachel Lears, Robin Blotnick
2019
86

Midnight Family

Luke Lorentzen

With striking vérité camerawork, Midnight Family drops us directly into the frenetic nighttime emergency ecosystem of Mexico City. In the midst of high-speed ambulance rides, we meet the Ochoas, a ragtag family of private paramedics, who try desperately every day to be the first responders to critically injured patients. In a city where the government operates only 45 emergency ambulances for a population of over nine million, the family acts as a crucial—but unregistered—underground lifeline. But the job is riddled with police bribes and cutthroat competition. And even though the Ochoa family has a reputation for being trustworthy, they must reckon with the sudden escalation in bribes that could force them to wade into the ethically questionable practice of making money off of patients in dire straits.

Mexico, United States
Documentary
Kellen Quinn, Luke Lorentzen, Daniela Alatorre, Elena Fortes
2018
81

Pahokee

Patrick Bresnan, Ivete Lucas

Four high school students embark on their senior year in Pahokee, a small Florida town on the shores of Lake Okeechobee. One of the students is Jocabed Martinez, a young Latina who came from Mexico when she was two and works shifts at her family’s taqueria. The teens navigate sometimes exciting, sometimes heartbreaking rite of passage rituals as they make profound decisions about their futures. As they do, the pressure of Pahokee’s economic hardships weighs heavily on their shoulders — the community has placed all hopes for opportunity on them, the next generation. The documentary is directed by Brazilian-born, Mexico-raised Ivete Lucas and her co-director Patrick Bresnan.

United States
Documentary
Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan, Maida Lynn
2019
110

The Edge of Democracy

Petra Costa

Once a nation crippled by a military dictatorship, Brazil found its democratic footing in 1985 and then, in 2002, elected a hugely popular political disrupter: steel-worker-turned-activist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Under his watch, 20 million Brazilians were lifted out of poverty, and his country rose to international prominence. In 2010, Lula passed the presidential baton to his prodigy, a fierce female guerrilla named Dilma Rousseff. But beneath their sunny legacy, rumblings of populist rage and institutional corruption seeped into the mainstream – much of it abetted by a partisan judge who fed news outlets sensational, deeply flawed corruption reports that targeted Lula, Dilma and anyone else who refused to scratch the backs of powerful politicians and special interest groups. With remarkably intimate access, The Edge of Democracy follows Brazil’s embattled leaders as they grapple with a scandal born out of their country’s fascist past and inflamed by a furious and ideologically divided nation.

Brazil
Documentary
David Barker, Moara Passoni, Carol Pires, Petra Costa
Joanna Natasegara, Shane Boris, Tiago Pavan
2018
113

La camarista

Lila Avilés

Eve (Gabriela Cartol) works long hours as a maid at a luxurious hotel in Mexico City. A young, single mother who travels far to get to her place of work, Eve has aspirations for the future and hopes that her diligence will get her a coveted spot as the cleaner on an executive floor. She enrolls in the hotel’s adult education program in her quest for a better life but quickly discovers that it’s not necessarily the most hard-working who get noticed for advancement. The Chambermaid, Lila Avilés’s striking debut, employs a quasi-documentary approach as it accompanies Eve on her daily routine. She quietly enters one indistinguishable guest room after another and we are struck by the intimacy behind the act of cleaning a stranger’s mess. The disparity between the guests and those working at the hotel — who often do not have hot water in their own homes — accurately reflects the reality in many Latin American countries.

Mexico
Drama
Lila Avilés, Juan Carlos Marquéz
Romy Tatiana Graullera, Lila Avilés
2018
102

Monos

Alejandro Landes

Belonging to a rebel group called “the Organization,” a ragtag band of child soldiers, brandishing guns and war names like Rambo, Wolf, Lady, and Bigfoot, occupies a derelict ruin atop a remote mountain where they train themselves, watch over a “conscripted” milk cow, and hold hostage a kidnapped American engineer, Doctora (Julianne Nicholson). But after an attack forces them to abandon their base, playtime is over for the motley young crew. The visionary third feature of Alejandro Landes (Cocalero, Porfirio), Monos captivates us with its striking baroque aesthetic, otherworldly setting, and ingenious reframing of the war film—one that uses adolescence to insinuate a youthful but elusive dream of peace. With enthralling performances from Nicholson and a talented young ensemble led by Moises Arias, Landes constructs a stylized, deceptively surreal space that teeters between tedium and hedonism, made more unsettling by its disquieting soundscape and Mica Levi’s brilliant score.

Netherlands, Germany, Uruguay, Colombia, Argentina
Drama
Alejandro Landes, Alexis Dos Santos
Alejandro Landes, Santiago Zapata, Cristina Landes, Fernando Epstein
2019
102

Rojo

Benjamín Naishtat

Set in 1975 Argentina, Benjamin Naishtat’s noirish drama tells the story of a morally compromised lawyer. Claudio (Darío Grandinetti) is being investigated over a shady real estate deal in the months leading up to the right-wing coup that ousts Isabel Perón. With a style reflective of the 1970s, from the grainy visual palette to the use of zooms, slow motion, and deep focus, Rojo adroitly captures a deeply unsettled time in Argentina when a corrupt political system encouraged a general lawlessness and moral vacuity among its populace.

https://youtu.be/t-sR3LSx_Fs

Argentina
Thriller, Drama
Benjamín Naishtat
Emmanuel Chaumet, Ingmar Trost, Dan Wechsler, Jamal Zeinal Zade, Marleen Slot, Rachel Daisy Ellis, Federico Eibuszyc, Barbara Sarasola-Day
2018
110