Now in its fifth year, the International Puerto Rican Heritage Film Festival (IPRHFF) returns to New York City this week. Committed to creating a platform that allows entertainment and educational filmmakers dealing with Puerto Rico to reach a wider audience, the festival will screen close to fifty short and feature films. Along with its film screening series, the festival will be handing out Lifetime Achievement Awards to musician Jose Feliciano and to sports executive Ray Negrón.
From politically-minded documentaries tackling the island’s “status issue,” and personal films about New York City hustlers, to animated films about baseball and comedies about would-be stand-up comics, the diversity on display is a testament to the IPRHFF’s desire to present as wide-ranging a picture of Puerto Rican heritage as possible.
We combed through the long roster of films being presented at the festival and have singled out five films you should definitely look out for.
The International Puerto Rican Heritage Film Festival runs November 11 – 15 at the Mount Sinai theater in New York.
Millie and the Lords
Millie and the Lords tells the story of Milagros Baez (Jennica Carmona), a young, working-class under-confident Puerto Rican woman. Living in an abusive household in Spanish Harlem and working a dead-end job, Millie wishes for “a different kind of life, not like this one.” When she meets Mateo (Mateo Gomez), she begins to learn about the Young Lords Party, a Puerto Rican nationalist group, and her rich Puerto Rican history. Mixing documentary footage with an uplifting story, Carmona’s film offers a narrative of empowerment at the personal and political level.
Las vacas con gafas
Cows Wearing Glasses follows Marcelino (Daniel Lugo), a painter and art professor who has recently been informed that he’s suffering from a disease that will leave him blind. Forced to look at his life anew, he embarks on a journey towards redemption as he rethinks his relationship with his daughter and plunges into a world that is slowly receding from view.
Anatomía de un vestido
Featuring interviews with some of the most renowned figures in Puerto Rican haute couture, this documentary traces the history of Puerto Rican fashion design from its origins in the island’s manual garment industry to the present day. Pausing for reflections on the cultural importance of fashion and its status as an art form, Anatomía de un vestido showcases the deep well of talent in Puerto Rican fashion design as well as the challenges faced by the industry today.
La Granja takes Puerto Rico’s economic crisis as the backdrop for a series of interconnecting stories à la Amores Perros. In this twisted take on a fictionalized Puerto Rico, drug addiction and economic depression are the order of the day. One vignette follows a middle aged ex-boxer who trains his ambitious son for a youth boxing championship while he struggles with a cockfighting debt; another follows a midwife desperate for her own child; and the last dramatizes a young girl’s attempts to win the attention of her drug-addicted older sister. In the fruitless pursuit of hope, all three characters are eventually pushed to the limits of desperation.
The Last Colony
The provocative title of Juan Agustín Márquez’s film refers to the island of Puerto Rico, America’s “last colony.” Filmed in the weeks leading up to the 2012 plebiscite that hoped to redefine the political relationship between the U.S. and the Caribbean island, The Last Colony is an attempt at untangling the vexed status issue that has plagued Puerto Rico ever since its American colonization in 1898.