The buzz among film enthusiasts has been building for years that some of the edgiest, most provocative and beautiful movies and documentaries are not being made in Hollywood, but rather in pockets of the USA and in nations south of the border such as Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Brazil.
The universe of Latino and Latin American cinema released to American audiences in 2014 is rich and varied and shows why there is so much excitement around the Latin cinema boom. These 10 films - many which had already won international awards before their 2014 U.S. releases -are a tiny sampling of the Latino and Latin American movies and documentaries you might catch in theaters, film festivals or through online streaming. Pass the popcorn and enjoy!
Directed by Amat Escalante
It was only a matter of time before Mexico’s hellish drug wars made its way to the big screen. In Heli, love is explored under the intense pressure of crime, violence and corruption. The film surrounds the love story of a 12-year-old girl and her older boyfriend, a police officer. Amat Escalante snagged the 2013 Best Director nod from the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and he can expect a lot more awards to come for this harsh, raw, and enthralling film.
El Lugar del Hijo
Directed by Manolo Nieto
It already won the Cuban Film Festival’s top honors. This gripping film tells the story of a young Uruguayan activist who returns to his family’s ranch after the death of his father to sort out his family’s affairs and confronts his new life as a land-owning bourgeois. Class struggle and family drama are all told in the backdrop of Latin American politics. This makes for a powerful story.
The Quispe Girls
Directed by Sebastian Sepulveda
Based on a true story, the debut of Sebastian Sepulveda will guarantee this young director international attention and praise. Three sisters, shepherds from the altiplanos of Chile, become increasingly despondent over the changing world under the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Feeling lost and lonely, they commit suicide, but not before killing their animals. The tragedy caused a stir in 1974, and revisiting this heartbreaking incident will inevitably stir old emotions in a country still healing from its brutal political past. The visuals alone of the vast Chilean mountains makes this feature a riveting experience.
Directed by Leticia Tonos
This is as close as you get to a Dominican version of Romeo and Juliet, and of course, Romeo is Haitian Dominican. It tells the story of two half brothers vying for the love of one a young woman who is the daughter of a drug kingpin. Directed by Leticia Tonos, the feature captures the drama of contemporary Dominican Republic amid a backdrop of drugs, love, corruption, beauty and violence.
Cesar’s Last Fast
Directed by Richard Ray Perez
In 1988, Cesar Chavez was 61 and restless about the plight of farmworkers, so decides to begin a fast to raise national awareness about the use of pesticides in the US. That last fast that almost killed the labor leader makes up the central theme of this wonderful documentary. It features never-before-seen intimate footage of Chavez’ life, including the waning days of the visionary and heroic American leader. In a story within a story, press secretary Lorena Parlee - who had incredible access to the leader and shot most of the footage of the 36-day fast - died of breast cancer before completing the film. However, she passed it along for Perez to complete. This is a powerful piece of history worth seeing.
Cesar Chavez: An American Hero
Directed by Diego Luna
Yes, 2014 was the year of Cesar Chavez. He had two films exploring his life and a US stamp in his honor. This feature film explores the life and legacy of an American hero. The film was directed by Diego Luna and features a convincing Michael Peña as Chavez. While some criticized the film as not being complex enough, it’s worth noting that this is the first time that the story of this American hero is explored on the big screen. John Malkovich plays the greedy farm owner, Rosario Dawson plays Dolores Huerta, the co- founder of the Farm Workers Labor Union and America Ferrera is Chavez's fierce wife. The story of these Latinos and their historic role in the U.S. labor movement is not commonly told in Hollywood.
Directed by Mariela Rondon
NBC News recently interviewed the Venezuelan director of the critically acclaimed feature "Pelo Malo." The film tells the story of a young boy who wants to straighten his curly mop for a school photo. This award-winning film is a powerful and nuanced exploration of Latin American racism, homophobia and political intransigence. Already a winner of juries and audiences alike, the film will continue to provoke audiences everywhere it’s shown.
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu
There are no leading Latino actors in this film, but Oscar-nominated Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu has created a visually and musically stunning "Birdman." The visuals alone - a nod to Latin American magic realism - make this film worth seeing, as does the musical score by jazz drummer Antonio Sánchez, who recently received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Musical Score. (The film has garnered the most Golden Globe nods, including Best Movie and Best Director.) This beautiful, funny, and unusual movie tells the story of a washed-up movie star hoping to restart and reimagine his career by mounting an ambitious Broadway play. This was a movie within a play within a movie. It has awesome music, great directing and acting - and a whole lot of Oscars buzz.
Coffee: Songs of Smoke
Directed by Hatuey Viveros
The theme of fathers and sons pops up several times this year, including in the film "Coffee: Songs of Smoke." It was nominated for best documentary by Cinema Tropical, the New York City-based Latino film distributing and programming organization that holds its own “Academy Awards.” In the film we meet a Nahuatl family from the coffee region of the Mexican Sierra. The patriarch has died and two sons must decide their fate. One of them, Jorge, struggles with the opportunity to practice law or stay working his lands. It’s rare to hear the indigenous language spoken on the big screen; for that alone it’s worth the treat. The beautiful indie film is making the rounds in festivals around the world. Look for it in a theater or streaming service near you.
Directed by Cristina Ibarra
"Las Marthas" documentary follows two debutants who participate in a 116-year old month-long celebration of George Washington’s Birthday in Laredo, Texas. The highlight of the celebration is an invite-only debutant ball. The film captures the rites of passage of young Latinas, the gilded and extravagant dresses - some costing up to $30,000 and weighing up to 100 pound -as well as class struggles and the immigrant experience. Who knew Mexicans loved Martha Washington so much?