This has not been a year for travel, but movies and documentaries can provide an escape and a chance to enjoy lush landscapes, gripping dramas and riveting storylines. We have a great list of films by some of Latin America's best filmmakers that are available for streaming — and these include several entries for the 2021 Academy Awards.
A horror film with political overtones, a poignant story of gay love, a searing documentary on Venezuela and a hit Chilean movie about a real-life prison break are part of our selections. Best of all, there are no plot spoilers below.
"Ya No Estoy Aquí" ("I'm No Longer Here")
Director: Fernando Frías (Mexico)
In Monterrey, Mexico, Ulises spends his days moving to the rhythms of Colombian cumbia as part of a dance group. But the threat of cartel violence forces a life-saving move to Queens, New York. “I’m No Longer Here” is a deeply traumatic story about the tough transition to life as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. who clings to his identity as he struggles to adapt. "Ya No Estoy Aquí" is the official Mexican submission for best international feature film for the 2021 Academy Awards.
Director: Jayro Bustamante (Guatemala)
Watch on Amazon Prime via Shudder
A Latin American folk tale, "La Llorona" is a grieving mother who is abandoned by her husband and drowns her children in an act of desperation. Her spirit then wanders crying in regret. In a creative reimagining, acclaimed director Jayro Bustamante tells the story of the genocide against Indigenous Guatemalans in the 1980s by the right-wing military junta. He casts the country as the mother who cries for her missing children, haunting a retired war criminal who is paranoid enough to believe that a wrathful supernatural force is targeting him.
This new concept of "La Llorona" as a vigilante “changes the machista narrative,” Bustamante told NBCNews in a phone interview during the Guadalajara Film Festival. Horror and superhero movies, he said, are ideal vehicles to address a difficult part of the country’s history. Bustamante said the former Minister of International Relations tried to stop the film's production, but "we were able to finish filming thanks to the ambassadors of France, Mexico, Germany, my French partners, and the Jesuit University who protected us until the end." Bustamante hired 1,200 locals as extras; they are people who are still searching for their missing family members, he said.
"La Llorona" was featured at the Guadalajara Film Festival on Dec. 19, and is Guatemala’s official Oscar submission for best international feature film.
"Canción Sin Nombre" ("Song Without a Name")
Director: Melina León (Peru)
After Georgina, who is Indigenous, gave birth at a clinic, her daughter was taken away without any explanation. The young mother's desperate search leads her to the headquarters of a major newspaper, where a lonely journalist takes on the investigation and discovers a network of fake clinics and other abductions. Based on a true story, "Song Without a Name" premiered at the Cannes Directors Fortnight in 2019, and received a nomination to the "Caméra D'Or," of best first feature film. The film has been selected for over 90 international festivals, winning several awards, including best director at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, best film at the Stockholm Film Festival, and the Cinevision Award for best emerging director at the Munich Film Festival. Melina León’s debut is the official Peruvian submission for best international feature film at next year's Oscars.
"Érase una Vez en Venezuela" ("Once Upon a Time in Venezuela")
Director: Anabel Rodríguez Ríos (Venezuela)
Director Anabel Rodríguez first completed "The Barrel," a short-film about how children at the southern shore of Lake Maracaibo — next to the largest oil field in Venezuela — cut oil barrels, turn them into small canoes, and use them for transportation in the water town called Congo Mirador. Rodríguez then realized that there was a much deeper story with a greater artistic and human expansion. "Once Upon a Time in Venezuela" shows the country’s brutal decline and its complicated current political and social climate through the community of Congo Mirador. “The film is not an opposition film, it is not a Chavista film. It is a Venezuelan film that wants us to reconnect with the ‘we’ that was lost," said co-producer Joe Torres, in a phone conversation with NBC News.
It is the first Venezuelan nonfiction film to premiere at Sundance, and it is Venezuela's submission for best international feature film at the Academy Awards.
“El Agente Topo” ("The Mole Agent")
Director: Maite Alberdi (Chile)
Official Selection Sundance Film Festival
Watch on Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube Movie
Sergio is hired as a spy by a private investigator, who needs a credible mole inside a Chilean nursing home in a search for signs of elderly abuse. A recent widower, 83-year-old Sergio struggles with the most basic elements of espionage technology, but embraces his new calling as undercover agent among the residents of the San Francisco Nursing Home. This is a heartwarming story about finding a calling at every stage in life, and about understanding the power of human connection. "El Agente Topo" is the official Chilean submission for best international feature film at the Oscars.
"Pacto de Fuga" ("Jailbreak Pact")
Director: David Albala (Chile)
In 1990, 49 of 120 political prisoners escaped Santiago's public Jail through a tunnel in what is now known as "Operación Éxito" ("Operation Success"). "Jailbreak Pact" shows us how these prisoners came together and risked their lives for two years during the last years of the Pinochet regime for the freedom they were fighting for. "Pacto de Fuga" became the biggest Chilean hit in recent years, and remained on the big screen until movie theaters closed because of the pandemic.
Director: Li Cheng. (Guatemala)
José is a 19-year-old man who lives with his mother in Guatemala, one of the most violent and religious countries in Latin America. When he meets Luis, he encounters a newfound passion and pain as he tries to live as an openly gay man. “José” premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2018, and won the Queer Lion Prize. By the following summer, the film had already premiered in over 30 countries, and was screened at more than 50 festivals worldwide.
Director: Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera (United States)
Watch on Amazon Prime, YouTube Movie
In "The Infiltrators," directors Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera combine documentary footage with scripted scenes played by actors to recreate the bold actions that took place inside a for-profit immigrant detention facility: A group of young immigrant activists with DACA status intentionally got themselves detained so they could help immigrants and asylum-seekers who had not committed crimes but were slated for deportation.
“Once we decided that the Broward Detention Center would be our focus, the question became, what do we do when the infiltrators are successfully detained?" Rivera told NBCNews. "They go inside and we lose them to the documentary lens. ... You cannot make a normal documentary because you cannot get in.”
The film depicts a different perspective of the story of undocumented immigrants. Rather than portraying victims, "The Infiltrators" introduces young Dreamers with an in-depth understanding of immigration legislation. The movie, which premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, “was a labor of love,” said Rivera.
"The Cordillera of Dreams"
Director: Patricio Guzmán (Chile/France)
Patricio Guzmán left Chile over 40 years ago, at the start of the Pinochet regime, but his thoughts stayed with his country — and the stunning Andean cordillera, or mountain range. In "The Cordillera of Dreams," Guzmán takes on the difficult task of explaining the gains and losses Chile has experienced during its evolution from a brutal dictatorship to a thriving modern nation — and making a link to its geography.
"There is something very specific about the cordillera, the closure, the restricted language, the silence, and the inward mentality, that makes Chile different from other places," Guzmán told NBC News earlier this year.
The film won the "Golden Eye" award for best documentary at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019.