Like so many other live events, the Chicago Latino Film Festival—which typically takes place in the spring—had to rethink their program in the era of Coronavirus. With time to adjust how they present screenings and programming, the annual event now arrives as a virtual experience, bringing the festival to your living room (or really, any screen you’d like to stream on).
With over 40 feature films (plus dozens of shorts) from nearly 30 countries, the 36th Chicago Latino Film Festival runs from Friday, September 18, to Sunday, September 27, and all the program’s films become available to screen on different days throughout the festival. Rather than screen once or twice over the course of a week, this year each film will be available to watch for a 48-hour window, virtual screenings starting on consecutive dates throughout the ten days of screenings.
With so much to choose from, Third Coast Review has checked out a few of the festival’s offerings and shares what you might like to seek out below:
The latest from Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, and its U.S. release has been held up, like so much else, by the pandemic. It’s very much worth the wait, and very much worth taking advantage of a sneak peek presented by the festival. With Ema, Larraín returns to his filmmaking roots in a movie that is an artistically accomplished as it is complicated and complex. Starring Mariana Di Girolamo in a film written by Guillermo Calderón and Alejandro Moreno, Ema follows the titular character through a twisting, turning journey of emotional turmoil and self discovery after she loses the son she adopted with husband Gaston (Gael Garcia Bernal). Depicted on a backdrop of pulsing, vibrant reggaetron music and choreography, the film is a beautiful, frustrating adventure through damaged hearts and broken lives. (Lisa Trifone)
Ema is available via virtual cinema from September 18-20. Learn more.
La Frontera, written and directed by David David, tenderly exposes the brutal reality of life on the border between Colombia and Venezuela for Andean woman Diana. Though the film refuses to ignore the uncertain and volatile reality of the life in between two states, David David masterfully manages to bring the focus to the relationships that make such a life bearable. The film opens with a violent stickup of two unsuspecting tourists and shifts easily into a silent night shared by the couple of expectant parents. Diana’s husband speaks earnestly of his fear of having killed the tourist woman earlier in the day, yet the most compelling element of the scene arrives in the way he rushes to Diana’s feet as she struggles with pregnancy pangs and groans to help ease the pain. They roll into laughter soon after and eventually fall asleep in each other’s arms. Later, when both her husband and brother are killed, Diana forms an unlikely bond with a wandering stranger Miguel and a woman named Chalis eager to reach her son in Venezuela. Through the ongoing border crisis, Chalis and Diana’s relationship grows from hostile strangers to tender friends. Ultimately, it is these human bonds that sustain Diana, carrying her from immense loss into a new life. La Frontera is an ethereal and hopeful film that manages to soar above gruesome pain with its feet planted firmly on the ground of human connection and tenderness. (Chloē Fourte)
La Frontera is available via virtual cinema from September 23-25. Learn more.
Amalia (Denise Dorado) is a woman on the verge of a breakdown. Her mother died in a tragic, accidental house fire, her friends and family are too doped up and drunk to pay her any mind, and her car stereo alternates from preaching the word of God to giving her advice in a screeching, insectoid tone. The border town of El Paso, Texas, where Amalia roams through alleys and deserted streets seeking a quick fix and a place to sleep, offers no such comfort either; on the outskirts, in the desert, a warbling, oozing alien presence creeps and pulses, beckoning to Amalia, invading her dreams, and twisting her reality into a fugue state of paranoia and confusion. Writer/director Omar Rodríguez-López’s Amalia juggles a lot of ideas during its 90-minute runtime; most notably the “other” metaphor persistent in stories centering around minority communities in the United States. Shifting from Spanish to English with effortless musicality, the film explores the feeling of isolation and disconnect echoing through populations forced to adhere to a homogenized idea of American society. Nini Blanco’s dusty black and white photography and the unrelenting drone of a soundscape recall David Lynch’s Eraserhead; the continual disruption of linear time and frequent gory disturbances lend Amalia the feel of a high-brow sci-fi parable. And while not all elements coalesce by the film’s unsurprising ending, it’s a stylish, inventive watch anchored by a tough-as-nails lead performance from Dorado. (Matthew Nerber)
Amalia is available via virtual cinema from September 25-27. Learn more.
Actions speak louder than words in this Hamlet adaptation by writer and director Miguel Barreda Delgado. When the main character, Juan, finds his stonecutting father dead in a quarry, he begins to suspect something is amiss, namely the newly formed bond between his mother and uncle. Here the film begins to fold in and out of Shakespeare’s classic. But Delgado breathes new life into the seams of an old story with an adaptation that focuses less on words, instead turning the focus onto the silences between the characters and the words left unsaid. By relying less on recreating specific Hamlet plot lines and allowing the source material to act as inspirational blueprint, Delgado highlights aspects of the tale that could otherwise go unnoticed. It is in the silence, in the actions, in the sound of the quarry itself that we find Delgado’s specific and compelling tale of both the strength and frailty of familial bonds. As Juan begins a journey into his father’s craft with hopes of unveiling the truth of his death, The Quarry becomes an entity of its own, growing in sound and space, threatening to swallow anything in the vicinity. (Chloē Fourte)
The Quarry is available via virtual cinema from September 25-27. Learn more.
Days of Light
In a time of global pandemic, it’s not hard to empathize with souls rich and poor suffering through a long-term power outage caused by a solar storm. Stories from six Central American countries are woven together by six filmmakers to tell a richly human tragedy. Dias de Luz reminds us—in case we needed reminding—how lost we would be without the internet and even more catastrophically, without power to light our lives and preserve our food.
The 90-minute film tells six stories and at the beginning, it’s a little hard to keep the people straight. But you soon become attached to a few of the characters and their stories, all made more poignant by the power outage. In Nicaragua, Anita is a sweet almost-15-year-old who desperately wants to have a quinceañera celebration and tries to put together the money for a dress and a party with a DJ; she still celebrates but not in the way she had hoped. In a story from El Salvador, Soccorro (Mercy Flores) wants to take her grandson little Toñito (Mateo Honles) to visit his mother in the hospital. Their journey is long and arduous, made worse by lack of cell phone coverage and bus service. In Panama, Mrs. Mayra (Cloty Luna) lives on the 57th floor of a luxury apartment building. Her husband leaves for his office and Mayra is left to complain about life and order around her maid, Romelia (Zenith Gálvez). When the power goes out, they are left with spoiling food and tap water only until it stops flowing. Eventually they have to walk down the 57 flights of stairs to survive. Directors Borges and Perez Him created the narrative that introduces us to the filmmakers of Central America. (Nancy Bishop)
The Names of the Flowers
The Names of the Flowers is a slim story based on the persistence of memory, real or imagined. A retired schoolteacher (Bárbara Cameo de Flores) in a village high in the Andes has been telling her story to tourists for years: She met Che Guevara at the schoolhouse on the day of his execution in 1967, brought him soup when he told her he was starving, and he recited a poem about flowers for her. Late in her life, Bolivia is preparing to observe the 50th anniversary of Che’s execution with an outdoor stage and portraits of Che unfurled down a wall.
The Names of the Flowers is available via virtual cinema from September 24-26. Learn more.
The Wall of Mexico
The Wall of Mexico turns immigration politics on its head, providing some comic relief this election year. Set “somewhere in the southwestern United States,” the film tells the story of a ultra-wealthy Mexican-American family, the Aristas, who own a large ranch and lavish living quarters outside the town of Winfield. The gem of the property is the well water, which townspeople believe has miraculous qualities; the Aristas sell them water at inflated prices. As the story opens, Don, a local white guy, is hired to work for Henry Arista (Esai Morales) and his wife Monica (Alex Meneses) as groundskeeper and handyman. Jackson Rathbone is earnest and believable as Don, who is happy to have the good-paying job and to occasionally party with the two Arista daughters. Tania (Marisol Sacramento) and Ximena (Carmela Zumbado) are wild rich girls who drink champagne from the bottle and spoon up cocaine like ice cream.
Henry finds that the well water level is going down despite the rain; he suspects theft and assigns Don to guard the well every night. When the water level keeps declining, he decides to build a stone wall around the well, inciting protests from townspeople and a visit from the mayor (a cameo by Mariel Hemingway). In the end, Don’s curiosity about the well water has unfortunate results. Directors Zachary Cotler and Magdalena Zyzak weave this satirical story without much subtlety (rich brown people, poor whites, a perversely built wall) but it’s an amusing film with excellent acting, cinematography, lighting and musical background. The final scene is a long tracking shot of a welded metal wall that winds across the hilly brown countryside. (Nancy Bishop)