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LatinoBuzz Asks Programmers: What Are Your Top 5 Latino Films of 2012?

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by Vanessa Erazo
December 19, 2012 9:30 AM
10 Comments
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A look back at 2012 reveals an undeniable fact, it has been a great year for Latino film. Sundance started the year off strong with films like Aurora Guerrero’s sweet and tender Mosquita y Mari and Marialy Rivas’ rambunctious Joven y Alocada (Young & Wild). Gina Rodriguez broke out in Filly Brown, as a rapper who needs to make it big so she can raise money to get her mom out of jail. In the film, Jenni Rivera played the part of Filly’s mom in her first, and sadly last, movie role.

There was also a strong Latin American presence at Cannes this past summer, boasting films from Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. It might as well have been called Mexi-Cannes, with Mexican films winning awards across all main sections of the festival. Carlos Reygadas was honored as the Best Director for his controversial film Post Tenebras Lux, despite having received boos at its premiere screening. The prize for the Critics’ Week section went to Aquí y Allá (Here and There) and Después de Lucía (After Lucia) won the top prize for Un Certain Regard.

It’s been an especially favorable year for Chilean cinema. The New York Film Festival, in its 50th edition this past Fall, included three highly anticipated films by Pablo Larraín, Valeria Sarmiento, and the late Raúl Ruiz. And Chile continued to outshine the rest of the region by winning two top spots at the Festival Internacional de Nuevo Cine Latino de La Habana (the Havana Film Festival) just a few days ago. Pablo Larraín’s NO, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, won the First Coral Prize. It’s a brilliant take on the real life story of an advertising campaign that ousted General Pinochet from power during a shining moment in Chilean politics. Violeta se fue a los cielos (Violeta Went To Heaven), a biopic about internationally famous Violeta de la Parra, a Chilean singer, songwriter, and poet won the Second Prize.  

Pablo Larraín’s NO, starring Gael Garcia Bernal

Whether it was at Cannes, Sundance, or countless other festivals, Latino films were winning award after award this year and even getting distribution (albeit usually in limited release). With the flurry of activity surrounding the region’s filmmaking, it can be hard to keep up with it all. Thankfully, there are professionals who get paid to keep track of what movies are receiving accolades, have the most buzz, and got picked up for distribution. LatinoBuzz went straight to the experts, film programmers, to ask, “What are your top 5 Latino films of 2012?”

Carlos Gutierrez, Co-Founder and Director of Cinema Tropical

In no particular order, a list of five Latin American films that made it to US screens in the past year (some of them are a couple of years old), which I highly recommend.

De Jueves a Domingo (Thursday Till Sunday), Director: Dominga Sotomayor, Chile
O Som ao Redor (Neighboring Sounds), Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil
El Estudiante, Director: Santiago Mitre, Argentina
El Velador, Director: Natalia Almada, Mexico
El Lugar Más Pequeño (The Tiniest Place), Director: Tatiana Huezo, Mexico/El Salvador

Juan Caceres, Director of Programming at the New York International Latino Film Festival

Mosquita y Mari is a gorgeous film full of heart. Marialy Rivas (Director of Joven y Alocada) is an incredibly exciting new voice in Latin American cinema. She's fearless and full of love. I'm a huge fan of Lucy Mulloy (Director of Una Noche). She draws these wonderful performances from non-professional actors. A natural at using the lens to tell a story. In Las Malas Intenciones Fatima Buntinx plays the lead perfectly. Andres Wood made a beautiful film called 'Machuca', that captured the soul of Chile in the 70's and he does the same with a bio-pic of Violeta Parra, a folk singer who was a part of 'La Nueva Canción Chilena'.

Mosquita y Mari, Director: Aurora Guerrero, USA
Joven y Alocada (Young and Wild), Director: Marialy Rivas, Chile
Una Noche, Director: Lucy Mulloy, Cuba
Violeta Se Fue A Los Cielos (Violeta Went to Heaven), Director: Andrés Wood, Chile
Las Malas Intenciones (The Bad Intentions), Director: Rosario García-Montero, Perú

Christine Davila, Programming Associate at Sundance Film Festival

There are way too many Latino films and not enough coverage on American Latino films so with that -- mine are going to be strictly American Latino films.

Los Chidos, Director: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, USA/Mexico
Mosquita y Mari, Director: Aurora Guerrero, USA
Elliot Loves, Director: Terracino, USA
Aquí y Allá (Here and There), Director: Antonio Méndez Esparza, USA/Spain/Mexico
Love, Concord, Director: Gustavo Guardado, USA

Lisa Franek, Artistic Director at the San Diego Latino Film Festival

Just 5?? That's tough! In Filly Brown, Gina Rodriguez turns in a great performance, and I expect to see more great things from her very soon. NO, I saw at Cannes, and it was fascinating, especially in contrast to Larraín's previous (amazing) films. La Hora Cero has unforgettable scenes and characters! La Mujer de Ivan has amazing acting, and I believe Maria de Los Angeles Garcia is definitely a talent to watch. Reportero is also fantastic.

La Mujer de Iván, Director: Francisca Silva, Chile
NO, Director: Pablo Larraín, Chile/France/USA
La Hora Cero, Director: Diego Velasco, Venezuela
Reportero, Director: Bernardo Ruiz, USA/Mexico
Filly Brown, Directors: Youssef Delara, Michael D. Olmos, USA

Marcela Goglio, Programmer for Latinbeat at The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Las Acacias, Director: Pablo Giorgelli, Argentina
As Cançoes (Songs), Director: Eduardo Coutinho, Brazil
Unfinished Spaces, Directors: Alyssa Nahmias & Benjamin Murray, USA
O Som ao Redor (Neighboring Sounds), Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil
Aquí y Allá (Here and There), Director: Antonio Méndez Esparza, USA/Spain/Mexico

Pepe Vargas, Executive Director of the International Latino Cultural Center and Chicago Latino Film Festival

Not an easy task to come up with 5 titles - there are so many good movies.

La Piel que Habito (The Skin I Live In)
Director: Pedro Almodóvar, Spain
Salvando al Soldado Pérez, (Saving Private Perez)
Director: Beto Gómez, Mexico
Un Cuento Chino (Chinese Take-Out)
Director: Sebastián Borensztein, Argentina/Spain
Lobos de Arga (Game of Werewolves)
Director: Juan Martínez Moreno, Spain
Mariachi Gringo
Director: Tom Gustafson, USA/Mexico

Amalia Cordova, Coordinator of the Latin American Program at the Film and Video Center of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

Granito, Director: Pamela Yates, USA/Guatemala/Spain
Desterro Guarani, Directors: Patricia Ferreira y Ariel Duarte Ortega, Brazil
Violeta Se Fue A Los Cielos (Violeta Went to Heaven), Director: Andrés Wood, Chile
5 x Favela – Agora por nós Mesmos (5 x Favela, Now by Ourselves), Directors: Manaíra Carneiro, Wagner Novais, Cacau Amaral, Rodrigo Felha, Luciano Vidigal, Cadu Barcelos, and Luciana Bezerra, Brazil
Un Cuento Chino (Chinese Take-Out), Director: Sebastián Borensztein, Argentina/Spain


Written by Juan Caceres and Vanessa Erazo, LatinoBuzz is a weekly feature on SydneysBuzz that highlights Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow @LatinoBuzz on twitter.

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10 Comments

  • Danny Indio | January 11, 2013 3:20 PMReply

    Alex brings up a great point and I think to qualify as a Latino film it should be a film/video made by a filmmaker (born of at least 1 latino or Spanish or Portuguese diaspora parent in the US or abroad) who mainly resides or works in the US. The subject can be about whatever; directly related to latino themes or nothing to do with latino themes. The point is that a latino film should highlight the fact that a latino made it; someone who embodies the outlook and POV of a person born/raised/living exclusively in the US with a latin-caribbean/south-american/spanish/portuguese background/culture informing and contrasting their life in the US i.e. the latino perspective. That is why a Dominican filmmaker who lives/works exclusively in the Dominican Republic can not be called a latino filmmaker; they are a caribbean or latin american filmmaker. Just the way that an Italian filmmaker like Bernardo Bertolucci would not be confused with an Italian-American filmmaker like Martin Scorcese. Of course, the line blurs and there are grey areas such as how long does a filmmaker have to work or live in the US to qualify as a latino and whether a latino can be a filmmaker of two cultures (Guillermo del Toro, anyone?) but that is a topic of another day.
    That is all.

  • Danny Indio | January 11, 2013 3:27 PM

    Yes, I realize that my comment makes me a proponent of the auteur theory. Therefore, I want to make clear that I don't hate or deny the impact and influence of the producers, DPs, editors and others who help the director make his vision a reality.

  • Mauricio Alexander | December 27, 2012 12:05 AMReply

    Good discussion... thank you for getting it going Alex. Complex. But, in the end, each artist who defines themselves chooses their own identity/ies as we already see in Hollywood for example. Well, my two cents and opinion... the title of this article could then be something like: "LatinoBuzz Asks Programmers: What Are Your Top 5 Latino Films of 2012 from the U.S. and Latin(/South) America (or Abroad)"? Or "LatinoBuzz Asks Programmers: What Are Your Top 5 Latino & Latin American Films of 2012?" While I don't necessarily agree with Alex about the term "Latino" meaning born in the United States (I was born in Mexico, but raised in the United States, and don't consider myself or my films Latin American, but Latino, yes), I do believe it to be fair to distinguish films (by director/writers and/or producers) of/from the United States and those of/from Latin/South America or Europe (i.e. Spain) and agree in terms of tracking/listing/labeling films, it's valid that there is a distinction because of history, politics and culture.

    However, as the United States continues to be culturally and demographically, and perhaps one day politically and economically, influenced by our relatives and neighbors in the southern continent, could we be in the future looking at "Latin American" films as an intercontinental term and/or as "Latino" encompassing more than just American born/raised?

    And as a side note, I'd love to see or be a part of a documentary discussing these very topics, does one exist already?

  • Gio | December 26, 2012 10:51 PMReply

    So, looks like we have a hot topic here. Of course we do, we are Latinos, Latino-Americanos, Americanos.... We are hot and in demand right now and our influence will continue to grow.

    For me 'Latino' is all of us, from the States to Argentina to Spain and all in between with the Latinesse in our blood. We could get into semantics, but I believe that doing so is counter-progressive. It doesn't only separate us but limits us, making us stagnant as we look to intellectualize wording versus choosing to bond and becoming a stronger force. What a loaded word-Latino. No?

    BTW… You know…we should not discount the fact that Latinos in Latin America, now I met a Cuban who doesn’t consider Cuba to be located in Latin America (that’s for another post), are very much influenced by USA and vice versa. So for it is Latinos where ever I go…

  • Michelle Farrell | December 26, 2012 9:35 PMReply

    This is a great discussion about the term "Latino" and I especially like Vanessa's comment about using the term to foster inclusion rather than division. She also clarifies the term when she uses "American Latino" etc films versus films from Latin America. I would also shy away from a hard definition of Latino since the contact and movement beyond national borders and static identities adds to the richness of Latino identities, cultures, languages, literature and films. There is also another aspect to consider when we think about the "nationality" of a film--especially considering films that are independent, not mainstream Hollywood productions- many of the films that we love and consider Latino are products of an amazing web of funding and individuals working on the films making a specific national category very difficult. Consider the large amount of films that find support through Ibermedia, work with co-production between Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina--the film industry for indie films, films about Latin America, from Latin America and films in general that we consider Latino often times do not have a singular identity like many films from Hollywood.--I think if anything films (especially Latino films-regardless of how we want to define this term) are one of the most complex pieces of art that require such a large team of individuals and web of funding to make them even possible that static national categories do not seem to fit.

    To make the conversation even more complicated--according to the Real Academica Española -Latino: "Natural de los pueblos de Europa y América en que se hablan lenguas derivadas del latín".
    Vanessa, thank you for your blog.

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  • Jose luis ameicano | December 22, 2012 2:07 AMReply

    Delusions of Grandeur! 8 film fests on its own merits. 2 awards. No stars just great los angeles based latino actors. Female writer director and chicano producer born in LA. Shot in San Fran! Must see!
    Delusions of Grandeur movie.com!

  • Alex Rivera | December 19, 2012 3:52 PMReply

    Great lists! Only one concern -- to me, "Latino" means born in the United States, of Latino descent. I don't say this to be a fascist about identity, or to set up borders or barriers. But I do think it's important to have a term that describes the diaspora community here in the U.S. It's important because Latinos in the U.S. face very different challenges and opportunities than 'Latin Americans' - which to me are the folks from there. I think in terms of tracking what's happening in film, we need this distinction. The way there's a very clear distinction between 'African Cinema' and 'African-American Cinema.'

  • danny indio | January 11, 2013 3:22 PM

    Don't mean to be redundant but I enjoyed this topic:
    Alex brings up a great point and I think to qualify as a Latino film it should be a film/video made by a filmmaker (born of at least 1 latino or Spanish or Portuguese diaspora parent in the US or abroad) who mainly resides or works in the US. The subject can be about whatever; directly related to latino themes or nothing to do with latino themes. The point is that a latino film should highlight the fact that a latino made it; someone who embodies the outlook and POV of a person born/raised/living exclusively in the US with a latin-caribbean/south-american/spanish/portuguese background/culture informing and contrasting their life in the US i.e. the latino perspective. That is why a Dominican filmmaker who lives/works exclusively in the Dominican Republic can not be called a latino filmmaker; they are a caribbean or latin american filmmaker. Just the way that an Italian filmmaker like Bernardo Bertolucci would not be confused with an Italian-American filmmaker like Martin Scorcese. Of course, the line blurs and there are grey areas such as how long does a filmmaker have to work or live in the US to qualify as a latino and whether a latino can be a filmmaker of two cultures (Guillermo del Toro, anyone?) but that is a topic of another day. That is all.

  • Vanessa Erazo | December 26, 2012 8:28 PM

    Thanks for your comment Alex! Although I agree that it’s important to have a space where we highlight the work of American-born Latinos, I don’t think there can always be a clear-cut distinction. It can be highly problematic to rely on the birthplace of a filmmaker to characterize the ‘nationality’ of their film. What are the parameters that we use to define whether someone is an American Latino vs. Latin American? What about someone who was born in Latin America but has spent the majority of their life living and working in the United States? What about someone who was born in Spain but grew up in Latin America and now works in the U.S.? Are they American Latino, Latin American, or European? Latinos have blurry nationalities because of continuous migration, sometimes making it difficult to sort out who is from where. This is less of a problem for other cultures, thus making it much easier to clearly distinguish between 'African Cinema' and 'African-American Cinema' like you brought up. Keeping in line with Indiewire’s mission to focus on movies that fall outside of the mainstream, LatinoBuzz specifically highlights Latino indie talent. Our use of the term Latino is meant to be inclusive—this includes American-born Latinos and Latin Americans (including Brazilians). We aim to spotlight these artists because they are all typically marginalized within the larger film industry. I know this doesn’t solve the semantic problem you brought up; it’s an important topic that should continue to be discussed. Language is evolving as our community changes. Maybe we should we use Latino as a catch-all and then specify when we mean American Latino or Latin American? Anyone else have any suggestions?

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