Monday, March 1, 2010


Things have definitely picked up (re: Latin American cinema) since my last post and now I'm playing catch-up. Sundance, Rotterdam, and Berlin came and went, the Oscar nominations were announced, and a few good Latino Film Fests are gearing up to start soon, including the San Diego Latino Film Festival, where this year I'll be a juror for the documentary competition and moderating some of the post-screening Q&A's. So here are a few of my thoughts about the many goings-on.

At Sundance, Latin American films won big. The winners include:

Bolivia's Distrito Sur/Southern District (Directing and Screenwriting awards - Dramatic World Cinema category)
Peru's Contracorriente/Undertow (Audience Award - Dramatic World Cinema category)
Brazil's Waste Land (Audience Award - Documentary World Cinema category)
Argentina's El hombre de al lado/The Man Next Door (Cinematography Award - Dramatic World Cinema category)

Of those, I have only seen "Contracorriente," which is essentially a gay version of "Ghost" set in a conservative coastal town. Thankfully, there's no Whoopi Goldberg character providing comic relief and the theme of intolerance is nicely explored. The film didn't blow me away but I would definitely recommend it for its beautiful photography and competent script. It's great that it received the audience award at Sundance despite its subject matter, disproving the notion that gay-themed films only appeal to a small section of moviegoers. And I also love the fact that the film manages to turn a Hollywood-worthy, supernatural premise (a la "Ghost") and turn it into a film with great substance. Once again, Latin American cinema outdoes Hollywood.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that this year Amat Escalante, the maverick Mexican director, was the recipient of the prestigious Sundance/NHK Award, given to outstanding filmmakers from Europe, Latin America, the U.S. and Japan. The prize also provides finishing funds for their upcoming projects. Amat is currently working on his third feature, "Heli."

When the Oscar nominations were announced in late January only two Latin American films made it into the list of five nominees for Best Foreign Language Film: Peru's "La teta asustada" ("The Milk of Sorrow"), and Argentina's "El secreto de sus ojos" ("The secret of their eyes"). I suppose we should be grateful since there were 65 countries vying for a spot, but still "Los viajes del viento" ("The Wind Journeys") and "Zona Sur" were equally deserving. But my major gripe is with the nominating committees of the individual countries. I still can't get over the fact that Chile didn't nominate "La nana" ("The Maid") and that Argentina opted for the by-the-numbers thriller "El secreto de sus ojos" rather than the daring "La mujer sin cabeza" ("The Headless Woman"). These last two films are on my top-ten list of 2009.

The Rotterdam Film Festival is increasingly becoming a hot-bed for Latin American cinema. I know of several Latino Film Festival programmers who now attend Rotterdam (in addition to more well-known stops like Havana and San Sebastian) every year in search of good titles. This year, Rotterdam didn't disappoint in terms of exciting Latin American fare. THE VPRO Tiger Award (top prize) was split between three winners:

Paz Fabrega's "Agua fría de mar"
("Cold Water of the Sea"), a Costa Rica, France, Spain, Netherlands, and Mexico co-production.
Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio's “Alamar” (“To the Sea”), from Mexico
Anocha Suwichakornpong's “Jao nok krajok” (“Mundane History”), from Thailand

I just got a screener for "Alamar" so I'll be posting a review soon. The film has garnered a number of awards (including San Sebastian) and rumor has it that it has been picked up for U.S. distribution by Film Movement.

On to the Berlinale... Latin American films won the top prize ("Tropa de Elite" in 2008 and "La teta asustada" in 2009) but I'm sorry to say that the streak came to an end this year when the top prize (the Golden Bear) was awarded to Semih Kaplanoglu's "Bal," from Turkey. Nevertheless, there were some Latin American winners in the sidebar categories. Oscar Ruíz Navia's "Los vuelcos del cangrejo" ("Crab Trap"), from Colombia, took home the Film Critics' Prize and Lucy Walker's Brazilian documentary "Waste Land" won the Audience Award in the Panorama section.

Also, one of the highlights of this year's reportedly lukewarm festival was the premiere of the film "Revolución" ("Revolution"), a collection of short films celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the Mexican revolution. An ambitious undertaking, the producers managed to wrangle some of the best Mexican filmmakers working today, including Fernando Embcke ("Lake Tahoe"), Carlos Reygadas ("Silent Light"), Rodrigo García ("Things You Can Tell By Just Looking at Her"), Patricia Riggen ("Under the Same Moon"), and Gael García Bernal ("Déficit"). Indiewire recently published a great article about the film.

Finally, the lineups for the Guadalajara Film Festival, the Chicago Latino Film Festival and the San Diego Film Festival have been announced. Click on the hyperlink for each one to see the complete list of films, descriptions, schedule, etc.

I'm well-acquainted with the San Diego lineup, so if you're in the area and you're having trouble deciding what to watch here are some recommendations: "Birdwatchers" (Brazil), "Cinco días sin Nora" (Mexico), "Gigante" (Urugüay), "La Mission" (U.S.), "Música en Espera" (Argentina), "Norteado" (Mexico), "El Regalo de la Pachamama" (Bolivia), "Los viajes del viento" (Colombia). I'm not going to talk about the documentaries because I'm a juror and I can't very well publicize my picks before the awards are announced.

Thanks for reading and I'll leave you with this promo I made for the San Diego Latino Film Festival. It will play before every screening...

SDLFF 2010 PROMO from Mario J Diaz on Vimeo.