Seeing and showing films has been an essential part of my integration process as a Latin American immigrant in England. Film has been my way of connecting with home and it has helped me make this country my home too. During the last few years, I have organised community film events in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, not only looking to share stories, explore issues of identity, migration, and the sense of being between cultures, but also opening a space to connect with others through seeing independent and world cinema.
Reflecting on this, I decided to organise a season of films directed by contemporary Latin American female directors as part of my final project as an MA Curation student at UWE on placement at Watershed. The idea was to raise awareness about some realities from the region, finding connections through what we have in common, and creating a space for the appreciation and discussion of films and characters not usually represented in cinemas in the UK.
The project began to take shape when I looked back at the most recent winter special edition of the Sight & Sound film magazine dedicated to ‘The Greatest Films of All Time’, which presents the results of their influential popular poll conducted every 10 years. I realised that not one film from Latin America appeared in the top 100 titles and this sparked my interest in reflecting on the factors affecting engagement with this region’s filmmaking.
In June 2023, Sight & Sound published a follow-up article about diversity in ‘The Greatest Films of All Time’ poll which revealed that the first Latin American film on the list is La Ciénaga (2001) by Argentinian filmmaker Lucrecia Martel, which appears in position 136. The second most popular female filmmaker from the region - according to the consultation - is the Cuban filmmaker Sara Gómez with De Cierta Manera (1974) in position 196.
Still from La Ciénaga, (2001, Lucrecia Martel, Argentina)
The lack of Latin American films in the top positions of the poll and the presence of very few female filmmakers from the region gave me a frame to contextualise this season.
Mujer with a Movie Camera
The four feature-length films selected have not been screened in Bristol before. The season starts with Daughter of Rage (La hija de todas las rabias, 2022), the debut feature film by Laura Baumeister de Montis, the first woman born and raised in Nicaragua who has completed a feature narrative film. Since Nicaragua doesn’t have a film industry, Baumeister studied film directing in Mexico and completed the film as a co-production with Mexico, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Norway. The film is an exploration of the relationship between a single mother and her 11-year-old daughter, set in an immense landfill, where the fantasy of this child is an element of resistance.
Laura Baumeister de Montis, Director of Daughter of Rage
“I often feel that human beings are way more resilient than we’ve been told, and that’s why I wanted to talk about an extreme situation in a harsh context, so that we could see how someone holds up against everyone’s prediction”. - Laura Baumeister de Montis
A similar feeling led me to the documentary Children of Las Brisas (Niños de Las Brisas, 2022), the debut film of Venezuelan Marianela Maldonado which is a co-production between Venezuela, the UK, France, and the US. The film tells the story of three children who share a passion for classical music and their dream of becoming professional musicians. The film has been described as a story of resilience and how music can become a tool for survival.
Marianela Maldonado, directing Children of Las Brisas
“During the years of filming, one thing we learned is that dreams can help people overcome terrible obstacles and suffering. We believe that the mental fortitude these children acquired through their musical education gave them the skills to survive beyond the context of orchestras” - Marianela Maldonado
The vulnerable socio-political context of the country plays a relevant role in this documentary, in a period with limited access to primary services such as food, medicines or electricity.
Some of the elements mentioned above, are also explored in Song Without a Name (Canción sin nombre, 2019, Peru, Spain, the US, Switzerland), directed by Melina León, in which a 20-year-old indigenous mother, embarks on the search for her newborn baby who was stolen from a fake clinic in Lima. In this case, the lack of electricity affects citizens from all socio-economic backgrounds, in the same way as the lack of justice in the times of the Shining Path guerrilla group affected all levels of society.
Melina León, director of Song Without a Name
“In Peru, we don’t know what it is like to live in times that are not troubled but the 1980s were completely out of control. (...) Our democracy is weak and corrupt and misled by dogmatic neoliberals and corrupt politicians, we’d be gone without the press.” - Melina León
As a Latin American immigrant in England, one aspect I quickly noticed is the difference society approach vulnerable children. Alis (2022) directed by Clare Weiskopf & Nicolás van Hemelryck is a documentary where young women who once lived on the streets are now in an institution dreaming of a better future. Film appears as a powerful therapeutic tool in this co-production between Colombia, Chile and Romania.
Nicolás van Hemelryck and Clare Weiskopf, directors of Alis
“As the parents of two girls, with this film, we’d like to continue our personal exploration of what it means to be a woman in today’s world. We believe in the power of women and thus in the urgency to have not only more women in power, but to empower the feminine perspective on all levels of society”. - Clare Weiskopf and Nicolás van Hemelryck
Despite the different backgrounds, all the selected films come from countries where the resources for film making are not a priority and the movies have been possible thanks to international co-production. These are films which reflect on some common elements: poverty, political instability, young characters, a profound sense of abandonment, but at the same time provide evidence of an incredible strength to overcome the most challenging circumstances through the power of imagination, music and film.
I hope this selection of films will give audiences at Watershed an opportunity to experience some of the exceptional films being made in Latin America and, who knows, maybe the Sight & Sound poll of 2033 will have some of these in the top 100!