2012: Latin American Cinema in Review


Chilean Cinema Rocks

2012 was a stellar year for Chilean cinema as numerous films from the South American country won prizes at the most prestigious international film festivals. Chile was off to a great start of the New Year winning two prizes at Sundance: Andrés Wood's Violeta se fue a los cielos / Violeta Went to Heaven was awarded the World Cinema Dramatic Jury Prize, while Joven y alocada / Young & Wild, the debut feature film by Marialy Rivas (pictured left) was awarded the World Cinema Screenwriting Prize.

Few weeks later, another first film De jueves a domingo / Thursday till Sunday by Dominga Sotomayor won the Tiger Award, the top prize at the Rotterdam Film Festival. In March Cristián Jiménez’s debut feature Bonsái won the prizes for Best Ibero-American Film and the Screenwriting Award at the 29th edition of the Miami Film Festival.

Pablo Larraín's fourth feature film No (pictured right) had an acclaimed world premiere at Cannes Directors' Fortnight winning the unofficial top prize of the section. Larraín’s is the only Latin American film shortlisted for the Oscars in the Foreign Language Film category. At the San Sebastian Film Festival two other Chilean films were awarded: Fernando Guzzoni’s Carne de perro / Dog Flesh won the prize for Best Film in the New Directors competition, and Sebastián Lelio’s upcoming feature film Gloria won the Cine en Construcción industry prize. Lelio’s film will have its world premiere at the Berlinale in February.

And closing the year with a bang, Chile reigned at the 34th edition of the Havana Film Festival as Larraín’s No and Wood’s Violeta Went to Heaven won the two top prizes. 2013 is looking good for Chilean cinema, as both Sebastián Silva’s new film Crystal Fairy and Alicia Scherson’s El futuro / The future will have their world premiere at Sundance.

Latin AmeriCannes

Latin American had a groundbreaking participation at the 65th edition of the Cannes Film Festival. Not only Latin American cinema broke participation records at Cannes, it also won awards in practically all the festival's sections confirming the region's preeminence.

In the main competition Latin America was represented by Walter Salles' On the Road and Carlos Reygadas' (pictured left) Post Tenebras Lux. A record-breaking number of six Latin American productions were selected for the Directors’ Fortnight section of the festival, and four films were selected for A Certain Regard section.

Mexican cinema received some of the top awards, having received prizes in the Official Selection, A Certain Regard, Critics' Week and Directors' Fortnight sections of the festival. The award for Best Director went to Reygadas for his controversial film Post Tenebras Lux. Michel Franco’s Después de Lucía / After Lucía won the top prize at A Certain Regard section.

Additionally, Mexican co-production film Aquí y Allá by Spanish helmer Antonio Méndez Esparza was awarded the main prize at the Critics' Week section. And even though the Directors' Fortnight section of the festival doesn't give out official awards, the Chilean-Mexican co-production No by Larraín and starring Gael García Bernal received the Art Cinema Award, the unofficial prize that's considered the most important of the section.


The Consolidation of the Brazilian Indie Scene

For the past decade Brazil had established itself as one of the leading producers of film content in Latin America. Yet, for all the Brazilian film production, the country had a limited presence in the international film circuit except for notable exceptions such as Karim Aïnouz, Marcelo Gomes and José Padilha, among others.

2012 marked the consolidation of the Brazilian independent cinema scene with the premiere of a handful of debut feature films that put the South American country in the spotlight, and brought attention to emerging directors to watch.

Leading the Brazilian pack was Kleber Mendonça Filho whose debut feature film O som ao redor / Neighboring Sounds (pictured left) became one of the most cherished Latin American films of the year. Mendonça Filho’s film premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival and made its way to many top ten lists of 2012 including the ones by A.O. Scott from the New York Times and Film Comment.

Other films that brought the spotlight to Brazil include Júlia Murat’s Historia que so existen quando lembradas / Found Memories, Michael Wahrmann’s Avanti Popolo, Clarissa Campolina and Helvécio Marins Jr.'s Girimunho / Swirl, and Eduardo Nunes’ Sudoeste / Southwest (pictured right).


Are US Latino Film Festivals an Endangered Species?

In a surprising decision, the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF) announced the cancelation of its 16th edition due to a fundraising shortfall. Quoted by the LA Times, the festival director Marlene Dermer said "We don't like to call it canceled. We are regrouping."

Unfortunately it wasn’t the only Latino festival that suffered mayor drawbacks in 2012: The Cine Fest Petrobras Brazil-NY Festival, which 10th edition was scheduled for June 10-16, also cancelled due to the withdrawal of their title sponsor; the Hola Mexico Film Festival let go of its New York, Chicago, Miami, Washington D.C. and San Francisco editions, and only held its Los Angeles edition in May.

The New York Latino International Film Festival cut its programming, and this year also saw the disappearance of Maya Entertainment, which was one of the leading distributors of Latino films in the U.S.


In Memoriam

Sadly in 2012 some key figures of Latin American cinema passed away. July witnessed the death of three of them. Jorge Ruiz, pioneer of Bolivian documentary filmmaking, died at the age of 88. Ruiz had been declared "one of the six most important documentary filmmakers in the world” by master documentarian John Grierson.

That month renowned Mexican-American actress Lupe Ontiveros, 69, passed away in Los Angeles. She was one of the most recognized actresses in cinema for the U.S. Latino community, building her professional career on playing immigrant characters. And that same month, Mexican director and film official Alejandro Joskowicz died from leukemia at age 74.

In November, legendary director Leonardo Favio (pictured right), considered one of the best Argentine filmmakers of all time died at the age of 74. Among his most famous films are Crónica de un niño solo / Chronicle of a Lonely Child (1964), El dependiente / The Employee (1969) and Juan Moreira (1973).

Another loss of 2012 was that of Joaquín Rodríguez, one of the original founders and programmer of the Morelia Film Festival in Mexico. He died in Mexico City in the month of June.


Best of the Rest

Other 2012 highlights include the Academy Awards nominations for Demian Bichir (pictured left) for Best Actor in his role as an undocumented gardener in Chris Weitz’s A Better Life, and for Fernando Trueba’s Chico & Rita for Best Animated Feature Film.

Mexican filmmaker Pedro González-Rubio’s won the Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland for his most recent film Inori which he made in Japan, and the Los Angeles Film Festival awarded Mexican film Cuates de Australia / Drought by Everardo González as Best Documentary.


Aurora Guerrero’s debut feature film Mosquita y Mari (pictured right) acclaimed as “an unassuming indie jewel” by Stephen Holden for the New York Times, premiered at Sundance followed by a limited theatrical release in New York in the summer. Bernardo Ruíz's timely documentary film Reportero about the perils that journalists face in Mexico premiered at Full Frame and had a successful festival run.

The Morelia Film Festival in Mexico celebrated its 10th anniversary, while the Guadalajara Film Festival in a very controversial and criticized decision awarded musical drama Mariachi Gringo by Tom Gustafson as Best Mexican Film.

BAFICI (Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival) announced Marcelo Panozzo as its new director, replacing Sergio Wolf who headed the festival during five years. And after three editions, Ventana Sur also in Argentina, consolidated as the main Latin American film market.  

The Museum of Modern Art hosted a retrospective for Mexican-American filmmaker Lourdes Portillo unde the title "La Cineasta Inquisitiva" in June, featuring a special conversation between the director and filmmaker Natalia Almada (both pictured left), while Harvard Film Achives presented the film series "The Pleasures of Deception: The Films of Matías Piñeiro" featuring two films by the Argentine director in May.