2015 was without any question, the year of Alejandro González Iñárritu. His film Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was the big winner at the 87th edition of the Academy Awards with four statuettes, becoming the first production directed by a Latino filmmaker to win the top honors in the history of the Oscars.
The Mexican filmmaker was presented with three Oscars in total (as producer, director, and screenwriter). His feat arrived one year later after Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón won the Academy Award for Best Director, making it the second year in a row a Mexican national won the Oscar in the same category.
Not satisfied with all the accolades and critical acclaim that Birdman received, Iñárritu premiered his newest production one year after his previous one. The Revenant opened in New York and Los Angeles theaters on Christmas Day, and it immediately became one of the top contenders for the 88th edition of the Academy Awards. The film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, had a solid opening weekend -with the best ever per theater average for any Iñárritu film- and it earned four Golden Globe nods. The Mexican filmmaker has become royalty in Hollywood.
The Year of Colombian Cinema
Colombian cinema rocked in 2015, having its most successful year ever. The country secured a place in several of the most important film festivals in the world and won major prizes. The South American country had a historic performance at the Cannes film festival, earning five major accolades at the French Riviera.
César Augusto Acevedo was the winner of the Caméra d’Or prize for his debut feature La tierra y la sombra / Land and Shade, making it the highest distinction ever won by a Colombian film, and was also presented with the France 4 Visionary Award, the SACD Award and Le Rail's d'Or prize. Ciro Guerra’s third feature film El abrazo de la serpiente / Embrace of the Serpent (pictured above) was the winner of the Art Cinema Award, the top prize for Best Film at the Directors’ Fortnight section. Guerra’s film was also awarded in numerous other festivals, it has been shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars, and it has also earned a Film Independent Spirit Award nod.
Some other notable Colombian titles that premiered in international festivals include José Luis Rugeles' Alias María, which participated at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section; Carlos Moreno’s Que viva la musica / Liveforever-based on the novel by Andrés Caicedo-which premiered at Sundance; Juan Paolo Laserna’s Las malas lenguas / Sweet and Vicious, which participated at the Los Angeles Film Festival; Luis Ospina’s epic documentary Todo comenzó for el fin / It All Started at the End, which had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.
Josef Kubota Wladyka’ Manos Sucias which was nominated for Best First Feature Film and for Best Editing at this year’s Film Independent Spirit Awards; and Óscar Ruiz Navia’s Los Hongos, which premiered at the Locarno Film Festival in 2014 and continued to travel throughout 2015.
Colombia has created one of the most dynamic and comprehensive funding infrastructures in Latin America, combining government and private monies for local cinema. Hand in hand with the Minister of Culture and the non-profit agency Proimágenes, the number of film productions in the South America country has rocketed as well as audience attendance.
The First Latin American Golden Lion
Venezuelan director Lorenzo Vigas made history last September by winning the Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, with his debut feature film Desde allá / From Afar. It became the first time that a Latin American production won the top honors at the Italian film festival, the longest running film event of its kind in the world, and the firstVenezuelan film to ever participate in the competition.
Starring Chilean actor Alfredo Castro (who is better known for his work with filmmaker Pablo Larraín) and the newcomer Luis Silva, the film tells the story of a wealthy middle-aged man who gets sexually involved with a young man from a street gang. The film was picked up for U.S. distribution by Strand Releasing.
The Coming of Age of Central American Cinema
2015 was an extraordinary year for Central American cinema, confirming once and for all its coming of age. The Guatemalan film Ixcanul, the debut feature film by Jayro Bustamante, made headlines last February not only by becoming the first Guatemalan film to ever participate in the official competition of the Berlin Film Festival, but also by winning the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer prize at the German competition, the most prestigious award ever received by a Central American film.
The film went on to win multiple prizes in different international film festivals, and was Guatemala’s submission to the Academy Awards. It will have a U.S. theatrical release this spring by the hand of Kino Lorber. More over, the short film La parka / The Reaper by Nicaraguan director Gabriel Serra Argüello was nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject at the 87th Academy Awards, marking a first time for a filmmaker from Nicaragua to be nominated.
Other notable productions from Central America include the Costa Rican film Viaje (pictured right) by Paz Fábrega which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, the Panamanian documentary Invasión / Invasion by Abner Benaim which participated at SXSW and was Panama’s first submission to the Oscars ever, and the Salvadorian documentary Alborada by Paula Heredia, which premiered at the Havana Film Festival last December. Additionally, the Guatemalan-Mexican director Julio Hernández Cordón, one of the most prolific Latin American directors of his generation, earned critical acclaim with his most recent production Te prometo anarquía / I Promise You Anarchy.
In addition to the international recognition that some of the films from the region are getting, the local box office is also growing in most of the Central American countries. For example, in Costa Rica, Miguel Gómez’s Maikol Yordan de viaje perdido broke all-time records, becoming the top grossing film in the history of the country.
Gabriel Ripstein and Michel Franco’s Trifecta
The Mexican filmmakers Gabriel Ripstein and Michel Franco had an extraordinary year, wining major prizes at the Berlinale, Cannes and Venice. Ripstein -son of the renowned Mexican director Arturo Ripstein- premiered his debut feature 600 Miles, which was produced by Franco, as the opening film of the Panorama section at Berlin Film Festival, where it received the Best First Feature Award.
A few months later, Franco premiered his most recent film Chronic, produced by Ripstein, as the only Latin American director in the official competition at the Cannes Film Festival, wining the Best Screenplay Award. Both 600 Miles and Chronic starred the British actor Tim Roth. Franco and Ripstein were also producer and executive producer respectively, of Lorenzo Vigas’ From Afar, the Venezuelan film that won the Golden Lion, top prize of the Venice Film Festival.
Latin America Conquers Berlin and Venice
Latin American cinema took over the 2015 edition of the Berlinale, winning numerous awards, in addition to Ixcanul’s Silver Bear Alfred Bauer prize and 600 Miles’ Best First Film Award, the Chilean films El club / The Club by Pablo Larraín (pictured right with actors Alfredo Castro and Roberto Farías) was awarded the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize, and El botón de nácar / The Pearl Button by Patricio Guzmán was the recipient of the Silver Bear for Best Script.
Three Latin American films were also winners of the Teddy Award, presented to LGBT productions: Nasty Baby by Chilean director Sebastián Silva for Best Feature Film; the Uruguayan film El hombre nuevo / The New Man by Aldo Garay for Best Documentary, and the Chilean film San Cristóbal by Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo for Best Short Film.
In addition to Vigas' Golden Lion, two other Latin American filmmakers also won top prizes at the 72nd edition of the Venice Film Festival: the Argentinean director Pablo Trapero was awarded the Silver Lion for Best Director for his drama El clan / The Clan, while the Brazilian film Boi Neon / Neon Bull by Gabriel Mascaro was presented with the Special Orizzonti Jury Prize.
The very first day of 2015 started with the passing of the popular Cuban-born actress Ninón Sevilla, famous for her starring roles in the Mexican rumbera films. Other notable deaths of last year include Mexican actor Germán Robles -famous for his role in the classic horror film El Vampiro; Argentinean director/actor/writer Sergio Renán, director of La tregua / The Truce, the first Argentine film to get an Academy Award nomination; actress/director/producer/writer María Elena Velasco, the most successful woman in the history of Mexican cinema, better known for her comedian role as “La India María.”
2015 also witnessed the passing of Argentinean actors Juan Carlos Galván and Alejandro Alvarez; Brazilian actress Marília Pêra, the first South American actress ever honored in North America with a Best Actress Prize awarded by the National Society of Film Critics Awards for her role in Héctor Babenco’s Pixote; Mexican singer/actor José Ángel Espinosa 'Ferrusquilla’; and Cuban actress Alina Rodríguez of Conducta.
The Best of the Rest
Brazilian actresses Regina Casé and Camila Márdila shared the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for their work on Anna Muylaert’s Que Horas Ela Volta? / The Second Mother. The debut feature films Videofilia (y otros síndromes virales) / Videophilia (and Other Viral Syndromes) by Juan Daniel F. Molero and La obra del siglo / The Project of the Century by Carlos M. Quintela became the first Peruvian and Cuban films respectively, to ever win the Tiger Award for Best Film at the Rotterdam Film Festival.
The debut feature by Marcia Tambutti Allende mi abuelo Allende / Beyond My Grandfather Allende was the winner of the first L’Oeil d’Or prize for Best Documentary Film at the Cannes Film Festival, and La patota / Paulina, the sophomore film by Santiago Mitre, was awarded with the top prize at the Critics’ Week in Cannes.
Pablo Trapero’s El clan / The Clan broke box office records in Argentina, becoming the local production with the best opening ever, and the comedy Asu Mare 2 by Ricardo Maldonado became the highest grossing Peruvian film ever. The Mexican documentary Los reyes del pueblo que no existe / Kings of Nowhere by Betzabé García won the Grand Jury Award for Best Feature Documentary (ex aequo) at the Full Frame Film Festival, the Audience Award at SXSW, and nabbed a nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Debut Feature Film in this year’s Cinema Eye Nonfiction Film Awards.