March may be Women’s History Month and we might be in the middle of Hispanic/Latino/Latinx/Latiné/whatever History Month… but Latinas rule, either as filmmakers or lead characters, in my selections for October. Two celebrations for the price of one!
October is also the month when the air turns crisp—that is, in those parts of the country and planet yet to be ravaged by climate change—the leaves turn yellow and red and brown and the ghouls come out to play. Blumhouse Productions, purveyors of such fine, chilling entertainment as Paranormal Activity and The Purge series, as well as more serious fare as Spike Lee’s superb BlacKkKlansman, isn’t pulling any punches and is delivering not one, not two, but an entire series of horror films, two of which are directed by the up-and-coming Latino horror wunderkinds Gigi Saul Guerrero and Ryan Zaragoza (Madres).
But for me, the real highlight of the month is the launch of Sonia Manzano’s (a.k.a. María from Sesame Street) brand new children’s show produced with Fred Rogers Studio.
Here are my picks for October:
BINGO HELL (begins streaming on October 1 on Amazon Prime): Adriana Barraza (Babel, The Strain) stars as Lupita, a sixty-something neighborhood activist who suspects something’s fishy at her local bingo hall in the first of Amazon Prime’s Welcome to the Blumhouse series of horror films. Turns out her neighbors have been turning up dead in the most grisly ways after the hall was acquired by a mysterious businessman (Richard Brake). The cry of bingo! may no longer sound as joyous to your or your abuelita’s ears after you’re done with this film, the second feature Gigi Saul Guerrero directs for Blumhouse. Known as La muñeca del terror in Latin America, Guerrero is considered by such prestigious genre outlets as Dread Central and Fangoria as one of the most promising new voices in the genre.
ALMA’S WAY (begins airing on October 4 on PBS KIDS; check your local listings for airtime): More than Cookie Monster and Ernie and Bert, the characters of María and Luis (played by Sonia Manzano and Emilio Delgado) were the reason I, as so many young Latino kids in the United States and Puerto Rico, devotedly watched Sesame Street—and Rita Moreno in The Electric Company—every day of the week. To see these Latino actors on the small screen was a huge source of pride; anything was possible—and don’t get me started on the much-missed Raúl Juliá’s one and only season on the show. Sonia’s back with an animated show inspired by her own life story and produced by Fred Rogers Studio. Alma’s Way centers on six-year-old Alma Rivera, a proud, confident Afro-Puerto Rican girl who lives in the Bronx with her family (Sonia also voices the character of Abuelita Issa). Looks like no stone has been left unturned when it comes to the depiction of Puerto Rican culture, from making mofongo to bomba dancing (see the clip below) and even a little bit of salsa history.
FRUITS OF LABOR (airs on PBS’ POV on October 4 at 10 pm EST and will be available to stream for free at pov.org): Emily Cohen Ibáñez’s powerful documentary makes the personal universal as she follows Ashley Solis, a second-generation Mexican American who divides her time between school, supporting her family and keeping her mother safe from ICE. Located in a California working-class town, the harshness of agricultural labor in the strawberry fields shares a stark contrast with the beautiful nature and relationship to Ashley’s spiritual ancestral upbringing.
MADRES (begins streaming on October 8 on Amazon Prime): After fighting the darker side of human nature in The Forever Purge, Tenoch Huerta now confronts the supernatural in the third film in Amazon Prime’s Welcome to the Blumhouse series of horror films. Beto (Huerta) and Diana (Ariana Guerra), a young Mexican-American couple expecting their first child, move to a small town in 1970s California where Beto has been offered a job managing a farm. Isolated from the community and plagued by confusing nightmares, Diana explores the rundown company ranch where they reside, finding a grisly talisman and a box containing the belongings of the previous residents. And we all know what happened when Pandora opened that proverbial box…
LA CASA DE MAMA ICHA (airs on PBS’ POV on October 18 at 10 pm EST and will be available to stream for free at pov.org): Feeling the end is near, 93-year-old María Dionisia Navarro, known as Mama Icha, wants to spend the rest of her life in her native village of Mompox in northern Colombia, walking along the Magdalena River and chatting with friends and relatives in the house she has built during the long years. She migrated to the United States 30 years ago to help her daughter raise her children. Her family is against her going back but nothing will stop Mama Icha from fulfilling her dream, even if what she finds doesn’t quite match her memories, in Oscar Molina’s feature debut documentary.
THINGS WE DARE NOT DO (airs on PBS’ POV on October 25 at 10 pm EST and will be available to stream for free at pov.org): Winner of the Gold Hugo Award for Best Documentary and the Gold Q-Hugo Award for Best LGBTQ+ Film at the Chicago International Film Festival last year, Bruno Santamaría’s documentary focuses on the courage of a teenager who wants to reassert his sexual identity in a small Mexican coastal village, in a country shrouded in machismo and transphobia. Sixteen-year-old Ñoño lives what seems to be an idyllic existence; he spends his days playing with the free-spirited younger children of the town and staging elaborate community dance productions. He is also trying to work up the courage to tell his family he wants to live his life as a woman.
Speaking of the CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It will be held both physically and virtually from October 13 – 24 and will present 90 feature films and 70 shorts. Fifty of the features as well as all 10 shorts programs will be available virtually for in-home screenings via the festival’s streaming platform to audiences across Illinois and six other states, including Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. There are a number of films I am looking forward to, including Icíar Bollaín’s Maixabel starring Blanca Portillo as the widow of a man killed by the Basque separatist group ETA and Luis Tosar as the man seeking forgiveness for the act; Alonso Ruizpalacios’ docu-fiction hybrid A Cop Movie, about Mexico City’s police force; Tatiana Huezo’s first fiction film Prayers for the Stolen, winner of the Horizontes Award for Best Latin American film at the recently held San Sebastián Film Festival; and of course, Pedro Almodóvar’s latest Parallel Mothers.
Some of the usual suspects that will be hitting the big and small screens in the coming months are also part of the festival, but for me taking a chance on that unknown film from that little-heard-of country is what makes a film festival experience truly magical.
For a complete list of films, theaters, virtual availability and tickets, visit: ChicagoFilmFestival.com/festival
Featured image: Screenshot from Emily Cohen Ibañez’s ‘Fruits of Labor’