One of the mandates of MANO‘s Movies & TV page is to seek out, highlight, and discuss those films and television series from Latin America, or made by U.S.-based Latino filmmakers, that no one is writing or talking about. And, believe me, with the plethora of streaming options out there, there is always the one title (sometimes even two) that slips through the cracks.
For example, Yulene Olaizola’s Tragic Jungle, currently streaming on Netflix, is the story of a woman who, in order to escape an arranged marriage, flees deep into the Mayan jungle, where the unexpected awaits her. It went so below my radar that I didn’t find out about it until I started researching this column.
So while many publications (online and in print) and critics give you a long, dull list of every single film and TV show that will premiere on or depart from the streaming service of your choice, beginning this month I will focus on those Latino films, TV series and documentaries that will hit the big screen, the home screen, or even your computer screen. In a way, it’s also my monthly to-do list.
So, without any further ado, here’s MANO’s first “What to Watch” column…
Somos. (Netflix, begins streaming June 30): Created, executive produced and co-written by James Schamus (who produced most of Ang Lee’s films including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain, and was the CEO of Focus Features), and based on investigative journalist Ginger Thompson’s article “How the U.S. Triggered a Massacre in Mexico,” this six-part mini-series recounts the events that led to a three-day massacre by the Los Zetas cartel in Allende, Coahuila ten years ago, and the role the DEA played in setting it off. Shot in Durango and in Spanish (Schamus had to learn the language), and featuring an entirely Mexican cast (most of them non-professional actors) and crew, Somos tells this tragic story from the point of view of the citizens who lived through the tragic incidents that claimed the lives of over 300 people.
The Forever Purge (in theaters July 2): I really don’t care much for The Purge franchise. In fact, I haven’t seen a single one of the films in the series. However, I may make an exception for the genre with this entry, directed by Mexican filmmaker Everardo Gout and starring Ana de La Reguera, Tenoch Huerta and Will Patton. An underground movement decides to expand the one-night government-decreed violent orgy and target a family of ranchers in Texas near the U.S.-Mexico border. Is this movement, by any chance, an offshoot of the Minutemen?
I Carry You with Me (opening wide in select theaters nationwide July 2): Documentary filmmaker Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp) makes her fiction feature debut with this story about immigration, homophobia, sacrifice, longing, and the barriers that keep us apart. Inspired by the story of New York undocumented chef Iván García and his partner Gerardo, Ewing blends documentary and narrative filmmaking techniques to tell a rather impressionistic and intimate tale about the personal and oftentimes emotional decisions that drive men and women to cross the border—not only in search of a better life, but one that accepts them for who they are.
Landfall (airing on PBS July 12): In my review for Gozamos of Cecilia Aldarondo’s extraordinary documentary, I described Puerto Rico post-Irma and post-María as an “island that is still suffering from collective PTSD.” The description still stands, given what Puerto Ricans in the island are currently going through after LUMA, a private entity, took over the island’s power authority and electric grid, leading to dozens of major outages. Aldarondo’s documentary about life in the island, the many vultures circling it, and the protests that led to the ouster of then Governor Ricardo Rosselló, is now more urgent than when it premiered at DOC NYC last year. Essential viewing.
Private Network: Who Killed Manuel Buendía? (streaming on Netflix July 14): Manuel Buendía was an investigative journalist in Mexico whose syndicated column, Red Privada, ruffled many feathers. He generally wrote about the CIA’s covert operations in Mexico, corrupt businessmen and government officials, and their ties to cartels. Then, on May 30, 1984, as he was leaving his office, he was shot five times in the back.
Narrated by Daniel Giménez Cacho, Manuel Alcalá’s documentary explores Buendía’s career and the many theories surrounding his assassination.
Stateless (airing on PBS July 19): An official selection at this year’s Chicago Latino Film Festival, Haitian-Panamanian filmmaker Michèle Stephenson’s new documentary follows the families of those affected by the 2013 legislation that stripped the citizenship of Dominicans of Haitian descent retroactively to 1929, the activists helping them, and the people in favor of the legislation. Drawing parallels to the 1937 massacre of tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent, Stateless explores how deeply embedded racism and caste are all throughout Latin America, making this another must-watch, given the current debate on colorism in our community.