Films for the Intro to Latin American Studies Course

Note:  We can only view a selection of these films during one course.  In many cases, we can view excerpts without needing to see the whole film.  There are also many others available, of course, either through Netflix or from the Rutgers media library at Livingston.  If students have particular interests, we may be able to select films to fit them.  There are many films on the Latin American Studies Film Festival Program, but they can be hard or expensive to get.  If anyone has a special interest, let me know.  If you are looking at this in advance of the class, you can email me

Maria Full of Grace:
It's painfully understandable why the 17-year-old title character of this gripping Colombian film would risk her freedom and even her life to be a drug mule. The movie follows the desperate plunge of Maria (Catalina Sandino Moreno) from a dead-end job as an assembly-line worker in a Colombian flower factory into the drug-smuggling underworld. Her dangerous undertaking is her last resort when she finds herself unemployed and pregnant. Before the story zeroes in on the harrowing details of drug running and its dangers, it details Maria's hopelessly circumscribed life in a rural village. If her story is a template for countless others like it, what keeps your heart in your throat is Maria herself. In a performance that feels more lived in than acted, Ms. Moreno's Maria is an attractive, smart, spirited young woman who faces the challenge of fending for herself with a fierce determination and ingenuity that compromises but never undermines her essential decency and morality. The movie sustains a documentary authenticity that is as astonishing as it is off-handed. Even while keeping you on the edge of your seat, it never sacrifices a calm, clear-sighted humanity for the sake of melodrama or cheap moralizing. — Stephen Holden, The New York Times

Central Station:
In Walter Salles' "Central Station," a film that is as beautiful as it is wrenching, the camera picks out a worn, unhappy-looking older woman who sets up a table and chair every day in Rio's vast railroad terminus. She earns a pittance writing letters for the illiterate, whom she regards with a cold matter-of-fact disdain.
     She is a retired schoolteacher who must augment her minuscule pension in this manner and takes scant pains to disguise her bitterness. Indeed, if she regards what is being dictated to her as rubbish she refuses to mail the completed letter entrusted to her by the customer. A drawer stuffed with such letters in a bureau in her tiny apartment attests to the magnitude of her disdain for her fellow human beings.
     In short, Fernanda Montenegro's Dora is a mean-spirited, dishonest, highly judgmental individual--the very last person with whom you would trust a child. Yet when a woman, one of Dora's customers, is struck fatally by a car, Dora is the only person in all of Rio with whom the woman's 10-year-old son Josue (Vinicius de Oliveira) has had any contact, even though fleeting.
     You may want to resist this movie as much as Dora resists Josue. You may say to yourself, "Not yet another movie about an aging curmudgeon melted by an irresistible kid." But that is to discount the profound scope and vision that Salles brings to his story. "Central Station" belongs to the grand humanist tradition of Italian neo-realism and has been made with the care and concern for values and emotions that have always characterized the films of its producer, five-time Oscar-winner Arthur Cohn. It is also to underestimate the power of Montenegro, widely regarded as Brazil's greatest actress, and the remarkable natural acting ability of De Oliveira, who in fact was spotted by Salles at Rio's airport, where he had been spending several hours a day shining shoes to help out his poor family.
  The world of "Central Station" is all too universal--a place where older people, even those who've led responsible, respectable lives, are in effect discarded, left to fend for themselves, and a place where children are even more vulnerable at a time when families seem increasingly far-flung and fragmented. Indeed, a few deft plot developments propel Dora and Josue on a long railroad journey in search of the father he doesn't even know. (It has been suggested that their journey represents on another level a kind of quest for a sense of Brazilian identity.)
     Dora is actually capable of an evil and indifference that won't be revealed here except to observe that the woman's hatefulness gives Montenegro all the greater a range in which to depict with the utmost understatement her ever-so-gradual regeneration--not so much an awakening of maternal instincts but a warming to the simple contact with another human being. In her relationship with the resilient yet inescapably vulnerable Josue, Dora is moved to confront the painful losses that have left her so emotionally calcified.
     (The only other role of substance goes to none other than Mariela Pera, unforgettable as the prostitute in "Pixote." She plays Dora's good-humored neighbor, whose sense of decency proves to be pivotal.)
     "Central Station" becomes transcendent in its stunning, unexpected climactic sequence that attests to the formidability of Montenegro's gifts as an actress. Her portrayal of Dora, one of the year's finest performances, attests to a career spent bringing to life a large portion of the stage's most challenging heroines. It also attests to Montenegro's unfailing grasp of the fact that acting for the cinema--in which she has appeared only a handful of times--requires no less than revealing your soul. For Fernanda Montenegro, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Italy's late Giulietta Masina (Federico Fellini's wife and frequent star) in appearance and talent, "Central Station" is a personal triumph and a rich cinematic experience.  Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times

The Crimes of Padre Amaro

Published: November 15, 2002, Friday

''El Crimen del Padre Amaro,'' a suds-filled political melodrama that bashes the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico with a contempt that verges on hysteria, could be accused of many things, but timidity is not one of them. The film, an updated adaptation of a late 19th-century novel by the Portuguese author José Maria Eça de Queiroz, tells the story of Father Amaro (Gael García Bernal), a dreamy-eyed 24-year-old cleric dispatched to a small parish church in Los Reyes to assist its aging priest, Father Benito (Sancho Gracia). If Father Amaro proves a cooperative partner, it is a given that he will one day take over the parish.

Arriving in town, Father Amaro hasn't the foggiest inkling of the political rats' nest that's about to consume him. As played by Mr. Bernal, who has become an international star with ''Amores Perros'' and ''Y Tu Mamá También,'' the young priest projects the dewy naïveté of a Robby Benson character from the 1970's. Mr. Bernal's physical resemblance to that former icon of milk-and-cookies wholesomeness is so pronounced that you half expect the movie to turn into ''Ice Castles'' or ''Ode to Billy Joe,'' but of course it doesn't.

What Father Amaro discovers is a corrupt church bureaucracy collaborating with local drug lords who donate huge sums of money to favorite church charities. In return the church hierarchy turns a blind eye to their activities, which include the violent appropriation of land occupied by poor rural farmers. Any priest who seriously dissents from the bishop's party line risks excommunication.

With one heroic exception the procession of church officials parading through the film are an unsavory lot who justify their money laundering by smugly pointing to the good works to which the funds are applied. Running the diocese is an obese, porcine-eyed bishop (Ernesto Gómez Cruz), whom the movie views with a palpable physical loathing.

The scandalous nature of ''El Crimen del Padre Amaro,'' directed by Carlos Carrera from a screenplay by Vicente Leñero, has helped make it the highest-grossing home-grown film in Mexican history. But what probably accounts for its popularity isn't its indictment of money laundering and conspiracy but its prurient, nostril-flaring portrait of a handsome young clergyman violating his vows of celibacy.

Father Benito, we soon discover, has been having a secret longtime affair with his housekeeper Sanjuanera (Angélica Aragón). And before long, Father Amaro has plunged into a relationship with Sanjuanera's 16-year-old daughter, Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancón). Under the facade of his giving Amelia religious instruction to become a nun, he meets her in an out-of-the-way shack inhabited by the mentally retarded daughter of one of Father Benito's assistants. And in intermingling the lovers' rapturous cries with the retarded girl's spasmodic groans from the adjoining room, the movie has flashes of grotesque satiric humor.

The film's most blasphemous notion is that spiritual passion is essentially repressed lust. Upon Father Amaro's arrival in Los Reyes, the local women go weak in the knees in his presence and shamelessly make goo-goo eyes, which he pretends to ignore. Amelia is a beautiful, intensely devout girl who goes into a hormonal swoon whenever Father Amaro appears.

Their affair is presented as a study of two self-deluded fools who use religious iconography as an erotic stimulant, and their pillow talk is inflected with sanctimonious, quasi-religious mumbo jumbo. After presenting Amelia with a robe that makes her look like the Virgin Mary, Father Amaro tremblingly embraces her as if he were worshiping a statue.

Before becoming involved with Father Amaro, Amelia was the girlfriend of a young nonreligious journalist who is persuaded to write a newspaper exposé of church corruption. But the diocese, mustering its political clout, forces the paper to print a front-page retraction.

The film's most disconcerting element is its confusing mixture of satire and melodrama. One minute the movie appears to be making nasty fun of Father Amaro and Amelia's affair. The next it is wallowing in their passion as shamelessly as any heavy-breathing Latin American soap opera. As the story accelerates, Father Amaro's troubles multiply along with the lies he is forced to tell, and the movie builds to a strident, intentionally shocking finale that finds the young priest morally bankrupt.

But Father Amaro's spiritual downfall involves very little internal struggle. Although we are supposed to assume that he is a naïve idealist at the beginning of the film, his acquiescence to the corrupt status quo is accompanied by only the faintest protestations. Instead of emerging as a hero with a tragic flaw, he comes across as a fuzzy-minded weakling who is all flaws.

At a certain point Amelia urges Father Amaro to quit the priesthood and leave town with her. He replies that he wants to remain in the church because as a priest he can help others, but we don't see him offering much help to anyone. Terrible things happen in ''El Crimen del Padre Amaro,'' which opens today in Manhattan, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Dallas, but the movie ultimately has no tragic dimension. It's just the lurid portrait of a man who'll do anything to keep his job.

''El Crimen del Padre Amaro'' is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has sexual situations.

Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business
Brazil/USA 1994. Director: Helena Solberg
Cast: Erick Barreto, Letícia Monte, Cynthia Adler

"The exotic character Carmen Miranda carefully created and lived with during her Hollywood career has been parodied by many entertainers -- mostly men -- with a fascination matched by few other American pop-culture icons. What most people don't know, however, is that before she became famous in America by wearing fruit hats, Carmen was already an established, abundantly talented entertainer in Brazil. The character she later became -- the costumed, heavily accented, "I seeng you song from Brazeel" parody of women from the Bahía region -- created a rift between her and the Brazilian press, who claimed she packaged her talent to cater to the American public. Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business, a truly engaging documentary sensitively assembled by Helena Solberg, reveals this and more about the `Brazilian Bombshell.' Using archival footage, re-creations of key events -- featuring female impersonator Erick Barreto as Carmen -- and interviews with the people closest to Carmen's life, Solberg provides a little-seen perspective on Carmen's pre-Hollywood career" (Ramiro Puerta, Toronto I.F.F.). "Complex and probing . . . a fascinating account of the onetime megastar as not only a torn and tragic person and underrated artist, but also as the eventual prisoner of a giddy image reflecting various intertwined political and cultural agendas . . . As enjoyable as it is thought-provoking" (Godfrey Cheshire, Variety). Colour and B&W, 35mm, in Portuguese with English subtitles. 91 mins.  From A Retrospective of Brazilian Cinema. in Vancouver BC

City of God  Like cinematic dynamite, City of God lights a fuse under its squalid Brazilian ghetto, and we're a captive audience to its violent explosion. The titular favela is home to a seething army of impoverished children who grow, over the film's ambitious 20-year timeframe, into cutthroat killers, drug lords, and feral survivors. In the vortex of this maelstrom is L'il Z (Leandro Firmino da Hora--like most of the cast, a nonprofessional actor), self-appointed king of the dealers, determined to eliminate all competition at the expense of his corrupted soul. With enough visual vitality and provocative substance to spark heated debate (and box-office gold) in Brazil, codirectors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund tackle their subject head on, creating a portrait of youthful anarchy so appalling--and so authentically immediate--that City of God prompted reforms in socioeconomic policy. It's a bracing feat of stylistic audacity, borrowing from a dozen other films to form its own unique identity. You'll flinch, but you can't look away. --Jeff Shannon,

Link to longer NY Times review here.

Madame Satã is inspired by the legends and myths that grew up around the real-life character João Francisco dos Santos (1900-1976), also known as Madame Satã. The film is set in 1930’s Rio de Janeiro in the bohemian neighborhood of Lapa as João Francisco is about to achieve his dream of becoming a stage star. A tall black man—a Brazilian version of Jean Genet—a proud rogue, female impersonator, gangster, convicted prisoner and adoptive father, João Francisco spent most of his life in the bohemian streets of Rio de Janeiro.
    Madame Satã, the film, is as feverish as Madame Satã, its protagonist. We get to know the cast of characters who surround João Francisco in the sordid, yet lively world of Lapa—a cast of pimps, prostitutes, deviants, samba composers and bohemians.
    The film is made up of a series of defining moments in the life of João Francisco and his close friends, which, taken together, evoke a crucial time in his life, the period immediately before the Madame Satã myth was created. João took his alias from the title character of Cecil B. De Mille’s 1930 film Madame Satan, which he was passionate about.   
    Throughout his 76 years—27 of which were spent in prison—João Francisco dos Santos constantly challenged the stigmas of being illiterate, black, poor, and homosexual. With a remarkable ability to enter the skin of different characters, he defined himself as “son of Iansã and Ogum [deities of African origin, originally worshiped by slaves], and devout follower of Josephine Baker.” He created for himself a number of personae, such as: The Negress of the Bulacoché; Jamacy, the Queen of the Forest; the Shark; and the Wild Pussycat. Through the character of João Francisco, a son of ex-slaves, the film also celebrates the blossoming of a pulsating urban Afro-Brazilian culture that emerged in Rio de Janeiro in the post-abolition years. This culture was forged as an expression of resistance in a society that had no use for black people after the abolition of slavery in 1888. Madame Satã not only evokes a fascinating real-life character, but also brings to life a crucial moment of the Afro-Brazilian diaspora.  (from Ritz filmbill)

Four Days in September.  In 1969, the democratically elected government of Brazil was toppled and a military dictatorship took its place. The junta ruled through terror and intimidation, torturing political enemies, controlling the press, and severely curtailing freedoms. A group of Che Guevara-worshipping Marxist radicals (the MR-8) plotted to kidnap an American diplomat (Alan Arkin) to force the government to meet their demands. The college radicals hooked up with two senior revolutionaries, an avuncular veteran of the Spanish Civil War and a cold, ruthlessly intense younger man who becomes their commandant. What could easily have become an overwrought drama is instead played out in understatement. The middle-class radicals falter more than once when it looks like they will indeed have to execute their captive; their counterparts in the government's secret police grapple with their consciences when it comes to torture and terror. Arkin is excellent as Charles Elbrick, the diplomat; his conversations with his abductors bring out his humanity as the deadline draws near. Overall, the film--which receieved a Best Foreign-Language Oscar nomination--has a sense of tension and claustrophobia that is as oppressive as the clammy Rio de Janeiro humidity. This is a thoughtful political drama with emotional depth, well-drawn characters, and excellent direction. (Incidentally, the radicals' commitment paid off in 1979, when Brazil's democracy was restored and all political prisoners were given amnesty.) Stuart Copeland provides the excellent score, along with '60s-period bossa nova music. --Jerry Renshaw

Black Orpheus  When it comes to Brazilian film versions of Greek tragic myths, I'd have to say that Black Orpheus comes out on top.  An odd retelling of the myth of Orpheus & Eurydice (you remember: she was kidnapped by Hades, he had to save her but if he looked back on the way out, he would lose her forever... and he looks), this time Orpheus (aka Orfeu, Breno Mello) is a Rio de Janeiro laborer who loves his guitar, has an overbearing girlfriend, and falls in love with the visiting Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) at first sight. After a drawn-out (and a bit padded) love triangle bit, she is kidnapped by Death himself (actually a weird guy in a funky bodysuit), and sure enough, Orpheus heads to the rescue.
This probably isn't the way you remembered the tale -- set amidst sweaty dancers at Carnaval -- but it's certainly, well, different.
Aka Orfeu Negro.  Christopher Null on Film

Marcel Camus's 1959 update of the Greek myth features an all-black cast and a story set in the frenetic energy of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Orpheus, a trolley car conductor and superb samba dancer, is engaged to Mira but in love with Eurydice. For his change of heart, Orpheus and his new doomed lover are pursued by a vengeful Mira and a determined Death through the feverish Carnival night. Camus at once demystifies and remystifies the old story, shifting not only its location but its tone and context, forcing a reevaluation of the legend as a more passionate, pulsing, sensual experience. The film is really one-of-a-kind, an absolute whirl that barely needs words. --Tom Keogh
1960 Academy Award Winner and winner of the Palme d'Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, Marcel Camus' Black Orpheus retells the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice against the madness of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. With its magnificent color photography and lively soundtrack, this film brought the infectious bossa nova beat to the United States. Criterion is proud to present the extended international version of Black Orpheus in a gorgeous new transfer.  from

Plot Synopsis: Palmares is a 17th-century quilombo, a settlement of escaped slaves in northeast Brazil. In 1650, plantation slaves revolt and head for the mountains where they find others led by the aged seer, Acotirene. She anoints one who becomes Ganga Zumba, a legendary king. For years, his warriors hold off Portuguese raiders; then he agrees to leave the mountains in exchange for reservation land and peace. It's a mistake. Zumbi, a warrior whose mother was killed by Portuguese and who spent 15 years with the Whites, stays in the mountains to lead Palmares. In 1694, the Portuguese import a ruthless captain from São Paulo to lead an assault on the free Blacks. Can Zumbi keep Palmares free?

I came across 'quilombo' after I had read on the internet about the 'palenques' or 'maroons', which were communities made of escaped slaves in Latin America's colonial era. In Brazil, the palenques were known as quilombos, and the most famous to have existed - and featured on the movie -- was that of Palmares in northeastern Brazil. Although the director injects a big dose of magic realism to the movie, it still gives a fairly accurate picture of the times - mid-late 17th century. The hellish conditions endured by slaves brought from western Africa, the Portuguese-Dutch wars, and the human will to break free combined to create the conditions for a slave exodus and a formation of an exile, small republic to form in a remote hillside in the forests.
The movie centers around two characters that have long lived in the collective memory of Afro-Brazilians for hundreds of years: Ganga Zumba and Zumbi, the former the spiritual leader of his new found nation, the latter the warrior who would resist fiercely the devastating assault unleashed upon the quilombo and its dwellers by a well-armed expeditionary force made up of portuguese troops, colonial regulars and Sao Paolo mercenaries.
'Quilombo' tells a story of defiance, courage, and the fighting spirit of formerly oppressed peoples who chose to die for their freedom rather than returning alive in chains to hell on earth, namely the sugar plantations of Pernambuco province. Palmares defied the Portuguese empire for almost a century, and represented a threat to the province's plantations because they were often raided and the slaves were freed.
For an attempt to publicize this epic era in Brazilian history, Diegues does a good job by putting together historical facts and magic realism. Though I would have loved to see more emphasis on the economic aspects of the quilombo. It is said that 'Palmares' had developed its own business schemes with free-lance merchants and local ranchers as well, creating also not only the threat of slave mutiny but the threat that presented the diversity in crops around the quilombo, which contrasted sharply with the monocultures, thus the economic interests of plantations.
All in all, 'Quilombo' is dramatic, thrilling, and beautiful. For those interested on history about maroon communities and slave resistance in the New World I truly encourage to get this movie.

Dona Flor and her Two Husbands. 
By the 1970s, after a series of right-wing coups, the political climate in Brazil had eased a bit and restrictions on sexuality in the movies had relaxed. The result: frothy erotic comedies like Bruno Barreto's Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1977). In the picturesque port city of Bahia, Flor, a lovely young woman (Sonia Braga), marries the wastrel Vadinho (José Wilker), a compulsive wencher who beats her. His one redeeming quality is that he's a tiger in the sack. After Vadinho drops dead, Flor accepts the proposal of a pharmacist, who's kind but dull in and out of bed. Her yearning for her randy first husband causes his ghost to materialize. Ectoplasmic Vadinho makes it clear that there is sex after death, and since he's visible only to her, conditions are right for a bizarre ménage à trois. A variation on Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, Dona Flor was a huge hit at home and abroad. In its best moments, it has the qualities of a ribald folk tale. But it's a slight work, slackly directed, that gets a needed boost from Braga's endearing performance and Chico Buarque's intoxicating score. ELLIOTT STEIN - the Village Voice

 (The title itself is a good definition of Aphrodite).  Dona Flor is married to Vadinho, a dynamic and erotic man full of excessive qualities (drunk, violent, orgiastic and a gambler). He dies. Dona Flor is a sensual young widow who gives cooking lessons. We can have a sense of the beauty, seductive and spicy flavor of her dishes and world. She remarries the town pharmacist, Teodoro. Teodoro is the very opposite of Vadinho. He is a correct gentleman, prude, respectable, and in good financial standing. Dona Flor misses that intense fire of Vadinho, expressed in this movie by the sexuality and the passion that brings her liberation from the trap of the “feminine mystique” or from every day life. Vadinho returns from below. She tries to be faithful to her second husband, but unsuccessfully. She desires and needs both.
Aphrodite: Dona Flor.
Beauty (giving and seeing). Sexuality. Generosity. Embracing opposites.
Dionysus: Vadinho
Passion. Excess. Intensity. God of Carnival. God of Masks. Paradox: ecstasy and horror – infinite vitality and savage destruction.
(Hermetic qualities: Communication – freedom of speech. Opportunism).
Apollo: Teodoro
Apollo: Civilized. Solid. Rational. Formal. Orderly.
(Hestian qualities: Sameness. Tradition.)    by Luciano Mesquite of  The Mythological Movie Club.

The Burning Season
Originally airing on HBO, "The Burning Season" stars the late Raul Julia as Chico Mendes, the founder of Brazil's ecological movement to preserve and save the Amazon rainforest from the destruction by herders, miners, and other companies wanting to exploit the region's rich natural supplies.
    Mendes, who led a movement from the small frontier town of Acre, became an international celebrity after he went on Brazilian television to fight the destruction of the Amazonian Rainforest. With the ban on Argentine beef, Brazilian farmers saw the Amazon as being an emerging area to raise cattle in order to meet the world demand for beef. Miners, who were moving onto Indian lands to mine for gold, copper, and other minerals were also effecting the rainforest's ecology.
    Mendes, who was a "seringuiero," or "rubber-tapper," relied on the Amazon's vast supply of rubber trees in order to make a living. Seeing that his source of income was in peril with the elimination of trees in order to make room for miners and farmers, Mendes began a national movement to awaken the consciousness of the world about the obvious dangers that lurked nearby if the rainforest was cleared. However, his life will take a tragic turn when he was only starting to gain international awareness and support for his movement.
    Puerto-Rican born actor Raul Julia, gives on of the final performances of his gifted life as Chico Mendes. Brazilian actress Sonia Braga also lends her talents to this important film that was filmed in Mexico's Yucatan region. Both actors, as well as the film's realism add depth and realism to a film that should be watched by all, especially when recent news indicate that the world's sea levels are rising due to global warming.
    This is a must-see film for everyone. Chico Mendes' mission to educate the world of the immense importance that Brazil's rainforest is to world's climate control should not die in vain. This important, ethical film will awaken your awareness of what the Amazon's destruction and development will have on the world's population.  Luis Hernandez on

(Pixote, a lei do mais fraco)

Brazil 1981. Director: Hector Babenco

Cast:Fernando Ramos da Silva, Marília Pera, Jorge Juliao Described by Pauline Kael as "shockingly lyrical," and often compared to Luis Buñuel's Los Olvidados, the unforgettable Pixote offers a deeply unsettling look at the plight of Brazil's homeless children (said to number 3 million at the time the film was made). Pixote, a 10-year-old street urchin, is nabbed by police and sent to a juvenile detention centre, where he and his fellow inmates endure a brutal regimen of abuse, exploitation, rape and even murder. Later, he and a group of friends escape back to life on the streets of Brazil's urban slums, and a mind-numbing, survival-of-the-fittest routine of stealing, pushing, pimping and killing. Director Hector Babenco (Kiss of the Spider Woman) derives extraordinary performances from a non-professional cast of actual street kids, including Fernando Ramos da Silva, the baby-faced youth who appears in the title role; da Silva returned to street life after Pixote, and was killed in a scuffle with police in 1987. Pro actor Marília Pera, as the aging alcoholic prostitute pimped by Pixote and his pals, "has an Anna Magnani-like presence -- horrifying and great . . . She's the whore spawned out of men's darkest imaginings" (Kael). The film was a major art-house hit in the 1980s. "Acutely affecting . . . nothing in recent cinema comes close to the devastating account of brutalisation and exploitation offered in Babenco's film" (Martyn Auty, Time Out). Colour, 35mm, in Portuguese with English subtitles. 127 mins.   From A Retrospective of Brazilian Cinema. in Vancouver BC

Hugo Chavez:  Venezuela and the New Latin America
Chavez, Venezuela and the New Latin America, a new documentary from the Australian-based Ocean Press, makes an important contribution to our understanding of the Venezuelan process. Though the film, which features an extended interview of Chavez by Aleida Guevara, Che’s daughter, does at times verge on hagiography, its importance lies in its examination of the profound causes of Venezuela’s social and political upheaval.
    The documentary traces the recent history of the Bolivarian process only briefly, as excellent productions such as The Revolution Will Not Be Televised have already covered in riveting detail the events surrounding the April 2002 coup against Chavez. Rather, this new production features a number of interviews with the protagonists of social change, speaking with political organizers in the barrios of Caracas, and in the pro-Chavez wing of the military.
    An insightful segment of the film highlights the role of the more than 10 000 Cuban volunteers – mostly doctors and other medical personnel – assisting in the implementation of Venezuela’s ambitious social programs in health care delivery and adult literacy campaigns, among others. The interviews with these Cuban professionals, working amidst extreme poverty, and with rightist violence aimed at intimidating them, provide a potent rebuttal to simplistic anti-socialist pundits the world over. Calm, good-humoured, and yet possessing profound seriousness about their efforts, the doctors from Cuba speak clearly about their motivation to help a sister Latin American people.
    The interview with Chavez is also revealing. The Venezuelan leader is playful, hyper-active and always charismatic in responding to Guevara’s questions, whether speaking of his early baseball exploits, or reveling in the “perfect mix” of African and Indian that makes up the Caribbean people. (This jovial moment in the interview will be particularly irksome for much of the anti-Chavez opposition, which frequently uses despicable, racialized caricatures to attack the president).
    This is clearly a politician with an eclectic yet profoundly radical political orientation. His efforts to recover and highlight the most explicitly anti-imperialist and progressive content of the continent’s nationalist heroes like Simon Bolivar closely resembles Fidel Castro’s invocation of the legacy of Cuban national hero Jose Marti.

Like Water Like Chocolate
  A feast for the senses, this magical romance from director Alfonso Arau was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and a Golden Globe. The passionate Tita (Lumi Cavazos) is in love with Pedro (Marco Leonardi), but her controlling mother (Regina Torne) forbids her from marrying him. When Pedro instead marries her sister, Tita throws herself into her cooking -- and discovers she can transfer her emotions through the food she prepares.  (from Netflix).

Fidel:  The Untold Story
 This documentary by director Estela Bravo takes a look at the political and social impact the immensely powerful Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has had on the world during the 40-plus years he's been in power. Through interviews with politicians (Nelson Mandela, Arthur Schlesinger), friends (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), and other cultural experts (Alice Walker), Fidel's personality and work are explored and discussed.  (from Netflix)

Rufino Tamayo:  The Sources of His Art.
Portrays the artist Rufino Tamayo at work, both painting and preparing a lithograph. Shows the development of Tamayo's style, using representative paintings from the early 1930's to the present day, and points out the pre-Columbian and contemporary Mexican sources and inspiration which have greatly influenced his painting.  (Rutgers Catalog)

The Life and Death of Frida Kahlo
Reconstructs the life, career, and final demise of Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo, through the reminiscences of friends and acquaintances. (Rutgers catalog)

The Frescoes of Diego Rivera
Explores Rivera's evolution as an artist, his use of the fresco technique, and his politics. Looks at the murals Rivera created for public buildings in the U.S. and Mexico. These frescoes unite themes of nature and revolution, drawing a parallel between the evolution of life and the struggle for human dignity (Rutgers Catalog). 

The Last Zapatista
This video tells the history of Emilio Zapata, southern leader of the 1910-20 Mexican Revolution, and the agrarian revolution he led. (Rutgers Catalog)

Fire from the Mountain
View of recent Nicaraguan history, the Sandinista revolt against the Samoza government, and the impact of U.S. policy on the development of the country. (Rutgers Catalog).

Pablo Neruda  Presente
The movie begins as narrator Isabel Allende flees Chile after the Pinochet military coup. Neruda dies twelve days after that death of democracy, many say of a broken heart, as the communist Neruda was such a part of Chile’s political history, such a part of Chile herself. We then return to the land where the rain was born, the Southern Chile of Neruda’s childhood. He is a literary prodigy and began publishing poems in popular magazines by the age of 14. At 20, he publishes “20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair,” the most popular book of Latin American poetry ever. We follow him through his lonely years as a consul in the Far East, to his involvement with the Spanish Civil War, to Macchu Picchu, through Europe in exile, back to Chile with his third-wife, and then to France to where he is named ambassador by the first democratically elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende.

We interview his surviving best friends, scholars, construction workers, and the 92 year old Juvenal Flores, a packer in the Andes who taught Neruda fleeing into exile to ride a horse and led him through a clandestine pass into Argentina. Never before broadcasted photographs, archival footage found from around the world, brilliant shots of Chile today, and vivid poetic sequences provide the visuals.  (from