World Cinema Spotlight


Supported by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Festival's World Cinema Spotlight calls attention to a current trend in international filmmaking, bringing to light hot topics, reinvigorated genres, underappreciated filmmakers and national cinemas.  It's been more than 10 years since Amores Perros (2000) and the first wave of New Argentine Cinema. While it's too soon, perhaps, to classify the titles in the Festival's World Cinema Spotlight as a "next wave" or "new wave," it is very apparent that there is a lot of cinematic magic happening south of the border. Strong new voices continue to surface from Argentina and Mexico and are presented here alongside assured and unique offerings from emerging filmmakers from countries less often represented on screen: Uruguay, Venezuela and Costa Rica (appearing in the program for the first time in the Festival's 57-year history). 


All About the Feathers, Neto Villalobos, Costa Rica 

The Amazing Catfish, Claudia Sainte-Luce, Mexico  

Bad Hair, Mariana Rondón, Venezuela/Peru  

History of Fear, Benjamín Naishtat, Argentina/France 

The Militant, Manolo Nieto, Uruguay 

World Cinema Spotlight Sponsor

ABLE HANDS AND UNCERTAIN HEARTS: New Voices in Latin American Cinema at SFIFF57
By Mike Keegan    

The New Directors section of this year's San Francisco International Film Festival welcomes five films from Latin America, including, for the first time in the festival's 57-year history, a feature from Costa Rica.  At first blush, these movies have few similarities, but taken together they reveal a mosaic of a region marginalized by the idea of a global North and South, an area emotionally and developmentally destabilized by decades of political and social unease. From absent mothers to collapsing governments to amateur cockfighting to absent fathers, "uncertainty" is the name of the game in these five superb films.  

Junior, the nine-year-old main character in Mariana Rondón's Bad Hair (a co-production of Venezuela and Peru) is desperate to straighten his curly hair. His cruel and destitute single mother, perceiving this vanity as a sign of her son's latent homosexuality, goes berserk every time she catches him locked in the bathroom, flimsy comb in stubborn hand.   

Costa Rican entry All About the Feathers centers on a lonely security guard so desperate for camaraderie that he pesters a local grocer to sell him a rooster as an entrée to the glamorous world of amateur cockfighting.  Immediately, the man becomes so fond of the rooster that their relationship is less Rocky and more Rocky and Bullwinkle.

The word "selfie" (and all of its cultural signifiers) is already well past exhausted from where we sit in San Francisco, California, in 2014, but in Bad Hair and All About the Feathers, the very idea of access to an easily disseminated digital image of an ideal version of oneself takes on almost mystical heft.  A picture is the reason Bad Hair's Junior is so keen on straight hair, a photo snapped by a sweaty housing project huckster using a junky old Motorola cellphone hooked into a wheezing desktop computer.  Chalo, in All About the Feathers, solidifies the bond of friendship with his rooster by taking him to a portrait studio.  In both cases, the protagonists are expending much time and effort to get a printed image so they can show their communities-and themselves-who they "really" are.  

Student activist Ariel is forced to return to his small hometown in The Militant, Manolo Nieto's new film from Uruguay.  After his father dies, it's up to the disengaged Ariel to settle his father's affairs.  Ariel has eagerly traded his small town upbringing for the life of a radicalized student organizer in the big city.  Upon return to his small home town, the personality he has meticulously crafted at University must be squared away with his upbringing and familial duty.  Essentially-where does the "real" Ariel begin and end?   

"Uncertainty" extends to the sense of community in the micro and macro senses in The Amazing Catfish and History of Fear.  In Claudia Saint-Luce's Mexican standout The Amazing Catfish, severe young loner Claudia is hospitalized for a mysterious pain, and discharged minus an appendix but with a reluctant new family courtesy of her hospital roommate, a loving matriarch.  And finally, in the late-Godard leaning History of Fear (appropriately enough, an Argentinian/French co-production), an unnamed nation is crumbling under the weight of something resembling institutional incompetence, even its most intellectual citizens left literally and figuratively in the dark-the only thing that's left is black humor and parlor-trick stoner surrealism, like being handcuffed in the back of a cop car driven by Quentin Dupieux and Harmony Korine.  

The six Latin American nations that birthed these films may have been consigned to a state of perpetual underdevelopment by the ruling hegemony, but the characters and situations in them possess a grace and depth uncommon in any routine survey of commercial First World cinema.  The female characters, in particular, posses a sense of agency that would stop Hollywood dead in its tracks. On the surface, Junior's mother in Bad Hair might be one of the reprehensible and venal characters in the festival this year, but she calls her own shots and desperately claws to achieve an equilibrium she's convinced will improve her life.  The Amazing Catfish's premise could be hackneyed Hollywood hokum, but the stunning performances guided by Claudie Saint-Luce's assured direction gracefully navigate a high-wire act of pathos, humor and grace that ably transcend all cliché.  

Taken on their own, these are five rich and assured films that hail from the same pocket of planet Earth. Considered as a whole, this year's selection of Latin American films are a chorus of voices that demand attention and admiration.  


Mike Keegan is a San Francisco-based film programmer. His latest co-created project, The First Annual SF Intergalatic Feline Film and Video Festival for Humans, will screen at the Roxie Theater on May 10.