There’s never a shortage of quality filmmaking being done in the Spanish-speaking world — it is, of course, quite a large slice of the entire world — and SBIFF has always been sure to showcase the best of what it can find each year. Though that was the reality before Panama-born Roger Durling took over a decade ago, this Spanish-Latin American sidebar has only received more attention since then. This year features some pensive, dramatic cinema, some nods to the rich musical culture of Cuba, a romcom from Spain, and even a doc about corruption in Dominican baseball.
Of the films I screened prior to the fest, my favorite was Found Memories, a slow-moving test of your cinematic patience that’s worth enjoying for its beautiful look at age, from the older generation that’s set in their ways in this mountain jungle village to the young woman who arrives with cameras to capture the slow life. It has a lovely languid pace that plods through daily rituals until the woman upsets the old people’s collective cart and forces everyone — viewer included — to question what’s important in the enjoyment of life.
In a close second is Rumble of the Stones, an intense and moving look at the slums of Caracas, Venezuela, one of the more violent corners of the world these days. The narrative film takes us inside that turmoil through a family of four: the mother who works at a chicken factory, the grandmother who wants to return to the sea before her eyes go, and two sons, one a promising young student, the other a wannabe thug.
Also an engaging feature film is The Blue of the Sky, from Colombia, about a former soldier looking for a career who gets caught up in the country’s thriving black market of kidnapping. He becomes obsessed with a peripheral victim to his crimes, and we’re taken through that developing relationship.
There are two music-minded documentaries in this year’s sidebar. La Salsa Cubana is all about the Cuban style of dancing called casino, which started in the 1950s and is still a prominent part of the culture. It becomes a televised contest somewhere between American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, and we get to meet all of the dancers, hear their dreams, and see what happens to those who win and lose. The other doc is El Medico: The Cubaton Story, also from Cuba, about the rise of a musical style between rap and dancehall, and the tenuous partnership between a doctor-turned-musician and a Swedish father-turned-producer.
A look at a little known part of Mexican history — at least for those of us north of the border — is given narrative treatment in Last Christeros, which portrays the last squadron of Christian fighters who battled the liberal Mexican government in the 1920s to keep priests from being locked up. It’s slow-moving without a lot of what might be called action, but it’s gritty enough to show the struggles that they endured for their beliefs.
The films I was unable to see before writing this also look interesting, if only judging by their subject matter. The state of children in bullfighting gets explored in Little Matador while baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic are put on display in Pelotero, which shows how corruption from Major League Baseball infiltrates the Caribbean country.
Lastly, there’s a racy Spanish romcom titled The Opposite of Love. From the trailer, it looks like relationships, sex, and drinking are thrown into a blender and served up with comedic flair.