7 Latin American Filmmakers You Ought to Know About

Over the last ten years a subtle revolution has been taking place around the world, with the advanced filmmaking technology allowing entire feature films to come to existence through the use of nothing more than a cellphone. Modern-day DSLR cameras like the Canon 500D are becoming standards for most young independents. In Latin America, this dramatic shift has enabled the mushrooming of various filmmaking schools and the emergence of  a new type of cinema that speaks to young filmmaker-wannabes. The echo of this trend can be seen on the big screens around the globe (except for this year’s edition of the Venice Film Festival which, oddly enough, has decided not to include a single Latin American film in its program).

Berliners who partake in the yearly cinematic pilgrimage to the Berlinale each February may be familiar with some of the big film names coming from the Southern Hemisphere, but the fact remains that their work still rarely comes into the limelight outside of the confines of their national and regional milieus. These filmmakers, like most of their independent colleagues around the world, manage to reach wider audiences almost exclusively by participating in film festivals, before their work is transferred to DVD and Vimeo. Here is a non-hierarchical list of Latin America’s emerging filmmakers whose films should be treated as required viewing for every self-respecting filmgoer.

Sebastián Lelio

Sebastián-Lelio Getty Images


Argentine-born, Chilean director and editor made it into the international circuit in 2011 with El año del tigre (The Year of the Tiger), which screened at the Locarno Film Festival and at the Mar del Plata Film Festival in Argentina, a few months later .

His latest feature film, Gloria (2013), screened at the 2013 Berlinale, and received the Silver Bear Award for best female lead, played by actress Paulina García. The film also competed at the 51° New York Film Festival in October and was selected as the Chilean contender for the Oscars by the Chilean National Academy.

In Gloria, Lelio gives a subtle tragi-comic undertone to the story of a 58 year old woman who decides to fight against loneliness and  prejudices by leading a life of excess. Going out and having superficial affairs with several men invariably leads to disappointment until he meets Rodolfo with whom she ends up wanting a serious relationship. But to get there, Gloria must embark on a journey of introspection and change, revealing dark secrets which reverberate with the current political state in the country.

The particular sensibility and passion with which Lelio treats the story can also be sensed in his other films, including The Year of the Tiger (2011), and these subtleties allow it to unfold in unexpected ways.

Fernando Eimbcke

Fernando Eimbcke Berlinale

Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke has two major films under his belt – Temporada de patos, Duck Season (2004), and his latest Club Sándwich (2014)The former has had much success, with the thirty-four-year old director appearing at Cannes, Toronto, Guadalajara, Warsaw and several other renowned film festivals.

Both films are pretty intense and shot in a minimalistic and intimate way. Duck season reunites four young friends entering puberty before one of them leaves the city. Filmed in black and white, the film shows four characters as they spend an afternoon together doing apparently nothing and trying to ignore the impending farewell and the fact that their reunion might be the last time they ever see each other.

Club Sándwich has also a young adolescent for its main character, a shy boy spending his summer vacation together with his young, single mother at a hotel. The intimate relationship between the two speaks of their isolation from the rest of the world. Similarly as in Kubrick’s The Shining, the empty hotel in Club Sándwich acts as the third character and creates an feeling of solitude interrupted by the appearance of a young adolescent girl. A sexual awakening takes place for both youngsters and their coming of age clashes with the possessiveness of the mother who is forced to acknowledge the end of her son’s boyhood.

Fernando Eimbcke doesn’t force the narrative, but rather lets his camera capture a combination of situations playing out on an intimate plane that everyone can relate to.

Benjamin Naishtat

Benjamin Naishtat Foto AFP

Benjamin Naishtat was born in Argentina in 1986 and is the youngest in the list. This year he made a breakthrough when he presented his opera-prima, Historia del Miedo (History of fear) as part of the official competition program at the Berlinale. This cinematic tour de force uses a loose narrative to create analogies between different types of fear, characters and social classes.

This emerging director had previously made four short films, including History of Evil, presented at the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival, BAFICI, in 2012. This festival in particular has been following his career and the organizers have been quite vocal in expressing their support and enthusiasm at the premiere of his first feature film.

The story is of marginal importance in History of Fear. Instead, the audience is immersed in a world of shocking violence and drama. It is possibly the best film of the year.

Diego & Daniel Vega

Diego & Daniel Vega

Like the Coens, these Peruvian brothers work together on all of their films, despite the fact that Diego lives in Barcelona and Daniel is based in Peru. Their first feature film, Octubre, October (2010), was shown at the Un Certain Regard section in Cannes in 2010, and was selected to represent Chile at the 84th Academy Awards.

In 2014, their second film, El Mudo (The mute), was screened at several major film festivals in Latin America, including BAFICI in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the 54th FICCI (International Film Festival of Cartagena de Indias in Colombia), one of the oldest film festivals in the region. The story focuses on the main character, Constantino Zegarra, a  judge from Peru whose life changes dramatically after an unsuccessful attempt on his life which renders him mute. From then on, priorities change for Zegarra, and he takes very little interest in anything except finding the culprit.

Despite its revenge premise, The Mute  is never an action movie, but rather an excuse to show another side of Peru and the tragi-comical nature of different kinds of people the main character encounters on his way.

Camila José Donoso & Nicolas Videla

Camila José Donoso & Nicolas Videla via CinemaChile

It is not strange that among the top seven directors from a continent with more than thirty countries Chileans are in the majority. Chile has one of the fastest growing film industries in Latin America.

This year, Camila José Donoso and Nicolas Videla presented their first co-directed film, Naomi Campbell. The genre-bending picture combines documentary style and fiction. The main character, Yermén, is a transsexual woman determined to get the operation needed to complete her transformation. The films portrays her hopes and dreams being manipulated by a reality show that promises its winner a ticket to the operating table. Naomi Campbell combines a probable fictional story featuring a real-life character with short clips filmed by Yermén herself, using her cellphone to capture the daily life in the slums.

Unlike the nefarious Slumdog Millionaire (2008), the film doesn’t capitalize of the audience’s pity for the main character. Is a simple story of a person who yearns for a brighter future and is determined to get there at all costs.

Tags from the story
Argentina films, Benjamin Naishtat, Camila José Donoso & Nicolas Videla, Chile films, Diego & Daniel Vega, Fernando Eimbcke, Latin American Filmmakers, Latin American films, Peru films, Sebastián Lelio
Manuel Bláuab
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Manuel Bláuab
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