The year 2016 brought many changes to the film industry, and witnessed the birth of an initiative in San Francisco to show Spanish-language films on a continuous basis.
The world’s film production is bigger than ever. Digital technology makes it easier to make movies. In 2015, 691 films were made in the United States, 254 in Spain, 140 in Mexico, 128 in Brazil, 123 in Argentina, 42 in Chile and 37 in Colombia.
Meanwhile, the distribution, responsible for getting the films to the public, does not find where to choose from among so much title. And the exhibition, the last link in the chain, focuses more and more on digital platforms than traditional movie theaters. Theaters try to retain the public with added attractions such as à la carte dinners, exclusive presentations, special guests and themed programs.
The film industry is reinventing itself.
The so called seventh art nowadays resembles a factory of content that feeds digital platforms. The market is flooded with a lot of mediocre cinema and the viewer has to work harder to find the good films.
Latino film programming in the Bay Area this past year reflected all these changes in the film industry. What we saw was not necessarily the best, but the films that were able to break through in a highly competitive and changing industry. As several of the filmmakers we interviewed last year said, the struggle to gain access to the U.S. market is brutal.
The documentary Llévate mis amores and the narrative film La jaula de oro were undoubtedly the two most memorable successes of 2016. A great community promotion effort made it possible for many people see these two Mexican films on the subject of immigration in the Roxie Theater.
It was precisely the Roxie Theater and the birth of Roxcine, an initiative to promote the continued exhibition of Latino cinema, the best news of 2016.
As a result of the hard work of Isabel Fondevila, co-founder of Cinema Errante, Roxcine presented us with the beautiful Brazilian film Boi Neon, the exquisite Venezuelan film Desde allá, the comedies Ella es Ramona and Kiki: el amor se hace, the defiant Un monstruo de mil cabezas, the aforementioned Mexican documentary Llévate mis amores and two series dedicated to the Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar.
Roxie Theater also hosted for the first time the itinerant festival ‘Hola México’, during which we were able to see Te prometo anarquía, Elvira, te daría mi vida pero la estoy usando, A los ojos and Señor Pig among others.
The Landmark Theaters chain, devoted to independent and foreign films, showed the wonderful Guatemalan production Ixcanul and the extraordinary Colombian film El abrazo de la serpiente. Two memorable milestones, as they remained on the screen for several weeks, something unusual for Latino cinema.
La calle de la amargura, new film by veteran Mexican director Arturo Ripstein; the elegant Basque film Loreak by Jose Mari Goenaga; El club, one of the three films that the Chilean Pablo Larraín made this year; El clan, new film by the Argentine Pablo Trapero; and the exquisite Brazilian production Aquarius, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s second film starring Sonia Braga, were other splendid films shown by Landmark Theaters last year.
A mandatory autumn event in the Bay Area, the 8th edition of the San Francisco Latino Film Festival organized by Cine+Más under the tutelage of Lucho Ramírez, presented an eclectic program including the Colombians La tierra y la sombra and Siembra, the exquisite Basque production Amama, the Peruvian Magallanes, the Brazilian O Outro Lado do Paraíso, the Cuban Café amargo and two Latino films made in the United States, H.O.M.E. and a local production, Summer Sacrament, filmed in San Francisco’s Mission.
Among the other festivals, Mill Valley Film Festival was the one that showed more Latino cinema in its section called ‘¡Viva el cine!,’ including premieres by renowned directors such as Neruda by Pablo Larraín, Julieta by Pedro Almodóvar and Un monstruo viene a verme by J.A. Bayona, as well as films by emerging filmmakers such as Sabrás qué hacer conmigo by Katina Medina Mora, Elisa Miller’s El placer es mío and La Larga Noche De Francisco Sanctis by Francisco Marquez & Andrea Testa, and local productions such as Lupe Under the Sun by Rodrigo Reyes and Visitor’s Day by Oakland Filmmaker Nicole Opper.
In repertory theaters, the Pacific Film Archive of Berkeley continued with its impressive programming, including an unforgettable retrospective of the Brazilian cinema verité documentary filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho and a series dedicated to classic Mexican film noir that included the marvelous En la palma de tu mano by Roberto Gavaldón. Next year, the PFA plans a series dedicated to Paraguayan filmmaker Paz Encina [La hamaca paraguaya], who will attend as a guest.
Among the great absentees who failed to cross the barriers of distribution last year are filmmakers Pedro Costa, Miguel Gomes, Matías Piñeiro, Natalia Almeida, Tatiana Huezo, Alejandro Fernández Almendras, Dominga Sotomayor, Gabriel Ripstein, Albert Serra and Felipe Guerrero to name a few. But still, 2016 was the year when we could see more Latino film than we remember.
After difficult years that threatened the centenary Roxie Theater with closure, its two screens are now promoting the exhibition of repertory films in 35mm, as well as exploitation and cult cinema trying to reach a young audience. The Latino film premieres planned by Roxcine for 2017 — the Peruvian Videofilia, the Argentinean Buscando a Mabel and the Mexicans Chronic by Michel Franco and Me estás matando Susana by Roberto Sneider — promise a solid foundation to its programming.
The reopening of the screening room of the Museum of Modern Art after years of remodeling was excellent news for cinephiles in the Bay Area. But renovations scheduled for Landmark’s Opera Plaza and Clay theaters this year, and the possible closure of the Kabuki, make Roxie Theater more than ever responsible for exhibiting independent and Latino cinema in San Francisco.
Below is the list of the films we consider the best 10 Latino films released in the Bay Area in 2016. Mexican titles are naturally predominant because of their geographical proximity, and then the Brazilians, which seem to have taken the lead that Argentina and Chile had in previous years.
Best Latino films premiered in Bay Area theaters in 2016
- Neon Bull [Boi neon] (Gabriel Mascaro, Brasil)
- Bleak Street [La calle de la amargura] (Arturo Ripstein, México)
- From Afar [Desde allá] (Lorenzo Vigas, Venezuela)
- Volcano [Ixcanul] (Jayro Bustamante, Guatemala)
- A Monster with a Thousand Heads [Un monstruo de mil cabezas] (Rodrigo Plá, México)
- Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brasil)
- The Golden Dream [La jaula de oro] (Diego Quemada-Díez, México)
- All of Me [Llévate mis amores] (Arturo González Villaseñor, México)
- Embrace of the Serpent [El abrazo de la serpiente] (Ciro Guerra, Colombia)
- She’s Ramona [Ella es Ramona] (Hugo Rodríguez, México)