2011 NC LAFF

2011 NC Latin American Film Festival – Unfinished Visions

25YEARS | 1986-2011


In November 2011, the North Carolina Latin American Film Festival marks its 25th anniversary. Founded in 1986, the North Carolina Latin American Film Festival celebrates the power and artistry of Latin America’s film and audiovisual production. Its mission is to provide a space in North Carolina for Latin American images, sounds, and stories to reach a wider audience. From documentaries that depicted the darkest moments of Latin American history during the rise of dictatorships, to feature films that portrayed the intimacies, complexities and rhythms of everyday life, our audiences have been exposed to a wide range of critical and responsible narratives of the region.

This year the festival will feature a series focused on one of the most pressing contemporary challenges facing the region: narco-trafficking and the related themes of violence, corruption, in/justice, migration, and environmental degradation. The  festival will look at the hemispheric context of these realities using films, documentaries, art exhibits, oral histories, panel discussions, lectures, and open forums, with a special focus on Mexico. Our goal is to create discussion and understanding of this sensitive issue while examining how Latin Americans are responding.

Why a Film Festival on the Issue of NARCOCULTURE?

We recognized that this year’s topic is a difficult one; however, we have an obligation to address the region’s pressing social/political/ economic/ cultural issues, many of which continues to make headlines in today’s news.   such production exists and that we have to address it. A series of events of academic character will be held prior and simultaneously to the Film Festival to asses such products. First, we will put in context, aesthetically, socially, economically, and politically, the recent audiovisual products related to the destabilizing force of the drug trade in the region, in particular in films (fictional and documentary), mass and new media pieces (TV series and video games), and visual art, establishing a map of production and consumption of such materials. Second, an open debate through introductions, round tables, discussions, and after screening conversations will try to assess the reception of these products among different sectors of the public.

From the cultural revolution of the late 1960s to the wide spread violence of today’s war on drugs (encompassing from Mexico to Brazil), drug trafficking is not an isolated phenomenon but one with a long lasting impact in the hemisphere. The increasing presence of the “war on drugs,” term coined by President Nixon in 1971, and usually portrayed in sensationalistic ways in the U.S. media is just one aspect of the transformative force that such trade has brought to the region.  During the past several decades cultural products have been exploring such trade in films, documentaries, novels, short stories, TV, and new media art. Today, terms such as Sicaresca, narcoestética or narco-cultura are part of the lexicon of cultural theorists and critics across the hemisphere.

In Latin America, roughly, two hundred and fifty films – not counting the several hundred produced by the V-movie industry in Mexico, have been addressing a change in the themes and visual aesthetics of the region since mid-1980s. Of the fifteen hundred films produced in the region in the past two and a half decades at least twenty percent show the consequences of the increasing urbanization and displacement of masses of people from rural areas to urban centers. A new marginalization is portrayed in films such as: Visa USA (1986), El Hijo de Pedro Navaja (1986), A Hora da Estrela (1986), Rojo Amanecer (1989), Rodrigo D (1990), Hasta Morir (1994), Amores Perros (1994), La Gente de la Universal (1994), Central do Brasil (1998), Piza, Birra y Faso (1998), Todo el Poder (1999), Ratas, Ratones y Rateros (1999), La Virgen de los Sicarios (2000), Ônibus 174 (2002), Cidade de Deus (2002), American Visa (2007), Quien Mato a la Llamita Blanca (2008), etc. The topics moved from rural based narratives to urban settings, and show the increasing problems of basic unsatisfied needs by the prospect of development and modernity. Where once was the cohesiveness of small communities and the rule of common values, featured in the films pre-1980s, now the new forces are tied to alternative structures of power (from gangs, cults, to right and left wing militias, etc.), alternative economies (piracy, corruption, drug dealing, contraband, organized crime, etc.), and low culture (Hollywood style action films and commercial popular culture).

The North Carolina Latin American Film Festival recognized that such production exists and that we have to address it. A series of events of academic character will be held prior and simultaneously to the Film Festival to asses such products. First, we will put in context, aesthetically, socially, economically, and politically, the recent audiovisual products related to the destabilizing force of the drug trade in the region, in particular in films (fictional and documentary), mass and new media pieces (TV series and video games), and visual art, establishing a map of production and consumption of such materials. Second, an open debate through introductions, round tables, discussions, and after screening conversations will try to assess the reception of these products among different sectors of the public.

The 2011 Film Festival will also, as always, show a larger set of productions of the best quality produced in the region.  In doing so, the festival will assess the impact in conceptual and aesthetic levels of such productions in order to see how new imaginaries, in film and visual practices, are re-shaping the Americas.

Miguel Rojas-Sotelo. Director.



El Infierno |  Narco

Luis Estrada (Mexico, 2010). 145 min



Benjamin Garcia, Benny, is deported from the United States. Back home and against a bleak picture, Benny gets involved in the narco business, in which he has for the first time in his life, a spectacular rise surrounded by money, women, violence and fun. But very soon he’ll discover that criminal life does not always keeps his promises. Epic black comedy about the world of Mafia and organized crime, HELL helps us to understand what everybody is asking: What is happening in Mexico today?


Living Juárez: Collateral Damage in Mexico’s Drug War 

Chiapas Media Project (Mexico, 2010) 25 min



In December 2006, during his first week in office, Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared war on the drug cartels. Since then close to 50,000 people have died in Mexico as a result of the “War on Drugs”. Cd. Juárez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, is now considered the deadliest city in the world, where close to 7,000 people have died since March 2008. There are now an estimated 10,000 security forces patrolling the streets of Juárez where the violence continues to escalate.
Living Juarez tells the story of the real victims in Calderón’s Drug War: regular people just trying to survive in a city overrun by senseless violence, and corruption. The neighborhood of Villas de Salvárcar is organized and speaking out against the arbitrary and frequent abuses that are committed by the armed forces against civilians and particularly the youth in Cd. Juárez.

Señorita Extraviada | Missing Young Women Lourdes Portillo (Mexico, 2001). 70 min  



Missing Young Woman tells the story of the hundreds of kidnapped, raped and murdered young women of Juárez, Mexico. The murders first came to light in 1993 and young women continue to “disappear” to this day (2005) without any hope of bringing the perpetrators to justice. Who are these women from all walks of life and why are they getting murdered so brutally?

The documentary moves like the unsolved mystery it is, and the filmmaker poetically investigates the circumstances of the murders and the horror, fear and courage of the families whose children have been taken. Yet it is also the story of a city of the future; it is the story of the underbelly of our global economy.

Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up

Saul Landau (Cuba, 2011) 80 min





Award-winning director Saul Landau embarks on an in-depth exploration of Miami-Havana politics through the story of the Cuban Five, a group of spies sent by the Castro government to infiltrate right-wing terrorist organizations in Miami. When the spies turned over evidence of US-based terrorism to the FBI, they themselves were arrested, tried, and convicted in Florida courts while the confessed anti-Castro terrorists live freely in Florida.

Waste Land

Lucy Walker, Karen Harley (Brazil, 2010) 100 min



Ilha das Flores

Jorge Furtado (Brazil, 1990). 13 min




An uplifting feature documentary highlighting the transformative power of art and the beauty of the human spirit. Top-selling contemporary artist Vik Muniz takes us on an emotional journey from Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, to the heights of international art stardom. Vik collaborates with the brilliant catadores, pickers of recyclable materials, true Shakespearean characters who live and work in the garbage, quoting Machiavelli and showing us how to recycle ourselves.


The ironic, heartbreaking and acid “saga” of a spoiled tomato: from the plantation of a “Nisei” (Brazilian with Japanese origins); to a supermarket; to a consumer’s kitchen to become sauce for pork meat; to the garbage can since it is spoiled for consumption; to a garbage truck from where it lands in a garbage dump in “Ilha das Flores”; to the selection of nutriment for pigs by the employees of a pigs breeder; to become food for poor Brazilian people.

The Promise of Music

Enrique Sánchez Lansch (Venezuela, 2008) 70 min





Whenever the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and its charismatic conductor Gustavo Dudamel perform, they receive a highly enthusiastic welcome from audiences and critics alike. At just twenty-six, Dudamel has already been Musical Director of the youth orchestra for eight years and is acknowledged as one of the most important conductors of his generation. However, this is not just the story of some prodigy. Dudamel himself describes music as a “social life-saver”. The Bolívar Youth Orchestra owes its existence to the musician, economist and politician José Antonio Abreu. He started El Sistema in 1975 with the vision of offering children living in poverty a new perspective on life through music. There are now around 30 professional orchestras, 125 youth orchestras, about 15,000 music teachers and a quarter of a million pupils receiving musical training. Children as young as two years old are offered music lessons free of charge and the instruments are provided free of charge. Of course, children are not given one-to-one-lessons but are immediately integrated into an orchestra, since motivation, mutual respect and joint efforts towards communal success are at the heart of this project.

Los que se quedan | Those Who Remain

Carlos Hagerman (Mexico, 2009). 90 min






Mexico is now the world’s largest exporter of its people, with up to half a million people each year crossing the US-Mexico border in search of work. The toll this explosion in emigration has taken is particularly evident in central Mexico and in southern states like Chiapas and Yucatan, where entire cities and towns have been depleted. Half of the population of the state of Zacatecas, for example, now lives in the United States. What happens to the families that stay behind?  This is a film about the families that are left behind when their loved ones leave home in search of a better life abroad.


El velador | Night Watchman 

Natalia Almada (Mexico, 2011). 72 min




From dusk to dawn EL VELADOR accompanies Martin, the guardian angel whom, night after night, watches over the extravagant mausoleums of Mexico’s most notorious Drug Lords. In the labyrinth of the cemetery, this film about violence without violence reminds us how, in the turmoil of Mexico’s bloodiest conflict since the Revolution, ordinary life persists and quietly defies the dead.

Children of the Amazon

Denise Zmekhol (Brazil, 2007). 72 min





Through captivating photos and interviews, Children of the Amazon tells the story of struggle and hope to protect the world’s largest tropical rainforest and its inhabitants. The film follows Brazilian filmmaker Denise Zmekhol as she travels a modern highway deep into the Amazon in search of the indigenous Surui and Negarote children she photographed fifteen years ago. Part road movie, part time travel, her journey tells the story of what happened to life in the largest forest on earth when a road was built straight through its heart. Zmekhol’s cinematic journey combines intimate interviews with her personal and poetic meditation on environmental devastation, resistance, and renewal. The result is a unique vision of the Amazon rainforest told, in part, by the indigenous people who experienced first contact with the modern world less than forty years ago.

Tropa de Elite | Elite Squad 

José Padilla (Brazil, 2008). 115 min




In 1997, before the visit of the Pope to Rio de Janeiro, Captain Nascimento from BOPE (Special Police Operation Battalion) is assigned to eliminate the risks of the drug dealers in a dangerous slum near where the Pope intends to stay. Neto and Matias join Captain Nascimento’s Military Police force expecting to become honest policemen and fight the criminals; they only see corruption.

Candombe: tambores en libertad |Candombe: Freedom Drums

Carlos Páez Vilaró (Uruguay, 2006) 70 min




Candombe is a documentary that reflects the lifestyle of an Afro-Uruguayan culture present in Montevideo, Capital Of Uruguay. This culture wich comes from African slaves that were brought to the coast of the Rio de la Plata, lives now in an environment of permanent music and dance.

Presunto Culpable |  Presumed Guilty

Roberto Hernández (Mexico, 2010) 90 min




Imagine being picked up off the street, told you have committed a murder you know nothing about and then finding yourself sentenced to 20 years in jail. In December 2005 this happened to Toño Zúñiga in Mexico City and, like thousands of other innocent people, he was wrongfully imprisoned. The award-winning Presumed Guilty is the story of two young lawyers and their struggle to free Zúñiga. With no background in film, Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete set about recording the injustices they were witnessing, enlisting acclaimed director Geoffrey Smith (The English Surgeon, POV 2009) to tell this dramatic story.

Retratos en un mar de mentiras | Portraits in a Sea of Lies

Carlos Gaviria (Colombia, 2010) 90 min




A pair of cousins living in the outskirts of one city in Colombia represents “the children of displacement.” They decide to travel to their hometown to try to recover the land taken from them when they were younger. This road film portrays an aspect of the long lasting internal conflict in Colombia in which factions of illegal forces (leftist guerrillas and right wing paramilitaries) fought for control of territories to cultivate, produce and smuggle drugs and weapons. Portraits in a Sea of Lies won the Best Narrative Feature in the Cine de las Américas Film Festival (2010).

Espiral | Spiral
Jorge Perez Solano (Mexico, 2008). 99 min



Santiago is back in the village he left nearly twenty years before. He was in love with Diamantina but he was poor and her family did not let them marry. So he went to the North looking for money and a better life. When he comes back years later, Diamantina is pregnant from another man who agreed with her father to kidnap her. Disempowered and not able to reconcile his past and present, Santiago leaves his village again. Jorge Perez Solano recognizes he has grown under the influence of Emilio Fernandez, Luis Buñuel and the muralist movement. He even wanted to make a tribute to Emilio Fernandez and the actress of the famous movie Pueblerina, Columba Dominguez, who plays the role of Paloma in Espiral.

A tiro de piedra | A Stone’s Throw Away

Sebastian Hiriart (Mexico, 2011). 118 min




Jacinto is a goat-herder in a part of Mexico that looks quite desolate and inhospitable.   There aren’t many other people around. His life seems quite boring and lonely.  The bells the goats wear do make a nice musical clang but that’s hardly exciting. Sometimes, while looking after the goats, Jacinto falls into a reverie where he is struggling through a pine forest that’s deep in snow – he looks exhausted, like he’s on his last legs. But then he finds a large wooden box buried in the snow – a treasure chest, maybe? When he finds a keychain in the shape of a barn surrounded by trees, stamped with the name of a town in Oregon, he takes it as “a sign” that he should go there, and that’s just what he does, though not without many trials and tribulations. On the way, some people help him, and some people take advantage of him –  that’s the way real life is, for many of us. Jacinto survives through a combination of good nature, stubbornness and stoicism. His jutting chin seems like the physical manifestation of that stubbornness.

Animas Perdidas/ Lost Souls

Monika Navarro (USA-Mexico, 2010). 60 min




In 1999, two brothers were deported from the U.S. to Mexico. Within two weeks one of the brothers overdosed on heroin in a seedy Tijuana hotel room, his body unclaimed for two months in a mass grave. Raised in the U.S. since childhood and military vets, these men were deported from the only country they knew, and had sworn to protect, to forge new lives in Mexico. Filmmaker Monika Navarro draws on her family’s experience to explore national identity and ties, the lives of immigrants and what happens after deportees are sent to a homeland they don’t consider home. LOST SOULS (ANIMAS PERDIDAS) travels from idyllic Southern California, where the filmmaker’s Mexican-American family has lived for more than four decades, to Guadalajara, the birthplace of her uncles, and the border towns of Mexico, piecing together the tragic events that led to her uncles’ deportations. Her surviving uncle has lived in Mexico now for six years and struggles every day to survive. Interviewing family members, and weaving together family photographs, letters, and veritè footage, an epic story emerges about an immigrant family with a dark history of abuse, addiction and resilience. What happens when a family confronts its past, and how they have survived, despite the constraints imposed by and across the U.S. border are the focus of this compelling and emotional documentary.

Sin Nombre| No Name
Cary Fukunaga (Mexico-USA, 2009). 106 min 



Sin Nombre features Honduran teenager Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) who is dreaming of a brighter future. Upon reuniting with the father she hasn’t seen in years, Sayra seizes the opportunity to finally make her dreams a reality. Her father has a new family in the United States, and he’s preparing to travel with her uncle to Mexico, where they will then cross the border to freedom. Meanwhile, in Mexico, Tapachula teen Casper, aka Willy (Edgar Flores), has gotten caught up with the notorious Mara Salvatrucha street gang. He’s just delivered a new recruit to the Maras in the form of desperate 12-year-old Smiley (Kristyan Ferrer), and though the youngster’s initiation proves particularly rough, she adapts to gang life rather quickly. As involved as Casper is with the Mara, he does his best to keep his relationship with girlfriend Martha Marlene (Diana Garcia) a secret from the gang. Just as Martha encounters ruthless Mara leader Lil’ Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) and suffers a grim fate at the hands of the gang, Sayra and her relatives arrive at the Tapachula train yards and prepare to rush a U.S.-bound freight train with a horde of other immigrants. Rather than attempting to gain access to the cars, Sayra and the rest of the immigrants decide to ride atop the train. Little do they realize that their lives are now in danger, because Lil’ Mago has recruited Casper and Smiley to rob the immigrants as they make their way to the United States. When dawn comes and Lil’ Mago makes his move, Casper finally decides to stand up to the tyrannical gang leader. Now, as the train winds though the Mexican countryside, Sayra’s only hope of surviving the journey and making her way to a new beginning is to align herself with Casper and face off against the most feared gangster in Tapachula.

Leaving la Floresta

Give Us Names.org

(Colombia-USA, 2011) 66 min




His name is Abelardo and he’s a farmer.  These days he works the night shift in the city at a construction job, twelve hours a night, seven nights a week, for very little pay.  He lives with his wife Olga and their five children in the slums, in a dirt-floored one-room shack, without electricity or running water.

This is his life now.

Up until this year, Abelardo lived in the countryside. He had his own house on his own plot of land. He cultivated cacao (chocolate) to sell at market and yucca to feed his family. It was a simple life, but a good life. But in the spring of 2010, Abelardo’s farm was destroyed.   This is known as Plan Colombia. It’s an effort by the United States to curb the cultivation of coca and the production of cocaine in Colombia with the hopes of cutting down on the amount of drugs in our city streets. The most common method is this: crop-dusting airplanes, accompanied by armed helicopters, fly over an area in the countryside and disperse a potent herbicide over the ground.  In theory, only coca crops are targeted. In practice, many fields of yucca, plantains, bananas, and cacao are destroyed. Often the coca lives on.

The Virgin Appears in la Maldita Vecindad Altha Cravey, Elva Bishop, Javier Garcia (Durham, 2009). 32 min  



It explores the cultural production of ‘Latin America’ in Durham, North Carolina. The focus is on the feelings and significance of movement itself, including migration, dance, and long-distance relay runs especially as these move- ments entail celebrations of, or promises to, the Virgin of Guadalupe. For eleven consecutive years, dancers of all ages have honored the Virgin of Gua- dalupe with hours of indigenous ‘matlachine’ danc- ing. Afterward, many of the same dancers and their families go to a special Catholic mass for the Virgin. In a closely related activity linked to the immigrants’ rights movement, Antorcha Guadalupana runners carried a torch through Durham en route from the Basilica of Guadalupe in central Mexico to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City in 2005 and 2007. Relay runners in this event literally trace out new NAFTA geographies that link migrant families and communities in Mexico and the United States. These celebratory and spiritual movements contribute to decolonial understandings of ‘Latin America’.


Latino Traditions. Three short documentaries by Rodrigo Dorfman (Durham, 2011) 25 min



Rodrigo Dorfman: Latino Traditions is a project that comes out of my 25 years witnessing the birth of a Latino community in North Carolina. It has always been my belief that the moment a Latin American immigrates to the USA, he or she will undergo a slow conscious and unconscious transformation, and become a “Latino(a)”; someone with one foot in Latin America and the other in the USA community where their children are growing up. This doubling of our conscious identity; this expansion of who we are, affects the way we experience the national traditions of the homeland we left behind.  We filter them through the filters of distance, loss and the pride to share and the desire to pass them on to our assimilated children. So, the idea of a Latino Tradition is in itself a hybrid filter, an ideal from which to view the transformation of the traditions themselves as they evolve within the immigrant experience.

Seed Spirits: the Otomi of Carolina del Norte
Altha Cravey & Elva Bishop (Durham, 2011) 30min


WORLD PREMIERE,The documentary explores the translocal lives of an indigenous group from San Pablito, a village in highland Puebla, Mexico.  The main source of livelihood in the town, is artisanal papermaking. Papel amate was used for creating the ancient Mexican codices.  In the last generation, Otomi (who call themselves Hyuhnu) have relocated to Durham, NC and are sending remittances back to supplement earnings from papermaking. We focus on indigenous traditions that mark the cycle of life and the passing of the seasons: Carnaval, a Quinciñera, and Day of the Dead. In addition, Don Alfonso Garcia, a leading curandero of San Pablito, speaks about the role of the seed spirits in his healing work.


Shoveling Water
Witness for Peace (Colombia-USA, 2009) 27min


A journey to the heart of coca country in Colombia where U.S. tax dollars have financed chemical spraying of the Amazon for the past decade and a half. The film features the lives of peasant communities amidst this open front of the War on Drugs.


Copyright 2020 | The Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University