The Chicago Latino Film Festival (CLFF) has come and gone again this year, but it has left a lasting impression. Even at its 31st year, it is still as strong as ever, bringing together films from around the world (and a few from here at home) that we would have otherwise missed out on. With over 120 films and shorts, there was a little bit for everyone, and each film is a masterpiece all its own. That being said, like the audience who voted, I also had my pick of favorites for the festival. It should be noted that CLFF is not a competitive festival, but it does allow the audience to cast their vote on their favorite films in order to win the Audience Choice Award. The 31st Chicago Latino Film Festival Audience Choice Award winners are:
- Best Feature: “Love of My Loves/Amor de Mis Amores” (Mexico; Director: Manolo Caro): While Carlos travels to Madrid with the excuse of looking for best friend Javier to make sure he attends his wedding with Lucia, the latter runs over cyclist Leon while talking on her cell phone. It’s love at first sight for her. Unfortunately, Leon is about to marry Ana, who also happens to be in Spain. Ana and Carlos eventually cross paths complicating an already difficult situation for all four in this classic romantic comedy about finding true love.
- Runner Up: “3 Beauties/3 Bellezas” (Venezuela; Director: Carlos Caridad Montero)
- Best Documentary: “The Hand that Feeds” (USA; Directors: Robin Blotnick and Rachel Lears): Blotnicks’ and Lears’ poignant and timely documentary follows a group of undocumented immigrant workers as they decide to fight back against their employer, a New York café, by unionizing. In one year, they will have to overcome pressure from their bosses and dissidence within their own group as they receive the support of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. “The Hand that Feeds” puts a face to the daily struggle of thousands of undocumented immigrants.
- Runner Up: “Heaven or Hell/Infierno o Paraíso” (Colombia; Director: Germán Piffano
Listen to our interview with director Rachel Lears:
- Best Short: “I, the Worst of All/Yo, La Peor de Todas” (Spain, USA, Venezuela; Director: Francisco Lupini Basagoiti): A peculiar woman without scruples retells the reasons why she wants to end her current relationship once and for all. When she finally feels that she has convinced the viewers and herself that she is really ready to end things with her boyfriend, she heads over to meet with him and is met with an unexpected surprise.
- Runner Up: “A Priceless Woman” (USA; Director: Alaric S. Rocha)
Obviously, the audience had great taste in films because most of the audience’s choices were mine also. Every film was great, and had an important story to tell, but there are a few that I think deserve to be mentioned:
- The Park Bench (USA; Director: Ann Leschander)
I’m a sucker for intelligent films about finding romance in the most unlikely of places. Throw in a few literary references, genuine chemistry between two leads, and a stationary set and you have my attention. Their dynamic doesn’t feel forced, and the integration of books like “The Great Gatsby” is done expertly and even includes double meanings, like the state of the American dream in the US for immigrants. Even though it is minimalist in design, like any good book, the details lay within.
Listen to our interview with writer/director Ann Leschander:
- East Side Sushi (USA; Anthony Lucero)
Anthony Lucero, who has done visual effects work for major films like Iron Man and Twilight, now tries his hand as a writer/director. This film shows a single mother’s struggle with working in a dead end job and battling against the cultural patriarchy in her culture as well as Japanese culture. She doesn’t want to only survive, but she wants to thrive and challenge herself in an effort to break through the glass ceiling and shatter limitation placed on her by others. Did I also mention that there is a great deal of Japanese/Mexican fusion? Better watch this one on a full stomach.
Listen to our interview with writer/director Anthony Lucero:
- “Tercer Grado / Day Release” (Spain; Director: Geoffrey Cowper)
In Spain, once you’ve served a certain amount of your sentence, and you’re on good behavior, you are able to leave the prison on the weekends as a sort of temporary parole. This is mark’s first weekend out in several years, and there is a lot of relationships he needs to try and fix, but only 48 hours to do it. While out, he witnesses a violent robbery, and follows the robbers in hopes of stealing the money from them. Even though the film is Spanish, it features very American influences and stylistic choices that you would otherwise never see in a film from Spain. Car chases, explosions, anti-heroes and more are in this homage to old school American cinema.
Listen to our interview with writer/director Geoffrey Cowper and writer/actor Jesus Lloveras:
- “El Incidente / The Incident” (Mexico; Director: Isaac Ezban)
In one of my favorite films from the entire festival, Isaac Ezban is further proof that sci fi is alive and well in Mexico. This cerebral thriller plays not only with your mind, but also the time and space continuum. You will have to watch it at least twice to fully grasp the message that is being presented here. Ezban isn’t shy about giving us his inspirations and other people his films pays homage to like Philip K. Dick and M.C. Escher. The film also gives off an eerie “Twilight Zone” / “Outer Limits” feel, that you will both appreciate and be disturbed by.
Listen to our interview with writer/director Isaac Ezban:
The festival is only getting better, and at its 31st year, it has proven to still be a juggernaut of strength and quality films from around the world. Unfortunately, we have to wait another year for it, but in the meantime you can keep an eye out for most of these films, since I am sure they will get distribution if they haven’t already. So let’s end the festival the way each film began: with bacon!