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LatinoBuzz Asks Film Programmers: What Are Your Top 5 Latino Films of 2013?

Now that a new year is upon us let's reflect back on 2013. Something like a year in Latino film. Latin American filmmakers continued to kill it on the international film festival circuit. Chile, in particular, has been conquering the world one film festival award at a time.

Sadly, American Latino filmmakers were mostly absent from big name festivals like Sundance, Toronto, Berlin, and Cannes. Normally, the major Latino film festivals in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Diego offer a home to these overlooked films. The surprising collapse of the New York International Latino Film Festival this past summer and with the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival barely recovering from financial difficulties, the exhibition of American Latino indies remains in a precarious position.

Still, there is much to celebrate. Starting in the early part of the year, at Sundance, Chilean director Sebastian Silva joined a very elite club of filmmakers -- those who have premiered two films at the same festival. His mescaline-fueled odyssey Crystal Fairy won the World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award and the psychological thriller Magic, Magic starring Michael Cera went on to play Director's Fortnight in Cannes.

The Berlinale, in February, brought the much anticipated world premiere of Sebastian Lelio's fourth film Gloria and the charming Uruguayan family comedy Tanta Agua. Cementing 2013 as the year of Chile, actress Paulina Garcia won the Silver Bear for her dazzling and dynamic performance as a middle-aged divorcee in Gloria.

Mid-year, Mexican filmmakers took Cannes by storm again, winning the Best Director prize for the second year in a row. In 2013, the victor was Amat Escalante for his feature film Heli. The year prior Carlos Reygadas took home the prize for Post Tenebras Lux.

In the fall, Toronto spoiled us with Latin American riches. The gargantuan fest showcased more than 300 films from 70 different countries including the Mexican documentary El Alcalde, Venezuela's Pelo Malo (Bad Hair), Peruvian black comedy El Mudo (The Mute), the Brazilian drama O lobo atras da porta (A Wolf at the Door), and the world premiere of Fernando Eimbcke's Club Sandwich. Costa Rica made a first-time appearance at the Toronto Film Festival with Por las plumas (All About the Feathers) and the Dominican Republic showcased Cristo Rey.

Over Labor Day weekend, Eugenio Derbez, a Mexican actor most Americans had never heard of released his sleeper hit Instructions Not Included. Totally ignored by mainstream film critics, the Spanish-language family comedy went on to shatter box office records. It beat out Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine and critical darling 12 Years a Slave making it the top grossing indie film of the year. It also became the highest grossing Spanish-language film ever in the United States. A few weeks later, when Instructions opened in Derbez's home country, it became the most-watched Mexican film of all time.

Despite being snubbed by the Academy Awards (no Latin American productions made the shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film), Latino films ended the year on a high note. The triumph of our films abroad coupled with a Spanish-language box office hit at home bodes well for the Latino films of 2014.

In case you were living under a rock this past year and missed it all, we've got you covered. Thankfully, there are professionals who get paid to keep track of what Latino movies are receiving accolades, have the most buzz, and got picked up for distribution. LatinoBuzz went straight to the experts, film programmers, to ask, "What are your top 5 Latino films of 2013?"

Christine Davila, Director of Ambulante California

There is no shortage of original and compelling Us Latino writer/directors working across different genres out there, and this list proves it. These confident artists have captured fresh and mighty perspectives far too underrepresented, and they are storming through the cluster neck of homogeneity that continues to reign in film content.

Water & Power (Richard Montoya, USA)

Los Wild Ones (Elise Salomon, USA)

Delusions of Grandeur (Iris Almaraz, Gustavo Ramos, USA)

Sleeping with the Fishes (Nicole Gomez Fisher, USA)

The House that Jack Built (Henry Barrial, USA)

Marcela Goglio, Programmer at the Film Society of Lincoln Center

No special criteria in these choices, just some of the many accomplished Latin American films that, in my opinion, create universes or make statements in beautiful, original and/or powerful ways.

Viola (Matias Pineiro, Argentina)

El alcalde (Emiliano Altuna/Carlos Rossini/Diego Osorno, Mexico)

La eterna noche de las doce lunas (Priscilla Padilla, Colombia)

El futuro (Alicia Scherson, Chile)

Gloria (Sebastian Lelio, Chile)

Carlos A. Gutierrez, Co-founder and Executive Director of Cinema Tropical

For practical purposes, my list features five Latin American films (my area of expertise) that I highly recommend, and that screened in the U.S. in 2013 (in alphabetical order):

El Alcalde / The Mayor (Carlos F. Rossini, Emiliano Altuna and Diego Osorno, Mexico)

El otro dia / The Other Day (Ignacio Aguero, Chile)

Los mejores temas / Greatest Hits (Nicolas Pereda, Mexico)

Tanta Agua / So Much Water (Ana Guevara and Leticia Jorge, Uruguay)

Viola (Matias Pineiro, Argentina)

Lucho Ramirez, Founder & Executive Director of Cine+Mas Sf, presenter of the Cm San Francisco Latino Film Festival

There are so many works by Latino and Latin American filmmakers that merit the public and the tastemaker's attention. Compiling a list of 5 is difficult for me as a festival director because each film that we program is beloved. In addition, there are the other films I see at other fests or at theaters, particularly the bigger ones replete with distribution, celebrity, and marketing budgets. It's hard for independent, quality films to break through and that's part of the reason I seek those out. I believe there is an audience for artisanal films with substance, creativity, and diversity.

I went on memory for this list. Included are films that I saw this year that really stuck with me long after watching them. What's important to me is seeing images of Latinos by Latinos on the screen. This doesn't mean sanitized. Bless Me, Ultima is an important literary work. It was a huge accomplishment to get this on the screen for all us non-readers. Sex, Love, & Salsa packs all the punch of a big romantic comedy in very local and Latino way; Tlatelolco is a historical drama that's really well done, revisiting a chaotic time in Mexico's history but interpreted in a narrow sliver of a relationship that can't be; Porcelain Horse mixes sex, drugs, and rich-kid problems and really does something different with a crime-drama; Delusions of Grandeuer is purely Latino hipster fun.

Bless Me, Ultima (Carl Franklin, USA)

Sex, Love, & Salsa (Adrian Manzano, USA)

Tlatelolco, Summer of 68 (Carlos Bolado, Mexico)

Porcelain Horse (Javier Andrade, Ecuador)

Delusions of Grandeur (Iris Almaraz, Gustavo Ramos, USA)

Glenn Heath Jr., Artistic Director of the San Diego Latino Film Festival

De Jueves a Domingo is a fascinating and subtext-heavy debut from director Dominga Sotomayor Castillo about a family road trip that could be the beginning of the end. In Viola Shakespeare is reinvented, it's art house cinema meets the off-note pacing of jazz. My Sister's Quinceañera is an honest and poignant look at the complexities of family and identity in small town America. Aqui y Alla is riveting in its acute understanding of how the mundane adds up to something grand. Fecha de Caducidad is dark comedy at its finest.

De Jueves a Domingo (Dominga Sotomayor Castillo, Chile)

Viola (Matias Pineiro, Argentina)

My Sister's Quinceanera (Aaron Douglas Johnston, USA)

Aqui y Alla (Antonio Mendez Esparza, Mexico)

Fecha de Caducidad (Kenya Marquez , Mexico)

Diana Vargas, Artistic Director at the Havana Film Festival New York

In Gloria Paulina Garcia's performance is unforgettable and the way the director talks about the middle life crisis of a woman that seems unremarkable until she finds out she can make her own choices and maybe to be single is not that bad, haha. La Sirga portrays the crude reality of the Colombian conflict without showing explicit violence, through impeccable cinematography. In a cinema verite style, La jaula de oro shows 3 Guatemalan adolescents experiencing the harshness of the journey of those who want to immigrate to U.S. 7 Cajas, the biggest Paraguayan box office hit, is as entertaining as well done. With an impeccable screenplay and Guarani dialogues, the film shows a country that usually don't have a strong representation in the festivals around the world. Sibila de Teresa Arredondo (Chile). Sibila Arguedas is the widow of one of the most iconic public figures in Peruvian literature. She's also Chilean and a political prisoner, accused of being a Sendero Luminoso collaborator. This documentary made by Sibila's niece brings to light one of the most fascinating, enimagtic and contradictory characters of the last century.

Gloria (Sebastian Lelio, Chile)

La Sirga (William Vega, Colombia).

La jaula de oro (Diego Quemada-Diez, Mexico)

7 Cajas (Tana Schembori, Juan Carlos Maneglia, Paraguay)

Sibila (Teresa Arredondo, Chile)

Juan Caceres, Director of Programming at the New York International Latino Film Festival

2013 was a great year for Latin American films. Ecuador, Panama, Guatemala and Paraguay, countries with no real infrastructure for filmmaking, all were present in festivals. Chile in particular showed no sign of slowing down their own presence on the festival circuit, taking home prizes at the major festivals. I think it's no coincidence that they share this wonderful genuine camaraderie where there is a support system that includes producing each others projects to simply rooting for one another when it comes to award nominations (you can go to all their Fb pages and occasionally they have each others films as their cover pics! It's uber dope). It's as real as it gets and I think it's something lacking here in the Us. So my list is the Chilean films you should not miss.

Gloria, (Sebastian Lelio, Chile)

No (Pablo Larrain, Chile)

Il Futuro / The Future (Alicia Scherson, Chile)

El verano de los peces voladores / The Summer of Flying Fish (Marcela Said, Chile)

Las cosas como son / Things The Way They Are (Fernando Lavanderos, Chile)

Marlene Dermer, Director/Programmer at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival

It has been really hard to narrow it to five I have to say. I find Latino cinema and its creators in a wonderful period. It’s alive and beats like a heart. There is so much talent in our communities and they are doing some of the most interesting work in world cinema. It's thought provoking or personal and universal. It's also tough to include U.S. works with Latin American work because there are many more countries and many with support. This year in our festival we had the largest showcase of U.S.A. films which was very exciting to see. As a programmer for 22 years I find it stimulating to discover all these new voices coming up in our community and truly sharing the screens at festivals and theaters around the world. There is a new generation in every country, that is very exciting and promising for the future of cinema, our community and the audio visual world.

Club Sandwich (Fernando Eimbcke, Mexico)

Pelo Malo (Mariana Rondón, Venezuela)

Gloria (Sebastian Lelio, Chile)

O lobo atras da porta (Fernando Coimbra, Brazil)

Tanta Agua / So Much Water (Ana Guevara and Leticia Jorge, Uruguay)

Written by Vanessa Erazo. LatinoBuzz is a weekly feature on SydneysBuzz that highlights Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow @LatinoBuzz on Twitter and Facebook.

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