Films on Latin America

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Commanding Heights:
The Battle for the World Economy

Documentary 2002 NR 360 minutes. Based on the best-selling book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, this three-part PBS documentary series is the story of how the new global economy was born. It traces the rise of free markets during the last century, as well as the process of globalization. There are three segments – 1. “The Battle of Ideas” (primarily between Capitalism and Communism);  2. “The Agony of Reform” (after the end of Communism)  3. “The New Rules of the Game” (of Globalization). See Full Review

The End of Poverty?

Documentary 2008 NR 104 minutes. Exploring the history of poverty in developing countries, filmmaker Philippe Diaz contends that today’s economic inequities arose as a result of colonization, military conquest and slavery, with wealthier countries seizing the resources of the poor. Narrated by Martin Sheen, this absorbing documentary includes interviews with numerous historians, economists and sociologists who shed light on the ongoing conditions that contribute to poverty. See Full Review

John Perkins: Speaking Freely Vol. 1

Lecture 2007 NR. Author and former economic consultant John Perkins takes aim at himself, confessing his shameful role in helping organizations such as World Bank and the IMF drive poor nations into crippling debt while enriching U.S. corporations. His social conscience awakened, Perkins finally got fed up and quit his job. Now, he runs a successful nonprofit group that works to help indigenous peoples protect and strengthen their environments and cultures. See Full Review

Apology of an Economic Hit Man

Documentary 2008 NR. Stelios Koul records the confessions of author John Perkins in this documentary. Perkins alleges he was part of a clandestine team of economic “hit men” who worked to exploit poor countries in the 1970s on behalf of the United States government. His claims are backed by authentic propaganda films as well as dramatized reenactments of top-secret events he says took place behind a thick veil of secrecy.

Noam Chomsky: Imperial Grand Strategy
The Assault on Freedom and Democracy

Lecture 2006 NR 120 minutes. In two lectures and a 45-minute interview, intellectual and political activist Noam Chomsky — credited as the father of modern linguistics — delivers an unabashed criticism of the Bush administration’s record on terrorism, framing the president’s invasion of Iraq as part of an “imperial grand strategy.” Filmed in 2003, this collection of Chomsky’s personal views also provides an effective overview of the global political climate.


The Other Side of Immigration

Documentary 2009 NR 55 minutes. Contemporary immigration issues between the United States and Mexico receive careful study in this documentary, which uses extensive interviews to outline the experiences and perspectives of ordinary citizens in the Mexican countryside. In examining the economic factors prompting Mexicans to seek work in the United States and the social pressures that result, the film presents an affecting look at a complex political and moral issue. If you want to learn more about why Mexicans migrate to the US, this movie explains it.  See Full Review

The Harvest / La Cosecha

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr  20m. This gripping documentary follows three of the more than 400,000 migrant child farm workers in the United States who miss out on childhood and school as they work up to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, without the protection of child labor laws.

The Dream Is Now

Documentary 2013 NR 30m. The Dream Is Now tells the moving story of those directly affected by a broken immigration system, the undocumented children of immigrants who yearn to contribute more to the country they call home.

The Undocumented Documentary

Documentary 2005 NR 90 minutes. Director Arturo Perez Torres’s award-winning documentary about undocumented workers chronicles the life-and-death journeys of Central American and Mexican migrants as they enter the United States without going through proper immigration channels. The subjects’ first-person perspective sheds light on individual motivations for the trek and the hazards encountered on their way to the American dream.See Full Review

Which Way Home

Documentary 2007 NR 83 minutes. In 2006, Rebecca Cammisa received a Fulbright Scholar Grant to travel to Mexico to document the plight of the children left behind when their families travel to the United States to find work. This Oscar-nominated film is the result of her journey. Cammisa and her crew follow a trio of children who set out on their own from their Latin American abodes on a dangerous trek through Mexico en route to the U.S. border and — they hope — their families’ embrace. See Full Review

Mojados: Through the Night

Documentary 2005 NR 70 minutes. Director Tommy Davis follows four migrants from rural Mexico on their harrowing journey across the desert into the States. Their 120-mile trek is filled with peril as they evade the border patrol, endure temperature extremes, contend with dehydration and face the all-too-real possibility that their quest for a better life could end in death. Disquietingly honest, this documentary puts a human face to the complex issue of illegal immigration.


Documentary 2005 NR 84 minutes. Director Mark Becker’s moving documentary follows Mexican mariachi singers Carmelo and Arturo, who pour their passion and talent into their music, performing for largely unappreciative audiences on the streets and in the watering holes of San Francisco. But despite the hardships and meager income, the two immigrants persist in pursuing their art, chasing the dream of a better future for themselves — and their families.

Lost in Detention

Documentary Frontline 2011 Oct18. Frontline and the Investigative Reporting Workshop examine the Obama administration’s controversial get-tough immigration policy. After abuses were uncovered, the Obama administration called for an overhaul of the immigrant detention system.  Link to View This Frontline Story for Free (Listed by Date 2011 Oct18):

El Norte

Drama 1983 Spanish with English subtitles Color 139 min. A Guatemalan brother and sister become illegal immi­grants in the United States, fleeing tyrannical landlords and a repressive government at home and drawn by the promise of “the wonders” of the country to the north. Film is one of several that focus on migration as es­cape from the problems of developing countries.

El Infierno

Drama 2010 NC-17 2hr 28m. This extremely violent, darkly comic film centers on Benny, an ordinary man thrust into the vices and violence of the Mexican drug trade. While he enjoys his new lifestyle, Benny soon begins to question what he has become. It does have some funny parts, specially at the beginning, but if you don’t speak Spanish some of the comedy is lost in translation. As the movie progresses the comedy dies out, and what you are left with is a well-acted mob drama. This movie gives you a raw idea of how legal, ethical, and moral standards change when people find themselves trying to better their economic situation and the extent to which they will go to accomplish that goal.  It’s a smart and funny good-quality film tackling a very real situation going on in Mexico right now — with everything from corrupt politicians, drug lords, church and state. This movie is a protest against corruption. Amazing acting, amazing style, well-conceived tribute to Cantinflas, telenovelas, and gangster chic. All the polish and irony leads you in, and then the big reveal: a realistic, sobering portrait of narco violence. It really took me by surprise; when I first saw this movie I wasn’t expecting it to be this good. Then I recommended it to my friends, and they all loved it too. This instantly became one of my favorite movies of all time. It was so real that it was scary. Surprised this movie did not win any huge awards!  (See also: “Todo El Poder” and “La Ley De Herodes” form a trilogy with this movie “El Infierno”. These three Spanish-language black comedies take aim at the crime and corruption found south of the border. In Todo el Poder (Gimme Power), a contemporary Mexico City filmmaker eventually takes the law into his own hands after he’s victimized three times in one day. In La Ley de Herodes (Herod’s Law), a meek janitor is appointed mayor of a small town in the 1940s, but he’s soon seduced by politics and corruption.)

Border War
The Battle Over Illegal Immigration

Documentary 2006 NR 95 minutes. Produced by conservative grassroots group Citizens United president David N. Bossie, this provocative documentary chronicles the lives of five disparate people affected by the ongoing battle at the U.S.-Mexico border. Voices from the front lines include undocumented workers, open-border advocates, Hispanic-American “minutemen,” U.S. border patrol agents and even a high-profile member of Congress.


Documentary 2008 NR 107 minutes. Filmmaker Chris Burgard presents a forceful examination of the violence routinely occurring near the U.S.-Mexico border and the steps that law enforcement officials and everyday citizens are taking to combat it. Illegal crossings, drug smuggling, rape and murder are just a few of the flashpoints that Burgard exposes in order to generate awareness of the crisis and inspire politicians to get serious about ensuring America’s border security.

Mexico: Crimes at the Border
The Business of Human Smuggling

Documentary Frontline / World 2008. In a joint project with The New York Times, Frontline/World correspondents Andrew Becker and Lowell Bergman investigate the rapidly expanding business of smuggling humans across the U.S.-Mexican border. They follow the dramatic story of an American border guard tempted by money and sexual favors to join a smuggling operation, and explore what the U.S. government is doing about the problem.

Crossing Arizona

Documentary 2005 NR 75 minutes. Examine the toughest issues surrounding illegal immigration with this documentary, which presents the viewpoints of ranchers, politicians, activists, employers, and others who live on the Arizona-Mexico border and deal with this matter every day. Viewers will learn about the costs illegal immigration has on local businesses, the reasons individuals risk their lives crossing the border and possible solutions to this crisis.

The Border

Drama 1982 R 109 minutes. Border patrol guard Charlie Smith (Jack Nicholson) is plagued by a guilty conscience when, after moving to El Paso with his wife, he goes on the take and helps to smuggle aliens across the border for work as farmhands on U.S. ranches. This movie is a rare glimpse of Nicholson (who plays against type here) in the role of old-fashioned movie hero. Co-stars Harvey Keitel and Valerie Perrine.

Go Back to Mexico!

Documentary Frontline 1994. America continues to wage a battle against the stream of undocumented immigrants entering the country. An estimated three million undocumented immigrants currently reside in the US. Each year, another three hundred thousand illegal immigrants arrive in the US in addition to the nearly nine hundred thousand who are legally accepted. How long can America sustain this influx of immigrants? And how real are the growing fears about economic costs and long-term social and political disruption? Frontline correspondent William Langewiesche explores these questions, focusing on California.

Exile Nation:
The Plastic People

Documentary 2014 NR 1hr 15m.  U.S. deportees in Tijuana struggle to survive a cartel war zone, living in cardboard boxes and sewer pipes, in an ever-expanding underworld of exiles.  I went into this documentary only knowing the basics of Zona Norte and the people stranded there. I didn’t realize there was much more to the story and just how trapped between a rock and a hard place they were.  Tijuana experienced a population explosion that doubled in a handful of years, causing a breakdown in the infrastructure, even the sewage treatment meltdown, and allowing corruption to thrive.  It completely ignores the fact that the suffering of the immigrants is of their own causing. The movie holds out the proposition that Mexicans have a right to illegally enter the US simply because Mexico is so lousy. When Mexicans are deported they hang out right at the border looking for the next chance to break the law again and enter the US illegally. It is certainly not surprising that these “Plastic People”, the ones waiting at the border crossing for an opportunity to reenter the US, have no home, no job, and are impoverished in every way. The sentiment of the movie is that it is the US that is breaking up families, not the behavior of these persons who have wrecked their own lives by illegally entered the US. Myopic and sad. A few stories are almost laughable, illegals complaining about being deported after they engage in felonious criminal activity… seriously.  The documentary is not asking people to feel sorry for Los Plasticos, but to know what has created this no man’s land between the US and Mexico. These are people. This documentary is only asking that this is understood, that we know these people are there.  A thoughtful movie with a lot of good video taken along the border and for that reason some may find this movie worth watching.  Excellent portrayal of a trapped clan of people, who share terrifying stories of survival. Hidden camera action and super-secret police malpractice are exposed. This is what good documentaries are made of.

A Day Without A Mexican

Satire 2004 R 100 minutes. One morning, California wakes up to find that one-third of its population — the Hispanic third — has disappeared in this unusual comedy. The economic, political and social implications of this disaster threaten California’s way of life. One third of the population of California are Latinos, Hispanics, Mexicans. How would it change life for the state’s other residents if this portion of the populous was suddenly not there? Director Sergio Arau calls his film a “mockumentary.” Yareli Arizmendi, married to Arau, co-wrote and stars in the film. She says it is their hope that lawmakers and moviegoers will recognize the valuable contributions made everyday by Latinos.


Romantic Comedy 2004 PG-13 131 minutes. When a beautiful Mexican housekeeper, Flor (Paz Vega), is hired by a rich Los Angeles family, everyone’s life is upended in hilariously zany ways, especially when the parents (Téa Leoni and Adam Sandler) make it their mission to be so welcoming that they become overwhelming. Cultures clash with a mighty clang — especially when the man of the house is charmed by Flor’s beauty — in this comedy of manners and mayhem directed by James L. Brooks.

Mexico: A Death in the Desert
The Fatal Journey of a Migrant Worker

Documentary Frontline / World 2004. Follow Frontline/World reporter Claudine LoMonaco as she retraces the tragic journey of Matias Garcia, a chili pepper farmer from a small Zapotec Indian village in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, who crossed the border looking for work and died in the Arizona desert. LoMonaco finds Garcia’s family and interviews his surviving brother and others. Their responses to LoMonaco reveal the dangers faced by desperate migrants.

New Harvest, Old Shame

Documentary Frontline 1990. Thirty years after Edward R. Murrow’s ‘Harvest of Shame,’ Frontline correspondent David Marash looks at the continuing plight of migrant farm workers and explores the forces that keep their lives so desperate.

2501 Migrants: A Journey

Documentary 2009 NR 54 minutes.  Shocked that so many inhabitants of his hometown in Oaxaca, Mexico, have fled for greener pastures, artist Alejandro Santiago undertakes an incredibly ambitious project to create 2501 life-size clay statues, each one representing a person who’s left. Directed by Yolanda Cruz, this upbeat documentary explores how migration transformed a once-vibrant village into a virtual ghost town and how art is now being used to rebuild that community.


Documentary 2010 NR 1hr 14m. Mexican ringmaster Tino struggles to operate his family’s long-running traveling circus in the midst of an economic downturn, while coping with the demands of his fed-up wife and four talented young children in this fascinating documentary.

Children of Internment

Documentary 2014 86 min. Thousands of German families were interned by the United States during World War 2, many from Latin America. (It is a common misperception that only Japanese-Americans were interned during WW2.) This wartime internment of German-Americans remains generally unknown to most Americans — and largely overlooked by historians. Nearly 11,000 German “aliens” were interned and tens of thousands more suffered illegal searches and seizures, relocation, harassment, interrogation, family separation, deportation and repatriation to Germany. All immigrants to the USA are labelled “aliens” until they learn English and pass tests to become US “citizens”. Many immigrants after the end of World War One took the steps to become US “citizens”, but many others remained technically classified as “aliens”, perhaps too busy trying to earn a living to learn English and pass the citizenship tests. So this group of new Americans were technically still citizens of Germany, and these “aliens” unprotected by the US Constitution could be interned for no good reason.  See Full Review

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90 Millas

Drama 2005 NR 105 minutes. A Cuban family risks everything for freedom and the American Dream in director Francisco Rodríguez Gordillo’s poignant drama. Determined to make it to Miami, the family boards a flimsy rubber dinghy on a treacherous 90-mile journey. Motivated by the desire for a better life, they must find a way to survive rough weather, shark-infested waters and dwindling supplies. Daisy Granados, Claudia Rojas, Enrique Molina and Leonel Valdes star.


Documentary 2002 NR 120 minutes. This Oscar-nominated documentary from Carles Bosch and Josep Maria Domenech follows the 1994 exodus of refugees from Cuba to Miami. The perilous journey of the balseros (Cuban rafters) is captured through remarkable footage, including dramatic shots of the would-be refugees tearing down their houses to construct dangerously flimsy rafts. The filmmakers also catch up, seven years later, with a handful of refugees who were allowed into the U.S. The documentary is very good, though it mostly gives you the view of those who had a very difficult time after arriving in the US. It does not give you the perspective of the cuban professional (eg. dentist, doctors, etc) who arrived at the US and flourished into millionares – flourished might be good or bad depending if you see being a millionare as a good or bad thing – eg. what do you value. Anyway, from living 20+ years in Miami and having many friends who arrived as balseros (balseros=rafters, balsa=raft) and many friends that came in from the Mariel project, I can say first hand that they are very hard workers, stick together, and many make the most out of the capitalistic opportunities.

Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up

Documentary 2010 NR 1hr 24m. This documentary chronicles half a century of hostile U.S.-Cuba relations. The film highlights decades of assassinations and sabotage at first backed by Washington, then ignored by the very government that launched a “war against terrorism.”

Looking for Fidel

Documentary 2004 NR 1hr. The leader of the only Communist state in the Western Hemisphere was 76 years old and had been in power almost half a century when Oliver Stone sat down with him for the 2003 interview that forms the core of this documentary. Stone also talks to activists, spouses of jailed journalists and even the mother of an executed hijacker to provide this clear-eyed view of Cuba following the 2003 crackdown on dissidents.


Documentary 2002 NR 1hr 31m. This documentary by director Estela Bravo takes a look at the political and social impact the immensely powerful Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has had on the world during the 40-plus years he’s been in power. Through interviews with politicians (Nelson Mandela, Arthur Schlesinger), friends (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), and other cultural experts (Alice Walker), Fidel’s personality and work are explored and discussed.


Life and Debt

Documentary 2001 NR 86 minutes. Director Stephanie Black’s documentary examines how policies of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other aid organizations have altered the Jamaican economy over the past 25 years, leaving the locals to struggle in poverty. Author Jamaica Kincaid narrates passages from her book on the topic, A Small Place, with Belinda Becker to a reggae soundtrack that includes songs by Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, Mutubaruka and Peter Tosh.

Heartbreak Ridge

Drama 1986 130 min. American invasion of the small island country of Grenada in 1982 provides the climax of this entry in the list of films dealing with U.S. interventions in Central America and the Carib­bean. However, film is more about the Eastwood character’s checkered military career than it is about U.S. foreign policy. Dir. Clint Eastwood. With Clint Eastwood, Mar­sha Mason. English. Color.


Drama 1969 113 min. Film explores the eco­nomic motivations of the colonial powers, in this case England, which fo­ments a revolution on a Caribbean island to facilitate capture of the sugar trade and later represses that revolution when it gets out of hand. Those who see the roots of the failure of development in colonialism will find this film especially compelling. Dir. Gillo Pontecorvo. With Marion Brando, Evaristo Mar­quez, Renato Salvatori. English. Color.

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