Central American cinema, long overshadowed by the more established and prolific film industries of its neighbors to the North and South, is finally having its moment in the international limelight. Recent festival successes have sparked interest in new directors emerging from the region, garnering Central American film a reputation for a distinctive energy and “viseralness”— a lively tension that suggests the interplay of contradictory forces and the refreshing roughness of previously unheard cinematic voices.
If you’re in New York City this week, you can glimpse some of these rising stars yourself at the sixth annual Ícaro Central American Film Festival, which features screenings and premiers from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Mexico. The festival’s program engages a diverse array of genres, styles, and concerns, but a peek at some highlights promises all the intensity, grit, joy, and deep sociopolitical engagement that Central American film has become known for.
The festival opens with Jürgen Ureña’s Abrazame como antes (Hold Me Like Before), a slow-burning drama of dispossession, loneliness, and desire set in San José, capital of Costa Rica. The film follows the uncertain encounters between a group of sex workers played by trans actresses, some of whom have discussed the film as an opportunity to breathe cinematic life into trans stories and fight anti-trans prejudice and marginalization.
The next night premiers Ameno Cordo’s animated short Los habitantes del aire (Inhabitants of the Air), in which the viewer sees Guatemala City through the imaginative eyes of a little girl. Magic permeates this poetic interpretation of the rough urban environment, inspired by Vania Vargas’s book of the same name.
The feature film playing that night is Izabel’s Acevedo’s El buen cristiano (The Good Christian), a documentary chronicling the genocide trials of Jose Efrain Montt, the former President of Guatemala who who came to power in a 1982 military coup that left thousands of Mayan Ixile deaths in its wake. Combining archival footage with film from the 86-year-old born-again Christian’s trial in 2013, this film grapples with the place of justice, morality, and God in a dark political history.
The last film on the program is Amores gatos, a black-and-white tragicomedy by Guatemalan director Juanma Calderon set in New York. The drama begins when the protagonist, a slacking catsitter-cum-poet, accidentally swaps one of the cats in her care for another during a night out. Lots of farcical antics ensue, though “as with cats,” the program promises, “outcomes can also be replaced.”
Check out the full schedule for Icaro New York here. The festival runs September 27-29, 2017 at the Instituto Cervantes and is free and open to the public. All Spanish-language films have English subtitles.