Dubbed as “the father of cinematic Surrealism,” Luis Buñuel counted among his university friends Salvador Dali and Federico Garcia Lorca. His strict education under the Jesuits may have been the reason behind his obsession with religion and subversive behaviour. It is said that Buñuel’s finest work were made in Mexico. Palm D’Or Cannes winner “Viridiana” – which is full of surrealistic Buñuel imagery – is probably the best work by the Spanish director. However, it was “Los Olvidados”, for which he won Best Director at Cannes in 1951, that has inspired many recurring themes in Latin American films: crime and punishment, social injustice, gangs and poverty. He died in Mexico in 1983.
He would have been a lawyer, but ended up as “Cuba’s greatest and best-known director.” Enamoured by film early in life, Tomas Gutierrez Alea started out as a documentarian heavily influenced by Italian neorealism. A supporter of the revolution that eventually installed Fidel Castro into power, Alea later became fond of “historical and contemporary fables.” His best known work is “Strawberry and Chocolate” about a genuine friendship that develops between gay artist Diego and a strait-laced and idealistic young communist David amid their oppressive environment.
While hopes for Mexican cinema had been dashed for far too long, Alfonso Arau changed all that in 1992 when he directed a book written by ex-wifey Laura Esquivel that had always been tagged as “unfilmable”: “Como Agua Para Chocolate” (Like Water for Chocolate). Sprinkled with magic realism, the book has propelled or ushered the film into a place yet unseen since the last golden year. Arau –a prominent figure both in front of the cam and behind – is considered one of Latino-Hollywood’s most prominent filmmakers. Interesting trivia: He was a drama disciple of Japanese mentor Seki Sano, a classmate of Lee Strasberg and Konstantin Stanislavski in Russia.
Celina Murga is an Argentinian filmmaker and screenwriter whose latest film, “The Third Side of the River” (2014) was hailed as “exquisite” by Variety and executively produced by Martin Scorcese. In 2007, Scorsese was so taken with Murga’s offbeat flick, “A Week Alone” (2007), that he invited her to spend two months on set of his “Shutter Island” (2010) as a production assistant.
JUAN JOSE CAMPANELLA
Argentinian-born Juan José Campanella dropped out of college in 1980 to pursue a film career. Known in Latin America as a critically-acclaimed director since the 1980s, Campanella’s star shone in other parts of the world when he won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for “El Secreto de sus Ojos” (The Secret in Their Eyes) in 2009, which could easily be considered the best film of 2009 overall. Secret tells the tale of a legal counselor who decades later is still trying to find closure on a unsolved homicide case. In 2001, Campanella was also nominated for “El Hijo de la Novia” (Son of the Bride); he’s also behind “Moon of Avellaneda,” 2004.
Award-winning Alfonso Cuarón Orozco started filming everything he saw at age 12, when he received his first camera. “In the middle of the 1980s AIDS epidemic, his debut dark comedy “Solo Con Tu Pareja” ( Love in the Time of Hysteria) proved very successful. His notable films are “Children of Men” and “Gravity”. His 2001 “Y Tu Mama Tambien” was what propelled his career. Cuarón has since been one of Mexico’s “successful cinema exports” as director/ screenwriter/ producer.
An actor and comedian-turned-screenwriter and director, Mexico’s Eugenio Derbez dazzled Hollywood with the 2013 film “Instructions Not Included.” The drama-comedy about a playboy-turned-single dad grossed $85.5M worldwide, making it “the most successful Spanish-language film of all time,” helping redefine the power of Latino filmmakers and filmgoers.
Alicia Scherson, a Chilean writer and filmmaker, is one of Latin America’s exciting new talents. The biologist-turned-director’s debut feature, “Play” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival 2005 where it took home the Best Director award, and then scooped up a further total 17 awards at various other film festivals. Since then, Scherson has written and directed two more feature films – “Tourists” (2009) and “Il Futuro (The Future)” (2013).
“Después de Lucía” (After Lucía) – an “austere and minimalist” movie in the tradition of the French indie thriller bout bullying in Mexico – won the prestigious Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes. While it may lack dialogue and music it is considered “the most refreshing Latin film in recent years.”
ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU
The 2000 flick “Amores Perros” (Love’s a Bitch) catapulted Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu to superstar status (well, almost). Inarritu was the first director from Mexico to be nominated as Best Director for the Academy Award, and by the Directors Guild of America for Best Director. Innaritu collaborated with Guillermo Arriaga for “21 Grams,” 2003, and “Babel”; in 2010, he co-wrote and directed meditative drama “Biutiful,” and in 2014, he was the first Mexican director to have multiple Best Director nominations.
“Fresh and fearless” are just two words critics have used to describe the filmmaking approach of Larrain. He first broke into our consciousness when he did “Tony Manero” in 2008, set in Santiago against the dictatorship of Pinochet; followed by the gruesome “Post Mortem” in 2010. He revisited Pinochet amid the worlds of politics and advertising with “No” in 2012. Shot “using Chilean TV footage from the 1980s,” the flick was the first and only Chilean film to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. News is travelling fast and thick that he’ll be doing a remake of “Scarface,” this time, morphing the protagonist into a Mexican immigrant.”
Born to a middle class family in Sao Paulo City, Meirelles’ biggest film to date Cidade de Deus (City of God) is a realistic portrayal of the fate of two Brazilian boys who grew up in the slums. One becomes a drug lord, and the other, a photographer. Nominated for four Oscars, City of God “put Brazil again on the map of cinema” and gave the career of Meirelles a boost. He has since made also “Maids,” 2000 and “Constant Gardener,” 2005. This director who’s had success in both advertising and television, and who has won quite a number of awards in Brazilian film fests, is considered one of the country’s most exciting directors.
Valeria Sarmiento is a Chilean screenwriter and director. Since 1972, she’s directed over 19 feature films and documentaries. Her debut feature, “Notre mariage” (1984) won the Grand Prix award for Best New Director at the San Sabastian International Film Festival. Her latest film, “Lines of Wellington” (2012) competed for the Golden Lion at the 69th Venice International Film Festival. Sarmiento’s films typically address Latin American gender politics. She frequently collaborated with her late husband, Raoul Ruiz.
With credits such as animated films “Ice Age,” 2002; “Robots,” 2005, and “Rio,” 2011, Carlos Saldanha has made over a billion dollars. And wait till the animated telling of the 1936 chilren’s literature classic Story of Ferdinand.
In 1998, Walter Salles’ Central Station was nominated for Best Language Film (at the American Academy Awards. Considered a leading force in the Brazilian cinema movement, “Salles could fill an entire room in house with all of the awards his films have accumulated throughout the years.” His other credits include “The Motorcycle Diaries,” 2004; and “Linha de Passe,” 2008.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO
Dubbed as “one of the hottest directors in Hollywood today,” Guillermo del Toro debuted in 1993 via “Cronos,” which is said to be “part vampire, part zombie movie.” Del Toro’s very strict Catholic upbringing seeps into his work, evident in the crisis of faith in one of the central characters of “El Laberinto del Fauno” (Pan’s Labyrinth, 2006). Pan’s Labyrinth was nominated as Best Foreign Language film and; nominated for 5 other Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Makeup, and won the last three of them.