5 movies to see at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival

Johnny Depp and Pepe Serna
“Pepe Serna: Life Is Art” is about the life and career of veteran supporting actor Pepe Serna (right, with “Brave” star Johnny Depp), told in his own words.

The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival diligently represents the wide spectrum of experiences that fall under the Latino umbrella. Its organizers curate a balanced collection of short films, episodic projects and features both by U.S. Latino directors and Latin American artists across genres.

Mexico, Peru, Brazil and Argentina are among the countries represented in this year’s edition, which returns to the TCL Chinese Theatres in Hollywood for five days June 1 to 5. Notably, two Puerto Rican productions are also included. And while the program is mostly back to its in-person format, select screenings and panels will be accessible virtually.

The opening night gala, “Mija,” is a documentary by Isabel Castro that chronicles the parallel journeys of two Latinas breaking into the music industry while overcoming preoccupations unique to children of immigrants. The festival closes with HBO Max’s feature “Father of the Bride,” a Miami-set reimagining of the classic romantic comedy with a Latino cast lead by Andy Garcia, Gloria Estefan and Diego Boneta from Mexican director Gary “Gaz” Alazraki.


In a sign of how the organization has expanded its mission in recent years, this edition now has an animation component composed of educational sessions and a dedicated shorts program. Once again, the work created through the Youth Cinema Project — an initiative committed to teaching filmmaking to underrepresented schoolchildren at numerous California schools — will be exhibited on the big screen for the young creators and their families to enjoy.

Below are five highlights of this year’s feature slate to provide a quick introduction to the types of stories the festival will highlight.


In "Comala," filmmaker Gian Cassini investigates several generations of men in his family
In “Comala,” filmmaker Gian Cassini investigates several generations of men in his family caught up in violence, including his father, who was a hitman in Tijuana.

Years after the death of his estranged father — a killer for hire in Tijuana known as “El Jimmy” — Mexican filmmaker Gian Cassini decides to trace the roots of abandonment and violence in his family tree. By confronting the darkest truths about the poisonous machismo that haunts the men in his bloodline, from his late half-brother to his Texas-based right-wing grandfather, Cassini aims to understand the patterns of these intergenerational wounds to prevent them from enduring.

Painful recollections from those closest to him, including his mother, help Cassini piece together an impressively insightful and solemnly engaging documentary about how profoundly the people that raise us, or fail to do so, influence who we become. Despite how personal the subject matter is, the director maintains a rigorously inquisitive tone throughout.

June 3, 7 p.m.


Pepe Serna: Life is Art

For over 50 years and across more than 100 parts in film and TV, Mexican American character actor Pepe Serna became a Hollywood staple long before the current battle for inclusion on screen. Narrated in his own voice, this filmic tribute by Luis Reyes chronicles a pioneering life with the supporting voices of a plethora of American Latinos such as Chicano legend Edward James Olmos, actress Eva Longoria — a fellow Corpus Christi native — and showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett.

Praised both for his talent as an improvisational performer and uplifting attitude toward life’s setbacks, Serna best known roles include Brian De Palma’s “Scarface” and Clint Eastwood’s “The Rookie” — which he considers the movie that changed the trajectory of his career for the better.

June 4, 4:15p.m.

Perfume de Gardenias

In, "Perfume De Gardenias," a newly widowed woman creates a beautiful custom coffin for her husband
In, “Perfume De Gardenias,” a newly widowed woman creates a beautiful custom coffin for her husband, which catches the eye of another woman.

This refreshing Puerto Rican dramedy from first-time fiction writer-director Macha Colón (a.k.a. Gisela Rosario Ramos) presents an array of compelling female characters. After her husband’s passing, Isabel (Luz María Rondón), an elderly woman with a knack for decorating and flower arranging, is recruited by a local group of gossiping, pearl-clutching and churchgoing women to help them prepare other people’s funerals. Her creative ideas consider the deceased’s professions and interests for a uniquely themed final goodbye.

While grappling with her own grief and her adult children’s bickering, Isabel offers compassion to a seemingly unlikely friend: Julia (Blanca Rosa Rovira), a lesbian woman with a terminal illness. Rondón’s turn as a strong-willed abuela with a steady moral compass absent of religious judgment makes for an utterly memorable performance in a bittersweet film.


June 4, 1:45p.m.

The Shape of Things to Come

"The Shape of Things to Come," set in a dystopian city that resembles Lima, Peru
In “The Shape of Things to Come,” set in a dystopian city that resembles Lima, Peru, 12-year-old Teo works with his father maintaining a strange machine meant to generate rain over a severely droughty city.

Set in a future where no one alive has ever seen rain, this moody dystopian coming-of-age story centers on Teo (Lorenzo Molina), a brilliant teenager raised to master scientific concepts. His mechanical engineer and inventor father Luis (Fernando Bacilio) has lost touch with reality, instead obsessed with building a machine to produce precipitation. Neglected, the boy finds belonging with a criminal group.

Inside a boxy aspect ratio, auteur Víctor Checa paints a deliberately drab vision of Lima, Peru, where the atmospheric cinematography and lo-fi elements of technology in the narrative create a gritty and grounded take on science fiction. Both Molina and Bacilio’s understated performances match the somber energy.

June 5, 4:15 p.m.

What We Leave Behind

"What We Leave Behind" follows the life of Julian Moreno, an 89-year-old
“What We Leave Behind” follows the life of Julian Moreno, an 89-year-old who has made a 17 hour bus ride every month from Primo de Verdad, Mexico, to visit family in El Paso, Texas.

From intimate conversations and quiet moments of contemplation, Mexican American filmmaker Iliana Sosa renders a loving portrait of her elderly grandfather Julián, once a bracero in California who became a widower at a young age with seven children to raise. Now that he can no longer make the bus trip to visit his family in the United States, he worries about finishing construction on a house for them to return to visit rural Mexico.

The title of this mutedly touching piece seems applicable to both what Sosa’s mother and her siblings had to renounce after migrating north — the yearning for home that the director herself inherited — and what Julián himself wants his humble legacy to be once he’s departed.

June 5, 4:30 p.m.

Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival

When: Wednesday, June 1 - Sunday, June 5

Where: TCL Chinese Theatres

Info: Schedule, tickets, festival passes and health and safety protocols are available at