Voices of the South: Unearthing the Depths of Latin American Documentaries

11 de agost de 2023

"All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art." - Jorge Luis Borges


Latin America, a land of extraordinary contrasts and profound paradoxes, serves as a dynamic canvas for the ever-evolving documentary genre. This region, steeped in history, rich in culture, and marked by periods of intense turbulence and awe-inspiring resilience, offers a veritable treasure trove of narratives waiting to be unearthed. Whether it's the hard-hitting stories of societal upheaval or the heartwarming accounts of dreams transcending adversity, Latin American documentaries present a potent blend of reality and emotion that resonates on a universal scale.

Spanish-spoken documentaries from this part of the world reflect a rich tapestry of experiences. They traverse a wide array of themes, including political turmoil, indigenous rights, social inequality, environmental crises, and the enduring spirit of Latin American communities. With every frame, they unravel layers of Latin America’s complexity, revealing a world where hardship and aspiration go hand in hand. Whether it's through a high-quality Netflix docudrama or a compelling YouTube docuseries, these films lend a voice to the silenced and put a spotlight on the overlooked realities of Latin America.


Between Tragedy and Triumph: The Tale of Latin America through the Documentary Lens


a girl driving a boat

However, the power of these documentaries transcends their capacity to narrate a tale; they play an instrumental role in shaping the social and political discourse. They challenge the status quo, incite dialogue, and inspire change. They are not just a mirror reflecting Latin American society but a beacon guiding it toward introspection and action. The spectrum of Latin American documentaries, from the local show to the global film, serves as a testament to the region's resilient spirit and the transformative potential of storytelling.


Diving into this rich genre, here are Ten Documentaries and docuseries that capture the essence of Latin American narratives:



Phone Line 137

a photo where we only see the painted lips of a woman

The documentary portrays the life of four social workers who decide to be available 24/7, 365 days a year to assist, help and accompany different women who suffer gender, sexual, and family violence. In Argentina, the victims of femicide amount to one woman every 23 hours. 


The Square

a boy protesting with his face covered

Available on Netflix, this poignant docudrama delves into the trials and tribulations of a group of public square dwellers in Caracas, Venezuela. It's a hard-hitting exploration of urban struggle and social solidarity in the face of adversity.


El Father Plays Himself

two men in profile looking into each other's eyes, one of them bloodied

Jorge, a young film director, returns to Venezuela to make a movie based on his father's life in the Amazon jungle. Jorge gives his father (El Father) the role of playing himself. What begins as an act of love and ambition turns into a process that confronts the father's struggles with addiction and his life without his son. El Father Plays Himself observes how the act of cinema uncovers, unites, heals, and destroys.


Nostalgia for the Light

the silhouette of a man crossing a starry desert

This film presents a remarkable blend of astronomy and human rights. Set in Chile's Atacama Desert, it draws a parallel between the quest for cosmic understanding and the search for missing people who disappeared during Pinochet’s dictatorship.


The Great Fallacy

a painting where two grotesque men share a plate of food

In his quest for a unique film project, a cameraman uncovers an intriguing perspective: the "market value" of individuals. Propelled by curiosity, he explores the predicament of three women deemed to have low "market value", and follows the journey of two politicians navigating the labyrinthine bureaucracy in search of pragmatic solutions. Convinced he's uncovered a vision potent enough to transform society, the cameraman, however, finds himself entangled in his own dilemma, face-to-face with life's profound paradoxes. This film unfurls as a five-year journey across Germany – a time capsule destined for the cameraman's future-adult children, offering them a mirror to their past.


Paco de Lucía: A Journey

a young guitar player with long hair sticking out his tongue

Available on YouTube, this docu chronicles the life and career of the legendary Spanish flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía. The film offers a deep dive into his creative process, his love for Latin American music, and the cultural exchanges between Spain and Latin America.



a happy ballerina with headscarves

This Ecuadorian documentary tells the story of a young aboriginal couple that faces an unexpected pregnancy that will make them question their identity and the world in which they will raise their child.


Cartel Land

jeans with dark glasses and a microphone raise your voice

A Netflix doc, this film offers a riveting glimpse into the brutal world of Mexican drug cartels and the vigilante groups fighting against them. It's a sobering examination of lawlessness, corruption, and the high price of justice.


Inflated Jungle

an oven pulls a plastic chair out of the water

As he embarks on a journey to unravel the alarming surge in suicides amongst the indigenous youth of the Colombian Amazon, filmmaker Alejandro Naranjo delves deep into the heart of the jungle, seeking answers. The inescapable contradictions aren't hard to find. Globalization, with its pervasive influence, has reached these secluded communities, leading to the gradual erosion of their ancestral identities and their connection to their homeland. Through the voices of these young people, the film underscores their internal struggles and brings their dilemmas to light.


When Two Worlds Collide

the landscape of a burnt jungle

An award-winning documentary tells a gripping story of the clash between the indigenous people of Peru and the Peruvian government over land and resources.


In conclusion, the Latin American documentary space is a dynamic arena that reflects the region's pulsating heartbeat. It captures the essence of Latin America in all its complexity, contradictions, and cultural richness. From the heart-wrenching stories of struggle to the triumphant tales of dreams realized, these films offer a kaleidoscopic view of Latin America that educates, inspires, and provokes thought. As we continue to explore this genre, we don't just encounter diverse narratives; we engage in a dialogue with Latin America itself - a dialogue that deepens our understanding broadens our perspectives, and underscores the universal human experience embedded in the region's unique context.


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