Instructions for the film review assignments and the research paper



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Latin American Politics (PSC 3510)

Instructions for the film review assignments and the research paper

During the semester, you will be asked to complete two types of assignments that involve carefully reviewing films you will watch outside of our regular class meetings. The assignments should all be submitted by e-mail and in hard copy by the start of class on the days they are due.



Two sets of mini essays. Due Thursday, February 7 and Thursday, March 21.
These assignments require you to acquire and review films from the list below. Both films should be ones that you have not seen before, and at least one of them should be mostly in Spanish or Portuguese. If you are interested reviewing something that is not on the list, please let me know, and I will see if we can add it.

For each of these assignments, you need to write four mini-essays that are each approximately 200 words in length. Specifically, you should answer each of the following questions:



  • What is the basic story line?

  • What are the main themes covered in the film?

  • What shortcomings and strengths do you see in the representation of one or more of these themes?

  • What did you learn from the film, if anything, which has added to you understanding of Latin American generally or the ideas in the class up to the point when you are watching the film?

The criteria used to grade each of your four answers will be the same that is used for short-answer questions on in-class exams (see the online handout that is linked the homepage). The normal expectations regarding academic integrity apply. Specifically, you may not review a film that you have already seen, represent that you have watched a film in its entirety when you have not done so, or use any other author’s (including other students’) work as an aid for these essays. Do not “patch” write (take someone else’s writing and change wording) rather than doing your own original writing and analysis. Doing any of these things will be viewed and reported as a violation of the University Honor Code. For the short essays, you are welcome--and encouraged--to watch films with other students in the class and to share your impressions with each other.


A longer research paper that analyzes a major theme covered in Latin American film. Due Tuesday, April 23.

By no later than the last class day of classes, please submit an analytical essay analyzing a central theme in one of films that you have previously reviewed. Your essay should be no shorter than 1800 words in length (approximately 6-7 pages), and the assignment will require you to incorporate a limited amount of research undertaken using resources materials available through the HPU University Libraries.

Specifically, your essay should develop and logically advance a nuanced argument based on the central historical, political, or social problem addressed by the film and the accuracy of its cinematic portrayal. For example, an essay on the film Romero might analyze the role of some Catholic clergy in challenging military regimes in Latin America in the 1980s. The content and analysis grades for the paper will reflect your engagement of and use of evidence from 10 or more high-quality research sources available through our library collection and electronic resources (e.g., books, peer-reviewed articles, or other writing compiled by academic scholars). Before you begin your research, please review the handout on my website on using Google Scholar (a link is listed under “Student Resources”) to search for appropriate materials. Otherwise the essay will be graded with the same criteria used to assess your other writing assignments. As with the short essays, the normal expectations for academic integrity apply.

Film Choices

You have many options, and more may be added throughout the term; you are welcome to write your analytical essay on another film with the consent of your instructor. If a film is available to borrow from our library, this is noted; however it may also be available to stream from Amazon or Netflix. Because it requires a membership (trial memberships are free), I note Netflix as a source only when a film is not also available in the library or to rent from Amazon.com. Before selecting your film, check out its rating and trailers at http://www.imdb.com/. You may also find outakes and trailers on YouTube.


Abril Despedaçado (Behind the Sun, 2001). When ordered by his father to avenge the death of his older brother, a young man questions the tradition of violence between two rival families. The film is an exploration of a family feud and politics in the Brazilian badlands. It won the Havana Film Festival prize for top Latin American film.
Smith Library: AV 791.4372 B3951mi 2002

Apocalypto (2006). Political and social life in the Mayan empire. Although the film reeks of Hollywood and is mostly in English, it was generally well received critically and by advocates of indigenous Latin Americans.
Smith Library: AV 791.4372 Ap42to 2007

Before Night Falls (2000, in English). An episodic look at the life of Cuban poet and novelist, Reinaldo Arenas. Despite his participation in Cuban revolution, Arenas was jailed by the Castro regime as a consequence of his sexual preference and writing.
Smith Library: AV 791.4372 B39352ne 2001

Cautivo (Captive, 2004). The daughter of activists who were “disappeared” in Argentina’s Dirty War embarks on a journey to find her true identity after she is ordered to leave the “parents” who raised her and to live with her grandmother.
Netflix streaming

Central do Brasil (Central Train Station, 2003). A motion picture exploring the relationship between a child who has lost his mother and middle-aged woman working to reunite him with his father. The film won numerous international awards.

Smith Library: AV 791.4372 C33so 1999

Che: The Argentine (2009, part one of this two film set). The early life of Che Guevara. This film is being released in to parts in 2009.
Smith Library: AV 791.4372 C41011eo 2009 pt. 1

Che: The Guerilla (2009, part two of this two film set). The early life of Che Guevara. This film is being released in to parts in 2009.
Smith Library: AV 791.4372 C41011eo 2009 pt. 2

Cidade de Deus (City of God, 2002). Urban and drug politics is explored for boys coming of age in one of Rio de Janeiros outer suburbs.
Smith Library: AV 791.4372 C4987mi 2003 c. 3

Cocalero (2007). A documentary exploring the election of Boliva’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, who was previously employed as a labor organizer in the coco leaf industry. If you want to take a close, detailed and balanced look at how an indigenous political party works, this might be a good choice. Be warned that it is not an action packed drama and would have benefitted from more selective editing.
Smith Library: AV 984.052 L23co 2006

Cidade dos Homens (City of Men, 2007). Make sure to get the correct film as this is a short version of a Brazilian miniseries. Filmed in Rios shanty towns, the film explores the politics of race, urban crime, poverty, gang warfare, and corruption of various sorts. Smith Library: AV 791.4372 C49875mi 2008


Cidade dos Homens (City of Men, the mini-series). The film by the same name is an edited version of this mini-series that originally aired on Brazils dominant television station over a several-year period. If you would like more depth and rich detail than is available in the movie, watch any 3 episodes.
Smith Library: AV 791.4372 C49876pa 2006 Eps. 1-7

El Violin (2005). In an unnamed Latin American country that closely resembles Mexico, the government fights a rural insurgency with torture, assault, rape, and murder. Soldiers descend on a town, cutting off the rebels from their cache of ammunition hidden in a field.
Amazon streaming

Evita (1996, in English). A musical based on the life of Argentina’s Evita Peron.
Smith Library: AV 791.4372 Ev3ho 1998

Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985, in English). A political prisoner and man imprisoned for his sexual orientation and crimes against minors share a prison cell. The setting appears to be Brazil under its military regime. The acting by Raul Julia and William Hurt received widespread critical acclaim.
Smith Library: AV 791.4372 K6437ci 2008

María Llena eres de gracia (Maria Full of Grace, 2004). A profile of a young woman’s involvement with drug smuggling from Latin America to the US.
Smith Library: AV 791.4372 M33hb 2004

Romero (1989, in English). Based on the life, liberation theology, and murder of an El Salvadoran bishop.

Smith Library: AV 791.4372 R664vi 2009

The Judge and the General (2008, in English). The prosecution of Augusto Pinochet for human rights violations during his 17 years of rule and Chile.
Amazon streaming

The Two Escobars (2010, in English). Award-winning directors Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist use this documentary film to examine the intersection of narco-trafficking and sport in Colombia.
Netflix streaming

The Fall of Fujimori (2006, mostly English). This award winning documentary explores how and why Peru’s government pressed the limits of democracy in its battle against the Shining Path guerillas.
Smith Library: AV 985.0643 F95fa 2006

Machuca (2007). A motion picture exploring, through the eyes of children, the period surrounding the overthrow of Salvador Allende government in Chile, which led to two decades of dictatorship.
Smith Library: AV 791.4372 M185me 2007

The Mission (1986, in English). Jesuit missionaries mediate the relationship between indigenous peoples in colonial-era Brasil, the Vatican, and the European settlers who seek to enslave them.
Smith Library: AV 791.4372 M69wa 1991

The Motorcycle Diaries (2004, in English). The early life and political motivations of Ernesto Che Guevara as he travels through Latin America.

Smith Library: AV 791.4372 M857fo 2005

The Official Story (1995). Description; short outake. A drama examining the personal consequences of Argentinas Dirty War.
Smith Library: AV 791.4372 P96of 1995

O que é isso, companheiro? (Four Days in September, 1997). The kidnapping of a US diplomat in Rio de Janeiro by leftists and the political repression surrounding their decision to take this action.
Smith Library: AV 791.4372 F8257mi 2003

Pixote (1981). This Brazilian film dramatizes the plight of millions of children who live on the streets or get ground up in the system that breeds hardened criminals from juvenile delinquents. This dramatic portrait of poverty is shocking and affecting; it is frequently noted on lists of the best films available on homeless children.
Amazon streaming

Sin Nombre (Without a Name, 2009). A relationship between two young people is used to explore impact of gangs, poverty, and youth violence on Mexican political and social life.
Smith Library: AV 791.4372 Si615fo 2009

South of the Border (2010). Oliver Stone sets out on a road trip across five countries to explore the social and political movements and the mainstream media's misperception of South America while interviewing seven of its elected presidents.
Amazon streaming

Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad, 2008). Police and political corruption in Rio de Janeiro as told through the eyes of a member of the city’s most prestigious police units. Smith Library: AV 791.4372 EL487we 2008


Tropa de Elite 2 (Elite Squad—The Enemy Within, 2010). Better than the first one, which was extremely well receive in Brazil and abroad.
Amazon streaming

Viva Cuba (2007). Two children in Cuba from different social classes become friends and take a trip across the country.
Amazon streaming

Waste Land (2010, mostly Portuguese). Filmed over nearly three years, Waste Land follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world's largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. There he photographs an eclectic band of catadores — or garbage pickers.
Amazon streaming

Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices, 2005). A feature film portraying childhood in a war zone. The film is set in El Salvador.
Smith Library: AV 791.4372 In66po 2007

Which Way Home (2007. Mostly Spanish). The film documents the plight of the children left behind when their families travel to the United States to find work. It follows a trio of children who set out on their own from their Latin American countries on a dangerous trek through Mexico en route to the US border.
Netflix streaming





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