MOSTRA festival to showcase U.S. indie films in São Paulo

It was back in 2010 that Ariani Friedl founded MOSTRA — a small festival showcasing what she labeled “socially conscious” Brazilian films in Chicago.

“There’s too much gratuitous nudity and sex in Brazilian cinema,” said Friedl, a Porto Alegre native who came to Chicago in 1964 and served as director of the John Nuveen Center for International Affairs until her retirement 40 years later. “That’s not the side of Brazil that I want to represent.”

MOSTRA quickly grew into the only institution dedicated exclusively to Brazilian cinema in the Midwest. Every year Friedl and a small committee of volunteers curate a selection of films focused on themes including social and economic inequality, environmentalism, political repression and artistic expression in Brazil, and each year the festival expands its reach across the Chicago area, the rest of the state, and into neighboring Indiana and Wisconsin.

MOSTRA’s strategy is to partner with universities to host screenings followed by discussion sessions with directors, actors and other Brazilian film industry players. “Two years ago we brought the noted critic Franthiesco Ballerini, and he joked that we should have a MOSTRA in São Paulo too,” Friedl said. “That got us thinking.”

MOSTRA is primarily a project of the Illinois — São Paulo Chapter of Partners of the Americas, and having brought Brazil cinema to Chicago, it made sense to go the opposite route. So the first edition of MOSTRA de Filmes Americanos em São Paulo was held on September 2014, featuring 11 U.S.-produced short films.

The second edition of the festival starts on March 30, and it’s kicking things up a notch with a bigger selection of shorts (several of them by students from Columbia College Chicago), in addition to two full-length indie films and two full-length documentaries. It’s a pretty safe bet that none of these would be seen on Brazilian screens were it not for the efforts of Friedl and company — and to make this possible, the MOSTRA team had to find a way to subtitle all the films in Portuguese.

“It was a challenge, because we very little time,” said Friedl, who was still reviewing film submissions a month ago. “But thanks to volunteer translators, we got it done.”

Find out which films that will be part of the festival below, and go to the MOSTRA website for the full schedule.

Fiction Films

Sunny in the Dark
Director: Courtney Ware | 2015 | 90 min.

Sunny, a homeless girl, hides in the crawlspace above a lonely therapist’s loft at night, then secretly takes over his space when leaves for work each day. Director Courtney Ware will be in attendance.

Empty Space
Director: James Choi | 2016 | 77 min.

Tom, an overweight young man takes refuge at his grandmother’s cabin in rural Protection, IL, in an attempt to bury the years of being bullied and feeling rejected. While in town, he meets a precocious blind girl named Lilly, who shows him how to be accepted and loved. Director James Choi will be in attendance.


Right Footed
Director: Nick Spark | 2015 | 82 min.

The story of Jessica Cox, who was born without arms but went on to live a fulfilling life including getting married, earning two black belts and becoming the first armless person to fly an airplane.

Big Voice
Director: Varda Bar-Kar | 2015 | 83 min.

A year in the life of a high school choir teacher and his students as they overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to become one big voice. Director Varda Bar-Kar will be in attendance.

Shorts I

Before the Bomb (23 min.)
Director: Tannaz Hazemi

Ten-year-old Elsa takes matters into her hands when Child Services plans to separate her from her brother.

Rainbow Families (16 min.).
Director: Dallas Golden (Columbia College Chicago)

The stories of LGBT couples in the process of adopting children.

Hatboxes (18 min.)
Director: Susana Darwin

Two women — a secular Jewish lawyer and a newly separated Orthodox milliner — meet by chance and discover in each other a life not lived.

Night Smokers of Chicago (10 min.)
Director: Eve Studnicka (Columbia College Chicago)

An assortment of Chicago nightlife characters tell their stories.

Magnificent Mile (9 min.)
Director: Haley Buntrock (Columbia College Chicago)

A look at homeless people living at one of the most affluent avenues in Chicago

Elgin Park (10 min.)
Director: Danny Yourd

Exploring what inspired reclusive artist Michael Paul Smith to create his miniature towns.

Shorts II

Sabre Dancing (14 min.)
Director: Ilya Rozhkov

Composer Aram Khachaturiam meets Salvador Dali and learns about life, art, and etiquette.

The Art of Richard Thompson (21 min.)
Director: Bob Burnett

Cartoonist Richard Thompson discusses his work.

The Precipice (3 min.)
Director: Natural Langdon

A video clip shot by a Brooklyn filmmaker in Salvador, Bahia, with local musicians.

Preserves (10 min.)
Director: B. Rich

An Ecuadorian community tries to protect their natural reserves from oil spills.

The Mother (11 min.)
Director: Paolo Monico

A widow receives a visit that sheds light into husband’s death.

The Champion (18 min.)
Directors: Brett Garamella, Patrick McGowan

Former Iraqi boxer champion Esthaifan Shihaita overcomes tremendous hardships as he builds a special bond with his family and taxicab customers in Chicago.

Citizen Teklit (11 min.)
Director: Tim Taylor (in attendance)

Refugee Teklit Guzay and his quest for U.S. citizenship. Director Tim Taylor will be in attendance.

Read this in Portuguese

Written by Sergio Barreto

Brazilian-American editor, web developer and (occasional) event promoter. As founder and content director for this site, I keep an eye on what's wrong with Brazil, but what really makes my heart beat faster is sharing the exciting things happening in Brazilian tech, music, film, and other creative industries.

Support this film about Brazil's (and the world's) only ballet academy for the blind

Support this film about the world’s only ballet academy for the blind

Boogarins embarking on U.S./Canadian tour

Boogarins embarking on U.S., Canadian tour