Latino Film Fest brings world to San Diego CA

13/03/2010 at 7:13 pm Leave a comment

San Diego Latino Film Festival

Where: Mission Valley Ultrastar Cinemas, 7510 Hazard Center Drive

When: Through March 21

Tickets: Range from $9.50 for a general admission for a single film to $180 for a festival pass


Festivalgoers don’t need a passport to travel the world through the movies showcased at the 17th annual San Diego Latino Film Festival (SDLFF). Along with the outstanding San Diego Asian Film Festival, SDLFF towers over the local festival scene on the consistent strength of its diverse programming. It speaks to the Latino experience with creativity, style and a focus on community.

The festival’s artistic, culturally rich banquet of engaging cinema features works by filmmakers hailing from Mexico, Spain, Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, and, of course, the United States. So, if you are looking for Latino-focused films from just about anywhere on the globe, the festival offers plenty to choose from its 185 feature-length and short films screening at Hazard Center’s UltraStar Mission Valley Cinemas through March 21.

“I can’t travel to all of these countries,” said Ethan Van Thillo, executive director of the Media Arts Center of San Diego, which presents the festival. “In some ways, the festival is a mini-vacation for many people. You can go to Peru, you can go to Chile through the world of cinema and see what people are doing and thinking.”

With its finger on the collective pulse of mainstream and indie cinema, the festival is a major draw for large numbers of festivalgoers hungry for Latino perspectives as envisioned by filmmakers with unique points of views from the local, national and international stages.

“We’re not a film festival that’s trying to compete with Tribeca or Sundance,” said Van Thillo, explaining the festival’s longevity and success. “We’re a film festival that’s about the local community. And the community is always at the forefront of our programming.”

There’s no question than Van Thillo knows his audience. In the mood for hard-hitting dramas or lighthearted comedies? Or maybe you have an appetite for documentaries, short films, and animation. The festival has all of those bases covered, courtesy of its careful selection process spearheaded by festival curator Lisa Franek, who is a talented filmmaker in her own right.

The festival also has more to offer than its cross section of movies screening on four screens at the Ultrastar in Mission Valley. In addition to the lineup (the full schedule is on its Web site,, the festival will host “Reel Talk” workshops and panel discussions where emerging filmmakers and students can network. That synergy of marathon film-viewing and community action is in sync with the Media Arts Center’s larger mission of “changing lives through film.”

If you are on the lookout for just how deeply the power of film can transform lives, there is a mother lode of evidence in the filmography of the festival’s guest director, filmmaker Leon Ichaso. The festival is screening Ichaso’s new film, 2009’s “Paraiso” (Monday at 10:30 p.m.; March 19 at 7:30 p.m., and March 21 at 3 p.m.) and his 2001 biopic “Pinero” (March 20 at 3:30 p.m.) about the late Puerto Rican poet and playwright Miguel Pinero.

For Ichaso, everything is potential material for a story waiting to be told. And balancing his personal films with commercial projects that pay the bills is part of the Cuban-born artist’s survival instinct, honed since he arrived in the United States as a 14-year-old immigrant during the early 1960s.

Living in exile in Miami, Ichaso’s passion for do-it-yourself filmmaking was triggered when he picked up a 8 mm movie camera and created the science-fiction short “Aluminum,” which premiered at a New York art gallery owned by Fidel Castro’s brother-in-law in 1969. There was no turning back. More than 40 years later, the power of cinema still fuels his dreams.

“I was haunted by films,” said Ichaso, 61, who has directed episodes of “Miami Vice” and, more recently, episodes of Showtime’s “Sleeper Cell” and A&E’s “The Cleaner.” “I was engaged with them. Not that I wanted to make them. They wanted to make me, sometimes.”

Ichaso developed his storytelling chops with independent films like 1985’s “Crossover Dreams” and 2007’s “El Cantante,” starring Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. And Ichaso’s love for spinning a good yarn is manifested in underdog characters who are often real-life mavericks forging their own destinies like Harvey Milk (1995’s “Execution of Justice”), Muhammad Ali (2000’s “Ali: An American Hero”), and guitar god Jimi Hendrix (2000’s “Hendrix”). At the moment, the Los Angeles-based filmmaker is channeling his creative energy into a screenplay on jazz pianist, composer and bebop founder Thelonious Monk.

“When you immerse yourself, it’s both fascinating and grueling,” Ichaso said. “You write something good, and I walk around the house happy. So, that’s my reward for a career that is by no means steady because of the path I’ve chosen.”

Ichaso’s gritty, realistic films are among the festival’s plethora of movies made by filmmakers who share his enthusiasm for running against the grain of what many viewers expect Latino cinema to be.

“In our own way, (the festival) helped change the cultural landscape,” Van Thillo said, “Hopefully, we’re also providing a positive space for mentors for young Latinos. And it’s the friendships and new partnerships that have been made during the film festival, and the sense of pride when someone sees something on the big screen from their own community.”

Through March 21, the 17th annual San Diego Latino Film Festival unfolds with more than 100 films representing practically every genre. But where do you start with so many choices over the next 10 days? Check out the SDLFF’s program (online at and plan a movie-viewing strategy that best suits your schedule and interests. And don’t forget to arrive early since the SDLFF is a popular draw for moviegoers in search of something truly unique at the multiplex.

With its diverse programming, SDLFF prides itself on putting out a great spread of cinematic delights catering to every taste. So, don’t be afraid to try something new and indulge your curiosity by seeing a film that promises the unexpected.

Neil Kendricks is a San Diego artist and writer and the film curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. His short film, “Atmosphere: An Aerial Haiku,” screens in the festival’s “Frontera Filmmakers” showcase on Wednesday.

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After the Argentinian Oscar we should convene a discussion on the future of the industry Cine Latino en el Festival de Tribeca en NY

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