The San Diego Latino Film Festival Brings Cinematic Diversity to the Cineplex
To the casual observer, the American Cineplex choices suggest that almost no cinema comes out of Latin America and the only director in Spain is Pedro Aldomóvar. It’s a perception that the San Diego Latino Film Festival, the oldest and largest such festival in the US, works hard to correct through its festival and screenings at the Digital Gym.
This year, the SFLFF is celebrating its 25th anniversary and offering some interesting choices from Argentina to San Diego and places in between on six screens, five at Fashion Valley and one at the Digital Gym on El Boulevard near 30th Street.
To celebrate their silver anniversary, the SDLFF is bringing back audience favorites from years past, including the acclaimed Mexican film, “ Y tu mamá también,” with the young Garcia Gale Bernal and Diego Luna in breakout roles that set them on the path to international stardom.
“Bajo la misma luna,” also from Mexico, is part of the same showcase. Starring Kate del Castillo as a mother working illegally in the US to provide for her young son back in Mexico, “Bajo” commemorates the 10th anniversary of the SDLFF.
A special feature at the festival this year is the pairing of showcases and shorts programs. Programming manager Moises Esparza has carefully set up shorts programs offering tantalizing tastes of larger themes such as shorts from Spain, works made on the border, and, in a nod to the growing presence of women in film, a well-curated selection of short films by and about women.
Some of the most stylish and well-crafted work is coming out of Argentina. The rise in New Argentine Cinema is producing award-winning films that are doing well at the box office in Argentina and abroad. If you like thrillers with a bit of an edge, you might want to catch the recent Argentine release, “Los que aman, odian,” a visually lush film set in the late 1940’s in an isolated hotel on the edge of a sandy beach. A doctor goes to spend some time at his cousin’s hotel, only to find his ex-lover, her sister, and the sister’s husband are already there. It’s a tale of frustrated love triangles, covert ambition, and a murder most poetic.
Another fun film is the latest from the young Mexican director Alejandro Sugich. “Helena” looks at what happens when DJ Iván meets a Spanish ‘cellist, Julieta, in Mexico City for just the day. Sparks fly in this bittersweet comedy, Sugich’s love letter to the creative sections of Mexico City he knows best.
Like family comedies with a little drama? Peru may have just the answer. Peru is also experiencing an upswing in film production. “Seite Semillas” follows Ignacio, a workaholic who neglects his family and himself. When his brother suggests he consult a spiritual guide, Ignacio thinks why not, what has he got to lose. But is the guru a guide or a grifter? It’s going to take several visits for Ignacio to find out…
What would Latino film festival be without music? Music is the heart and soul of the Ritmo Latino showcase with some beautiful films about the rich variety that is Latino music. Love tango? Then don’t miss “Abrazos Imborrables,” the dynamic documentary about contemporary tango’s rise not just in Argentina, but also in unexpected places like Asia. Another documentary on music sure to strike a cord is “Conexiones,” a documentary about the Mexican-American roots group as they take a rare trip through Cuba performing traditional Mexican music and exchanging rhythms with Cuban musicians and ordinary people alike.
Immigration has been a hot-button topic, especially along the border for the past year. “Undocumented” is the inspiring story of Dr. Harold Fernandez, who left Colombia at the age of 13, with his younger brother, and took a boat to the US in the middle of hurricane season. Fernandez eventually overcame his undocumented status and other difficulties to become one of the top cardiac surgeons in the New York area. It’s an amazing story, but the documentary itself is indifferently executed and leaves a lot to be desired.
A more interesting approach is that of “Amigos del tren,” a moving look at three people who help migrants from Central America going North, by bringing them food and clothes for them as they pass by on the heavy freight trains heading for the US.
It’s not often that San Diego sees a film before New York, but this year, “Zama,” joins the SDLFF ahead of its New York release. Directed by Lucrecia Martel, “Zama” tells the story of an Argentine officer of the Spanish Crown waiting for a letter from the King, transferring him to tensions among the locals and the Indigenous people he rules in the name of Spain. “Zama” has been praised by critics and viewers alike for its beautiful visuals and thought-provoking story.
Two local productions take pride of place in the later days of the festival. Noted documentary maker Isaac Artenstein has been documenting Jewish communities along the border. His latest, “Challah Rising In The Desert” looks at the unusual threads that create New Mexico’s Jewish community. From the Conversos who fled the Spanish Inquisition 400 years ago to the children of the counterculture, Artenstein explores how the community comes together like the braided challah bread they share.
Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez was a larger than life presence with a voice and a commitment to the Latino community to match. Award-winning documentary maker Paul Espinosa’s portrait of the beloved San Diego musician, composer, and activist traces Sanchez’ rise as a musician and a voice for the community parallel with the struggle for Latinos for their rights. The much-anticipated documentary has sold out two screenings already and a third has been scheduled for the weekend.
The San Diego Latino Film Festival runs through March 25. If you want to join the party, you might consider buying tickets online to some of the more popular screenings. Please see the San Diego Latino Film Festival site for more on times and dates.
IMAGE: Los que aman, odian