Categories: Rebecca Romani, THE BUZZ

THE BUZZ: The San Diego Latino Film Festival- the digital phoenix

Article by Rebecca Romani

March 15, 2021

Drive-In Screening of Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez

At 28, the San Diego Latino Film Festival is one of the oldest and largest of the Latino film festivals in the US. And yet, its venerable age does not keep it from coming up with some new tricks and new takes on tried-and-true movie-going practices.

This year, after a difficult 2020 that saw the festival’s usual in person exuberance basically snuffed out by the pandemic-induced locked down, the festival is back, in its usual March position, digitally re-imagined, energized, and ready for new vistas.

Dreams of Chonta

Moises Esparza, Exhibitions Manager, has programmed an ambitious line-up of over 100 films with multiple showing dates, often with live Q and A sessions for the March 11- 21st festival. The traditional wide range of shorts programs is here as well as a new component, the delightfully retro drive in.

This time the drive-in is reimagined as a pop-up screening for the opening and closing of the festival. Complete with red carpet, live music, and intriguing double features, the drive-in screenings boast two large screens and plenty of parking. You can go solo (single ticket) or gather a group of friends ($40 per car) and enjoy the show.

As the festival enters its sixth day, some of the best is yet to come. One of this year’s themes is, not surprisingly, colonialism and its aftermath- the gore of conquest and the glory of the resulting Latino culture. One of the most striking of the films covering the legacy of colonialism is 499. Set on the cusp of the 500th anniversary of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico (1519-21), 499 is an experimental documentary which sees a ghostly conquistador follow Hernán Cortez’s route from Veracruz to Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City). Along the way, he listens to Mexicans recount lived contemporary traumas, from poverty, narcotrafficking, to the government’s silencing of activists.  Mexican-born American director Rodrigo Reyes ties Mexico’s present to its past, calling it an “unfinished experiment in colonialism.”

Intriguing lives and music are always great staples of the SDLFF and this year’s line-up does not disappoint. Don’t miss Canción de invierno– ostensibly a road trip for two best friends, but in reality, a journey through heartache, personal discovery, and, ultimately, love. Tijuana, I Love You, on the surface, may not seem to be a love story, but the daring anthology film takes a knowing, loving look at Tijuana- through the seven deadly sins.

If it’s music you’re looking for, Dreams of Chonta, may be just the thing. Diego Obregon may be undocumented in New York,  but his devotion to the heartbeat of the Colombian Pacific Coast, Afro-Colombian music, knows no borders. This is a rare look at a musical tradition that has changed little since the first Africans were brought to Colombia. Conversely, you can take a trip down memory lane and revisit The Buena Vista Social Club, screening at the closing drive-in.

One of the strong points of the San Diego Latino Film Festival is the diverse shorts programs. From films by Fronteras filmmakers (filmmakers from along the border) to shorts from Mexico, a shorts program looking at Texas as well as shorts collections about women, the LGBTQ community and shorts made in the US, the diverse shorts programming is a great way to get a taste of well-crafted stories and documentaries from up-and-coming filmmakers as well as more established directors.

And what is the San Diego Latino Film Festival without a blow-out final party? This year the closing party is at the pop-up drive-in in Mission Valley where Retro is king. Count on high octane pre-screening events, including a red carpet and live music from Kimba Light an urban Latin band. The films on tap for the Saturday, March 20, screenings are a new film from Argentina, El Retiro, about a doctor who thought he was retiring, only to find out his daughter has something else in mind, and the Oscar-nominated music documentary classic, The Buena Vista Social Club.

The SDLFF continues on-line and on a screen near you until Sunday. March 21.

For more information on screenings and ticket information, please see The San Diego Latino Film Festival at

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