San Diego Latino Film Festival tightens up its second virtual festival
Number of films has been halved as organizers focus on making the online experience better for festivalgoers
The organizers of the San Diego Latino Film Festival learned something surprising after going virtual last year: Less really is more.
In its pre-pandemic editions, the 28-year-old festival presented up to 200 films annually, the same number it screened virtually last year. For 2021, the number of films will be halved and will include two drive-in movie nights.
“If you log on to festivals and see so much content that you spend 30 minutes finding a movie, you don’t want to watch anything,” said Moisés Esparza, programming manager of Media Arts Center San Diego, the nonprofit that produces the festival. “It can be overwhelming — akin to Netflix. But our films are carefully selected by curators to make it easy for viewers to make choices.”
That doesn’t mean the festival’s goal of representation will get short shrift. The roster includes films about and by women, youth, Afro-Latinx and LGBTQ+ people.
“What we push against is that the Latinx community is monolithic,” Esparza stressed. “That’s so far from the truth. We are offering a collage of varied and authentic experiences.”
The festival’s virtual screenings will be bookended by its drive-in movies. Esparza calls them “an antidote to pandemic-related blues.”
On opening night March 11, separate screens at the South Bay Drive-In will offer two distinct viewing choices.
Argentina’s “Heroic Losers” and a collection of short documentaries made by regional “Frontera Filmmakers” will be on one screen. On the other, short narrative films will be shown along with the 1981 feature classic “Zoot Suit,” starring Edward James Olmos.
“This is ‘Zoot Suit’s’ 40th anniversary,” Esparza noted. “It’s as relevant now as it was then in addressing police brutality.”
While adhering to COVID-19 protocols, the drive-in nights will have a small area for taking socially distanced photos of the “Frontera” artists, many of whom are presenting their work for the first time.
“We always champion local filmmakers from the San Diego and Baja region,” Esparza said. “The amount of talent in this area is monumental.”
A borderless story
One regional film, “Maija Awi,” honors the Kumeyaay tribe, whose roots on both sides of what is now the U.S.-Mexico border date back centuries.
“Maija Awi” was directed by Tijuana’s Angel Estrada. The film features Pepe Mogt, also known as Fussible, a former member of the award-winning band Nortec Collective.
Mogt was approached by techno DJ Ejival and Baja California’s secretary of culture to help salute the La Rumorosa (The Whisperer) area and its winding, mountainous road that stretches from the Pacific to Mexicali.
A nearby museum is an important site for cave paintings of the Yumanos (first people). The paintings, the stark beauty of the area and the Kumeyaay myth of the serpent of knowledge helped Mogt complete his mission.
“At first, I didn’t know how to connect music to the story,” the synthesizer wiz said from his home in Tijuana. “But when I was there in the middle of the space, the rocks, wind, clouds and sun — everything! — inspired me. I went home and created the music from scratch. In a week, I had the soundtrack album.”
From his music, Mogt, Ejival and director Estrada created the film, which is a montage of scenery, the trafficked road and the paintings. Three brightly illuminated monoliths project many of those images.
Estrada wore many hats during filming: cinematography, editing, coordinating the small production team, and co-writing the script with Ejival.
“When I learned the area was in the process of being named a Baja California heritage site and that I was being invited to direct a piece to commemorate the event, I felt a great responsibility,” Estrada said. “We captured a journey made by Maija Awi, the serpent of knowledge, to reach the Yumano people and offer them wisdom.”
Mogt envisions a post-pandemic concert, with the return of the monoliths and people dancing among the giant rocks of the area.
“This beautiful story is cherished in the U.S. and here,” he said. “It not only belongs to Baja California — it’s a borderless experience. It all started on the Mojave on the U.S. side and then populated the whole of Baja. Let’s share this culture together.”
Wood is a freelance writer.
San Diego Latino Film Festival 2021
When: March 11-20
Where: Drive-in movies: March 11, South Bay Drive-In Theatre, 2170 Coronado Ave., San Diego; March 20, Chipotle / Pei Wei parking lot at Westfield Mission Valley mall, 1640 Camino del Rio N., Mission Valley. All other programming is virtual.
Admission: Drive-in movies $40 per car for one double feature; passes for the virtual festival range from $35 to $175 (access to all film programs)
Phone: (619) 230-1938
Tickets and more information: sdlatinofilm.com
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