Filipino Film Festival debuts in San Diego

Members of the band Fanny play their instruments
The festival’s opening film, the documentary “Fanny: The Right to Rock,” is about the rock band Fanny, composed of all-women Filipino Americans in 1960s-70s Sacramento.
(Marita Madeloni)

Organizers of of inaugural event hope to carve out a space to celebrate Filipino culture in San Diego


The San Diego Filipino Film Festival debuts this month, kicking off Thursday. Notably, the festival runs concurrently with Filipino American History Month and is hosted by the nonprofit San Diego Filipino Cinema.

“It’s important for us to have a platform to celebrate Filipino stories and perspectives in film, because being the largest Asian population in San Diego, Benito and I, being filmmakers ourselves, feel that there is very little representation of who we are and what contributions we bring to this great city,” festival co-founder Emma Francisco says of the motivation behind starting the event with her co-founder, fellow filmmaker Benito Bautista.

Francisco makes an important point. San Diego’s vibrant film festival landscape highlights a variety of diasporic cultures that call the region home, including festivals named for Arab, Jewish, Black, pan-Asian, Latino and other communities. Up until now, there hasn’t been a local film festival celebrating Filipino culture, despite San Diego boasting a large population of Filipinos and Filipino Americans.

“Through the films and stories we highlight, our community will have an opportunity to dialogue about important issues we present through film,” Francisco says. “The young ones will get to learn and appreciate their culture and heritage, and filmmakers will have a platform not only to tell their stories but to have a support system that can guide them through their journey as filmmakers with thriving and sustainable careers in the industry, so that they can continue on telling stories through their unique Filipino perspectives,” she says.

The six-day festival will take place at different locations across San Diego County, including the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park and the AMC 12 Otay Ranch Town Center, where the feature-length films and documentaries will be shown. This being the COVID-19 era, there is a hybrid in-person and virtual format. In-person screenings will be limited capacity.

Overall, 70 films were submitted and considered for the festival’s inaugural run. Forty were selected for official screenings, Bautista says.

The in-person events are intended to be immersive and special, Bautista says. “Each night is a red carpet event. This isn’t just an opportunity for people to see the film, but to also talk to the filmmakers,” he says, explaining that for many of the in-person films, the festival has also booked the filmmakers to be present. “Usually you leave a film with questions you can’t ask, but in this case, you’ll be able to,” he said.

Throughout the festival, there will also be film workshops and panel discussions with award-winning Filipino filmmakers, hosted by Filmmersion, which is San Diego Filipino Cinema’s educational program for local aspiring filmmakers that is financially supported by KPBS.

The festival’s opening film, the documentary “Fanny: The Right To Rock,” is “a powerful opening film,” Bautista says. He explains that it’s about a now-famous band, called Fanny, composed of all-women Filipino Americans in 1960s-70s Sacramento who made original rock music.

“They became, you know, the benchmark, for our rock musicians, female rock musicians as well,” Bautista says, referring to Filipino musical and popular culture. “But they were never honored by the American music industry except for a few iconic musicians, like David Bowie, who recognized them, but that’s it.

“That is because of the color of their skin and that members of the band are LGBTQ. So that story, in particular, is really important for us to tell — it’s a catalyst for further conversation,” Bautista says. He adds that Brie Darling, one of the original bandmates, is coming to perform at the festival on the night of the screening.

Additional highlights include 30 short films in four categories: Connect the Dots, Larger Than Life, Outside the Box, and Scenes from Home. Each category “reveals diverse perspectives on a range of issues including love, culture, representation, family, death, and introspection,” a release for the festival says.

There will also be a virtual film market, which offers festivalgoers a free selection of films during the festival from aspiring filmmakers who want the opportunity to showcase their work to sales agents, film buyers, producers and all-access pass holders.

There is also an off-festival showing available to anyone interested in buying a $100 ticket. Called “The Long March,” it is a feature documentary that tells the story of the U.S. Filipino veterans of World War II, “the people who marched in Bataan Death March,” says Bautista, who is a co-producer on the documentary. “They were never recognized by the American government,” he adds. It wasn’t officially selected for the festival but runs adjacent, and all ticket proceeds go toward the film’s production costs.

Bryant is a freelance writer.

San Diego Filipino Film Festival

When: Oct. 14-19

Where: Online; Mingei International Museum; AMC 12 Otay Ranch Town Center

Tickets: Prices vary by event; check website for details