‘Chunky’ Sanchez documentary to screen at 25th San Diego Latino Film Festival


Spanning 10 days, the San Diego Latino Film Festival offers much more than an impressive number of films. Of the 160-plus entries, 73 are features, 87 are shorts, and the majority will be local premieres.

In addition, the festival will present an awards ceremony gala, a closing-night after-party and free live-music performances as the festival celebrates its 25th anniversary. The event starts today and runs through March 25. This Saturday afternoon, it will hold the outdoor Sabor Latino Food, Wine & Beer Festival.

“This anniversary is significant. It’s a tribute to the festival’s success,” said Paul Espinosa, one of San Diego’s top filmmakers. “I go to events like these all over the country and the world. I’ve been to all the major Latino festivals, and this is one of the most important and well-organized.”

The veteran director/producer will debut his new full-length documentary, “Singing Our Way to Freedom,” as one of the festival’s seven world premieres. The film is a profile and tribute to Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez, the much-honored San Diego musician/activist/educator who died in 2016.

A vital participant in the 1970 founding of Barrio Logan’s iconic Chicano Park, Sanchez wrote a song with that title. He and his band, Los Alacranes, performed frequently throughout the county and California.

Espinosa knew Sanchez well and made a live-performance film of Los Alacranes several years ago. Sanchez also wrote music for some of the director’s movies, including the 1985 award-winning PBS documentary “The Lemon Grove Incident.”

“Chunky was charismatic and committed to the community,” said Espinosa, a former producer for PBS and winner of eight Emmys. “If there was a political event, you could guarantee he would be there. He was here in San Diego from the late 1960s, so I interweave his with the larger story of the civil rights movement.”

As a young man, Sanchez worked alongside Cesar Chavez and played for the famous labor organizer throughout the years. Sanchez considered music a vehicle to energize people struggling for social justice.

In 2013, the singer-songwriter was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship, the country’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts. Espinosa filmed that trip to Washington, D.C., and the ceremony recognizing Sanchez.

Among those interviewed in the documentary are his sister, Virginia Zarp, and members of Los Alacranes, including his brother, Ricardo Sanchez. Espinosa chronicles Chunky Sanchez through the interviews as well as photos and archival footage. The festival will show “Singing Our Way to Freedom” at AMC Fashion Valley, on March 24 at 5 p.m. and the next day at 1 p.m. The filmmaker will appear after each screening.

“Chunky showed the importance of being involved and staying with it, even if things don’t look very promising,” Espinosa said. “He emphasized the importance of taking culture from both sides of the border. Biculturalism was woven into his art and is a theme of the film.”

“Singing Our Way to Freedom” is featured in the festival’s “Frontera Filmmakers,” one of 20 showcases. These groupings of films with common themes include “Ritmo Latino,” about tango, reggaeton and other musical genres; “Somos!,” devoted to LGBTQ films; and the “25th Anniversary Showcase,” a retrospective of some of the festival’s best selections over the years.

The Latino Film Festival, which presents between 12 and 15 films daily, is produced by the nonprofit Media Arts Center San Diego. The festival is the organization’s largest annual fundraiser, and its proceeds will go to the center’s education and outreach programs. According to executive director Ethan van Thillo, the festival enables the Media Arts Center to continue its efforts to help San Diego’s youth throughout the year.

25th Anniversary San Diego Latino Film Festival

When: Various times, today through March 25

Where: Screenings at AMC Fashion Valley 18, 7037 Friars Road, Mission Valley; and Digital Gym Cinema, 2921 El Cajon Blvd., North Park. Special events at various locations.

Tickets: Single tickets $10 to $12; five shorts programs $35; festival passes $225 to $325; Awards Ceremony Gala and Concert $60 to $70; Closing Night After-Party $20.

Phone: 619-230-1938


Sabor Latino Food, Wine & Beer Festival

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: River Plaza at Fashion Valley Mall, 7007 Friars Road, Mission Valley

Tickets: $25 without alcohol; $40 general admission; $50 VIP passes

Phone: (619) 230-1938


Wood is a freelance writer.