The San Diego Latino Film Festival is set to prove that an arts organization can be venerable and groundbreaking at the same time. Its 26th year promises to have many of the tried-and-true events audiences have long enjoyed.
The festival will be held March 14-24 at AMC Fashion Valley 18, the event’s main venue, and at North Park’s Digital Gym Cinema. As in past years, its popular Sonido Latino will offer free musical entertainment at the Fashion Valley site. The ticketed food, beer and wine fest, Sabor Latino, will cast a spotlight on local breweries, wineries and chefs.
The organizers have also announced something entirely new: The “Migrant Voices Today” Film Challenge.
“We promote the festival as a celebration of Latino culture, but it’s also our job to be cognizant of struggles faced in the Latino community,” said Moisés Esparza, programming manager of Media Arts Center San Diego, the nonprofit that produces the Latino Film Festival.
The film challenge is sponsored by the Media Arts Center and The San Diego Union-Tribune. The goal was to encourage international media artists and journalists to submit short films about the experience of migrants and asylum-seekers. The challenge’s organizers were surprised by the large number of responses; there were 293 entries.
From those, a select jury chose 15 to be screened at 7 p.m. March 19. The challenge was funded by the California Endowment, the International Community Foundation, the Union-Tribune and Hispanics In Philanthropy. Two monetary awards will be presented that evening: Best Emerging Artist ($1,000 prize) and Best Professional Media Maker ($5,000).
“This new project has been a touching and eye-opening experience,” Esparza said. “Originally we planned to choose 10, but there were so many fantastic submissions. If there weren’t time limitations within the festival, we’d show them all.”
The Latino Film Festival also showcases 11 sets of short films. Categories include Viva Mujeres; Frontera Filmmakers (representing the San Diego/Tijuana region); Docu-Shorts; and Somos! Cine LGBTQ+.
Esparza, 30, has a degree from Columbia University in film studies and has also done graduate work at San Diego State University. He said he received a hands-on education at Media Arts when he started programming shorts for the Latino Film Festival in 2014. He became responsible for programming the whole event three years ago. He curates films year-round at the Digital Gym Cinema.
“People tell me I have the best job in the world,” Esparza said. “It’s true! The movies make it exciting. It’s like opening gifts. You never know what kind of film you’ll be exposed to. Every year, it’s a rewarding experience.
“Since working with the festival, I’ve seen the quality of films improve tremendously. Part of it is that filmmaking has become more accessible. We had one submission that was filmed entirely on GoPro. A couple of others incorporated cellphone footage into their movies. It’s inspiring to see how people use technology to make works of art.”
Esparza is pleased with the number of cast and crew members who will be coming to San Diego with their films this year. He predicted that every night the audience will meet a different filmmaker or actor participating in after-screening panels.
A special guest at the festival will be acclaimed actor Damián Alcázar. Probably best known in the U.S. for his role as Colombian drug lord Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela in the Netflix series “Narcos,” Alcázar has had a long, successful career in Mexican and Latino cinema.
Alcázar, who over the years has won several Ariel Awards (Mexico’s Oscars), has personally selected his favorite movies to be shown throughout the Latino Film Festival’s three-night tribute to him.
“His coming to the festival is so impressive,” Esparza said. “This year is shaping up to be one of the best. Making it to the 26th year is such an accomplishment. The future looks bright. We’re lucky to be supported by our community and that there continues to be a wealth of films being created for and by Latinos.”
Some likely highlights
While it’s difficult to choose from the more than 90 full-length films that will be screened at the festival, here are four that exemplify the variety and depth of this year’s selections. Curator Esparza provides quick sketches of each of them.
“Yo No Me Llamo Ruben Blades” (“Ruben Blades Is Not My Name”)
“Ruben is a global ambassador of Latino sounds and one of the most iconic figures in music working today. This documentary is about the music, including stories behind his biggest musical accomplishments. It’s celebratory and explores how his songs are a part of the Latino consciousness. If you’re a fan, you won’t be disappointed.”
“Mente Revolver” (“Revolver Mind”)
“Director Alejandro Ramírez Corona put together the most accomplished film we’ve screened. It was filmed in Tijuana and celebrates that setting. Three discontented characters are all existing on their own timelines and then collide. It shows life-changing circumstances you might encounter in Tijuana.”
“Las Herederas” (“The Heiresses”)
“This Paraguayan movie is about two women – a couple – who are descendants of wealth dealing with financial decline. One goes to prison for a legal issue. To make a living, the other starts a taxi company, giving her a new lease on life. She meets a younger woman and their relationship allows her to pursue freedom in unexpected ways.”
“Cómprame un revolver” (“Buy Me a Gun”)
“Aesthetically unique, this mixes the looks of Mad Max and Huckleberry Finn. Directed by Mexican/Guatemalan Julio Hernández Cordón, it’s a portrayal of a young girl in dystopian Mexico. It’s a cartel-filled wasteland where time seems indefinite. It’s one of the most original I’ve seen. Audiences are really going to enjoy it.”
Wood is a freelance writer.
San Diego Latino Film Festival
When: March 14-24
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 $9-$12; five-ticket pack $50; five shorts programs $35; festival passes $120-$300; group sales are available. Opening-night after-party $30; awards ceremony and concert $30-$45 (concert-only tickets $20-$25).
Phone: (619) 230-1938
Sabor Latino Food, Wine & Beer Festival
When: 2 to 5 p.m. March 16
Where: River Plaza at the Fashion Valley mall, 7037 Friars Road, Mission Valley
Tickets: $25 without alcohol; $40 with alcohol; $50 VIP passes
Phone: (619) 230-1938