Buenas Películas! San Diego Latino Film Festival will feature 195 screen gems

Graphic designer Matt Bonner of London won the film festival poster contest with this entry.
Graphic designer Matt Bonner of London won the film festival poster contest with this entry.

By Steven Mihailovich


Organizers of the 18


annual San Diego Latino Film Festival are expecting to break a record this year by drawing more than 20,000 attendees to the 11-day celebration of Latino culture that begins on March 10.

Showing on four screens at the UltraStar Cinemas at Hazard Center in Mission Valley, the festival will present 195 films, including 56 feature-length motion pictures, of the highest artistic as well as entertainment merit from Latino filmmakers in the U.S., Spain and across Latin America.

The film festival is more than just movies, however. With an art show and large parties that include food, drink, music and dancing, the festival will offer total immersion into the Latino culture. Festival organizers believe that just a glance at headlines that include booming economies in Brazil and Chile, as well as drug wars in Mexico and Columbia, can generate interest in an event highlighting films and culture from one of the most dynamic regions in the world today.

“If you see a movie from that area, it gives you a wide view of what’s going on there,” said Lisa Franek of the Media Arts Center San Diego, which throws the festival. “Art is a reflection of culture. You don’t have to be from that culture or speak Spanish to appreciate the films and enjoy the good times.”

All films are either in English or subtitled in English, she added.

With almost 200 films on the roster, presentations run the gamut from feature-length narratives like those at any cinema to documentaries, animation and shorts. At least 12 films will be shown on any given day, Franek said.

The festival is divided into showcases focusing on a particular country or theme that runs through a number of films over the course of the festival. This year’s five showcases are Brazilian Cinema; Jewish Latino Cinema; Cine Gay, which highlights films from and/or about the Latino LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transsexual) community; Documania, featuring documentaries; and Family Showcase.

“If it’s part of the Para la Familija Showcase, it’s most definitely fine for the family,” Franek said. “If not, it’s possibly inappropriate for younger viewers. The best thing is to ask the volunteers at the festival. We’ve seen most of the films and can direct any filmgoer.”

The San Diego Latino Film Festival website also provides synopsizes of each film that can help guide parents, Franek added.

Aside from films produced in motion picture meccas such as Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and the U.S., Franek noted that this year’s festival includes films from smaller countries that don’t make many, such as Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama.

“We try to program those films that people want to see but can’t see anywhere else,” Franek said. “Most are not going to the Landmark (art cinema) after this. Whether you just want to be entertained or see something that makes you think or get information from a documentary, there’s something for everyone.”

Isaac Artenstein is a local filmmaker whose credits as director and/or producer include “A Day without a Mexican,” “Love Always,” and “Break of Dawn.” He also teaches film at UCSD.

Artenstein will be showing his latest film “Imagining Tijuana,” an hour-long documentary that incorporates the latest techniques to tell the stories of renowned figures from Tijuana’s Walk of Fame. As a filmmaker, he said the festival is a superb venue because it draws an audience already keen on the content and style.

“You get to gauge the audience reaction during the screening,” Artenstein said. “You might see that they’re missing things that you think are clear.”

Artenstein is equally a fan of the festival as a filmgoer because it offers a chance to speak to the filmmaker and get insight during the Q&A sessions after the screenings.

“The diversity of films they bring is really first class,” Artenstein said. “If you want to keep up with Latin America, this is the place to go. (The festival) really broadens the perspective of people. And you get it in the full 35mm movie experience, hot buttered popcorn and all.”

Proceeds from the festival benefit the Media Arts Center San Diego, which furnishes media skills and equipment to people from “8 to 80” years old through its various programs. Franek said the festival has gradually built a loyal following in the community because of the organization’s own commitment to the community.

By enjoying a film at the festival, patrons are potentially contributing to the production of films they will enjoy in the future, she added.

“You can feel good that when you’re spending $10 at the festival, it’s not going to a (guy in a) suit who doesn’t need it,” Franek said. “It’s going to a kid who’s learning to work with media.”

If you go


San Diego Latino Film Festival with works from Latin America, Spain, USA


Screenings begin at 4 p.m. weekdays; 11 a.m. weekends, with the last of the evening starting at 10:30 p.m. each night, March 10-20


UltraStar Cinemas Hazard Center in Mission Valley. Parking is free.


$10-$8 single screenings; multiple-film packages available, including VIP seating

Media Arts Center:

(619) 230-1938

Film schedule:


A film still

Festival Highlights

• March 10 (opening night): “Go For It.” The film stars Aimee Garcia, a regular on “The George Lopez Show.”

• March 11: “Sowing the Seeds of Justice.” Documentary on the life of Cruz Reynoso, the first Hispanic American justice on the California Supreme Court.

• March 16: “Cartas a Elena.” The film stars Xavier Lopez, better known as Chabel, the “Captain Kangaroo” of Mexico, who has starred in the country’s most popular children’s show for more than 40 years.

• March 19: Isaac Artenstein, professor of film at UCSD will show his latest documentary “Imagining Tijuana.” His festival faves are:

“En los Passos de Abraham” (In the Steps of Abraham) (Mexico) screening March 13 and “Anita” (Argentina) screening March 16 and 20.

• March 20: “Runway.” The film stars Demian Bichir, who played Fidel Castro in the movie “Che” and has a recurring role on the TV show “Weeds.”

• March 19: Isaac Artenstein, professor of film at UCSD will show his latest documentary “Imagining Tijuana.” His recommended festival films are:

“En los Passos de Abraham” (In the Steps of Abraham) (Mexico) screening March 13 and “Anita” (Argentina) screening March 16 and 20.

• Art Exhibit of Latino works hosted by Maria Maria, the restaurant owned by Carlos Santana, located above the theater. Admission is free.

• Festival parties include food, drink, live music and dancing with tickets at the door. March 10: Opening Night Party at the W Hotel ($20). March 16: Centerpiece Party at the Westin Gaslamp ($15). March 20: Closing Night Party at US Grant Hotel ($25). Harrah’s Rincon Casino donated bus shuttle service between the cinemas and the parties ending at 1:30 a.m.



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