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14th Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival

The 14th Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival kicked off on Thursday March 8 and will run through March 18 at the Ultrastar Mission Valley Theaters at Hazard Center. Once again this audiences will be treated to more than 100 shorts, features and documentaries from Mexico, Spain, Latin America, Cuba and the U.S. Here are some highlights.

El Vampiro will be part of a special tribute to actor German Robles

As a fan of horror and of vampire movies in particular, I'm especially looking forward to a special tribute screening of El Vampiro, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The film has been completely remastered and will be a delight to see on the big screen. Actor German Robles is scheduled to attend and receive an award. the 50s, retains its unforgettable eeriness and excitement. The film has been described as a Dracula on a hacienda," as it chronicles the journey of young Marta who learns that her family is under the demonic control of Count Luvad. The count feasts on the local peasants but Marta and a mysterious Dr. Enrique join forces to fight the Count. The tribute screening takes place on March 10.

Now most filmgoers would probably not plan their festival going around a couple of short films but there are some great shorts this year that might make you change your mind. A collection of shorts from Spain called Grillo, Guerra y Choque plays on Thursday March 15 and is well worth seeking out. It contains one of my favorite films of the festival, Choque. In ten minutes it weaves a better story that most feature films manage, plus it's got comic bite.

Another wonderful short film can be found in the showcase entitled Magma, Energy & The Last Page, featuring another group of Spanish shorts playing on Sunday March 18. The highlight here is a work called DVD . It's a hilarious short, structured like a DVD with bonus features that are accessed during the course of the story, about a slacker guy who's trying to hook up with a woman who can appreciate his pop culture nerdiness. This is a must see.

On a more serious note, there's the series Hecho en Chile: A Retrospective of Chilean Films (1957 to 2006) . Chile is now making more than a dozen films a year and many of them are garnering attention and acclaim. The SDLFF has screened many Chilean films in the past ( Promedio Rojo, Machuca ) but this will be the first time the SDLFF will have a focused celebration of new and classic Chilean Cinema that will include classic feature films, guest filmmakers, short films, a reception, and classic documentaries. Feature narratives will include: El Chacal De Nahuel Toro (1969), Julio Comienza En Julio (1979), La Frontera (1991), Coronacion (2002), Taxi Para Tres (2001), Sub-Terra (2003), B-Happy (2003), Parentisis (2005), La Sagrada Familia (2005), La Ultima Luna (2005), Mi Mejor Enemigo (2005), Se Arrienda (2005), and Fuga (2006). Documentaries include Mimbre (1957), Descomedidos y Chascones (1972), and Cien Nios Esperando Un Tren (1988).

Also of note will be a tribute to Chilean filmmaker Miguel Littin ( La Ultima Luna, El Chacal de Nahuel Toro ) who will be in attendance on March 16th.

This year's festival also boasts some firsts. This year will mark the first time that films will screen on both sides of the border. The films in this program are appropriately grouped under the banner Borders on Film: A Celebration of Current Films Confronting and Crossing Physical, Cultural, Spiritual, & Creative Borders. The showcase celebrates current documentary and narrative films as well as the filmmakers that are confronting and then working towards crossing physical, cultural, creative, and spiritual borders. The SDLFF, which sits on the busiest border crossing in the nation, recognizes the importance of its' geographical location and will now annually dedicate a special showcase to these "Border" works and filmmakers.

This year, the San Diego Latino Film Festival also launches CineMation, its first ever showcase of animated Latino works. The program highlights animation from Mexico, Spain, Latin America and the USA, including a charming claymation short from Argentina called Journey to Mars. A cheesy sci-fi TV show inspires a young boys dream of going to Mars. But its his grandpas old tow truck rather than a spaceship that takes him on a journey to alien terrain.

Another young boy and his grandfather figure prominently in whats being billed as Spains first attempt as Japanese style anime called Gisaku. Were told that a magic door between our world and a demon one opens every 385 years. The last time the door opened was in Japan and a fearsome devil named Gorkam crossed over in search of a magic key that would keep the door open and allow his demon hordes to invade the earth. But the key also has another power to close the door and for thousands of years its been kept by a samurai order. Yohei is a 17th century samurai who awakens in 21st century Spain and has some adjusting to do. For instance, he charges at a train thinking it's a dragon attacking.Young Lineto helps Yohei adjust to trains and other modern advances. But Yohei enlightens the youth to mysteries contained within Spanish literature.

Yohei: "El Quixotic is not one novel, there are many books inside it there are codes that show you other stories that are hidden inside it. If you use Cervantes annotations youll find other stories about Gorkam and other stories of Japan."

Gisaku manges to mix anime style action with a distinctly Spanish flavor to create a film that should win over young audiences. But older audiences are definitely the target for Brazils raunchy Wood and Stock, which makes its North American premiere at the festival. Imagine Cheech and Chong as rotund over the hillers animated in the style of Robert Crumb or Ralph Bakshi and youve got Wood and Stock. The film is based on the comic creations of Brazilian cartoonist Angeli. Wood and Stock are two aging, unemployed die-hard hippies and the films laidback style reflects their slacker attitude and pot-infused haze. Animated with bushy beards, wild hair and ever-present shades, the two main characters have perpetually befuddled demeanor. They seem perplexed yet somehow untroubled as if life's too complicated to figure out but if you sit and do nothing it should all work out just fine. What finally gets them off the couch, though, is a chance to form a band called Electric Pigsty featuring a screaming swine.

Wood and Stock provide hilarious adult animation

The film proves that drugged out slacker humor translates into any language. But with all the sex and drugs, this is definitely not for the kiddies. What the CineMation program proves is that Latino animation is quite diverse in terms of both content and styles. The deliberately crude style of Wood and Stock contrasts with the high tech mix of animation and live action in El Raton Peres, the Hairy Tooth Fairy. In this animated childrens fare were introduced to the tradition of a tooth fairy thats not a fairy at all but rather a rat.

Peres and his army of rats watch over the world, alert to any child placing a tooth under his or her pillow. The elaborate underground enterprise is quite impressive but it all is put in jeopardy when Peres is kidnapped and a couple of school kids set out to rescue him. The film boasts delightful animation and whimsical storytelling.

Animated fare aimed at even younger audiences has also been programmed at the festival. Nickelodeon presents its TV show Dora the Explorer, and audiences can take a peek at Pocoyo, an animated series aimed at pre-schoolers thats having its U.S. premiere at the festival. The emphasis on animationbut for a more mature crowdis even evident in the festivals prestigious closing night slot. On March 18th, audiences can see El Muerto based on the cult comic book by Javier Hernandez.

So whatever your tastes, this year's San Diego Latino Film Festival is bound to have something that will please, entertain or enlighten you.

For more information go to the festival website .

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