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Local Event: San Diego Latino Film Festival

The 18th Season Kicks Off March Tonight

Above: The closing of a cinema is at the center of "A Useful Life" from Uruguay. The film screens at the 18th Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival.


Aired 3/9/11

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando previews this year's San Diego Latino Film Festival.


Filmgoers have two film events to choose from this weekend as IndieFest and the San Diego Latino Film Festival both open. IndieFest is a relative newcomer but the San Diego Latino Film Festival is now in its 18th year. (Click on film titles to see when films screen and to purchase tickets.)

A film festival is defined by its choices. So I love the fact that the 18th Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival is screening both "Nude Nuns with Big Guns" and "La Mama: An American Nun's Life in a Mexican Prison." The former teases us with the festival's most enticing title as it serves up an exploitation film about, well, nude nuns and big guns.

Asun Ortega as Sister Sarah in "Nude Nuns with Big Guns."

Camelot Entertainment

Above: Asun Ortega as Sister Sarah in "Nude Nuns with Big Guns."

Sister Sarah: Four shots. Forehead, sternum, shoulder, shoulder, The sign of the cross.

Unfortunately the film doesn't live up to the promise of its title and only offers an uninspired Robert Rodriguez rip off.

"La Mama," on the other hand, is a locally produced documentary that delivers an engaging portrait of Mother Antonia, an American nun that Father Joe affectionately calls a "thief"

Mother Antonia: He says that I'm a thief, he says when Mother Antonia comes he says lock everything up.

But what she's stealing is food for the prisoners she tends to at an infamous Tijuana prison. The film shows how in her 30 years working the prison she has earned the respect of officials and prisoners alike.

Narrator: Her entrance into the prison yard and her unique brand of Spanish have always inspired smiles and greetings from the inmates.

Inmate: We could be in like a fight, in the middle of a big fight and she comes in and everybody stops. Let her pass.

"La Mama," written and directed by Jody Hammond, is part of this Saturday's Cine Mujer showcase of films by and for women.

The festival creates a number of showcases to help guide attendees. So you are interested in gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender films then check out CineGay. If you fancy documentaries, there's Documania. But then there are films that defy simple categories like Carlos Saura's "Flamenco, Flamenco."

Carlos Saura's "Flamenco, Flamenco."


Above: Carlos Saura's "Flamenco, Flamenco."

It's a documentary in the sense that it's not a fictional narrative. It explores the history and tradition of flamenco dance and music. Yet it does more than merely document. It's a stunning work of art. Saura places dancers and musicians on an almost bare stage. Then he adds gorgeous lighting and set design but employs mostly static wide shots and minimal cuts. This allows the beauty and power of flamenco to take center stage.

Carlos Saura's "Flamenco, Flamenco."


Above: Carlos Saura's "Flamenco, Flamenco."

Less is definitely more in Saura's capable hands and "Flamenco, Flamenco" is breathtaking. There's also a breathtaking display of physical skill in "Besouro," a film that mixes history with magic realism to spin a tale about the origins of capoeira.

The art of capoeira is highlighted in "Besouro."

Shoreline Entertainment

Above: The art of capoeira is highlighted in "Besouro."

The film opens in 1924. Slavery in Brazil had been abolished decades ago yet those of African descent are still treated like slaves. Besouro is a young Brazilian man of African descent and skilled at the art of capoeira, a blend of martial arts, dance, music, and athleticism. But those who defy the law and practice capoeira are subjected to violence from the authorities. The violence is especially brutal because the only way to disarm a man whose body is his weapon is to break his bones. "Besouro" is a stunning action film but one with the distinct poetry of Brazil.

The family of "We Are What We Are/Somos Lo Que Hay."


Above: The family of "We Are What We Are/Somos Lo Que Hay."

Festivals are the best place to experiment, to push boundaries, and to try something different. So if you want to be adventurous try Jorge Michel Grau's "We Are What We Are," a film that takes you some place very dark but does so with an assured mix of savvy social commentary and black humor. The film opens in an upscale mall where a man drops dead. He's quickly cleared away so as to not disturb the mall's rich clientele. But when the police do an autopsy and find a human finger inside the man's stomach prompting the coroner to casually assert, "So many eat others in this city."

Yes, this is a film about cannibalism in contemporary Mexico City. Although Grau doesn't cite the recent case of José Luis Calva Zepeda -- an alleged serial killer who ate his victims -- it must have influenced him in creating his film. But cannibalism is not really the subject of the film. Like the recent Greek film "Dogtooth," "We Are What We Are" is about family dynamics and depicts a dysfunctional family. In the case of "We Are What We Are," the family is like a tribal unit. In an interview with "The PlayList", Grau said: "I guess the gist of what the story wanted to convey is the sense that in a country where there’s about forty to fifty murders on a daily basis that unless you belong to one of these tribal structures that will protect you, it’d be a very dangerous situation."

The film is also about the growing gap between the haves and the have nots. For the moment, money insulates certain segments of society and keeps them safely tucked away from the dark places explored in "We Are What We Are." But the horrors of this film will not go away by merely turning a blind eye.

Once again the San Diego Latino Film Festival serves up a diverse array of films, so whether you want to be challenged or merely entertained there's something here for you.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 11, 2011 at 8:34 a.m. ― 6 years ago

Ethan, Ethan, Ethan, I'm a fan and I was there from the start back a a humble Chula Vista cineplex that has been converted to a gymn. For years now, you've become OVERSATURATED. Not a good strategy--not in the long run. Remember, less is more. I am surprised you have never acquired BAUTISMO DE SANGUE (BLOOD BAPTISM, 2007) about the monks in Brasil that aided Marighela's guerrillas fighting the then military dictatorship. I am also surpirsed you've never programmed LA ZONA (2008), a Mexican-Uruaguayan co-production. PS: As a member of the audience, I would have traded 10 films on your schedule for PRESUNTO CULPABLE (PRESUMED GUILTY), but I am sure there may have been some red tape inolved to get it here for March. US audiences need to see that documentary as well.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 11, 2011 at 8:37 a.m. ― 6 years ago

I would certainly like to viddy LA MAMA about this extraordinary nun. Beth is Saura still alive? He must be close to 100--and still working???

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 11, 2011 at 8:40 a.m. ― 6 years ago

ERRATUM on La Zona, sorry there, Ethan.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | March 11, 2011 at 9:49 a.m. ― 6 years ago

Ha! Saura is a mere 79! And glad you realized LA ZONA did play the festival.

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Avatar for user 'macsd'

macsd | March 12, 2011 at 7:21 a.m. ― 6 years ago

Thank you for your support & film suggestions! Love to see you at this year's film festival. My suggestions is to pick just one of the primetime films per night and/or come see me in the lobby & I would love to give you some of my favorite picks!

With regards to Presumed Guilty, our festival each year strives to screen only SD premieres. Last year we co-presented a screening of Presumed Guilty at the SD Public Library and it was already aired nationally on PBS.

Also, if the festival is just too crazy, then I would also suggest you try and attend our 11th annual Cinema en tu Idioma Series (August thru November) when we bring back just a few of the films from our annual festival and screen 1-2 films for an entire week per month.

Thanks and see you at the movies!

- Ethan

p.s. Thanks Beth for all your do in supporting independent/foreign cinema in San Diego!

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