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Festival Highlight: El Mundo Extraño

New Sidebar At The San Diego Latino Film Festival

Credit: Outsider Pictures

Above: "Juan of the Dead" is the centerpiece of the new El Mundo Extraño sidebar at the San Diego Latino Film Festival.


KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando looks at the new El Mundo Extraño sidebar at the San Diego Latino Film Festival.


The 19th Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival kicks off Thursday and proves it's not too old to change. Check out the new sidebar highlighting genre films.

The San Diego Latino Film Festival turns 19 this year, and it's proving its vibrancy by continuing to change. You can still find well over a hundred films from around the globe -- ranging from shorts to features, animation to documentary, comedy to tragedy. But this year you can also find El Mundo Extraño, a sidebar showcase that literally translates as The Strange World.

The Festival is no stranger to films that push the envelope and take us to weird, bizarre, and fantastical places. Let's not forget that the father of surreal cinema, Luis Buñuel, made films in both Spain and Mexico, and his work's been showcased at the festival. The festival's also given us "The Ship of Monsters," the Spanish Dracula, and "My Mother-in-Law is a Zombie." But these genre films sometimes got lost in the shuffle. That's why there's the new sidebar El Mundo Extraño.

"By grouping them together we are really strengthening their marketing abilities and to promote them because we're very proud of these three films and we think that they deserve a wider audience," says assistant programmer Glenn Heath.

I was thrilled to be asked to screen some of the films being considered and to write an introduction for the showcase. I've been involved with the San Diego Asian Film Festival's Extreme Program and it's great to see SDLFF also place an emphasis on genre films that push the envelope. But while Asian Extreme is often fueled by insane violence and audacious over the top style, Latin extreme filmmaking takes a subtler approach as it tackles social and politic issues unique to Latin culture.

So at this year's festival, prepare for zombies, aliens, and witches.

"This new showcase is really going to focus on genre cinema in Latino film," adds Heath, "Most notably horror films, science fiction films, supernatural stories."

"El Paramo" Trailer

"El Paramo" Trailer

Like "El Paramo," in which Columbian soldiers sent to a distant outpost discover a women buried alive behind a wall. She's the sole survivor in a blood-splattered building and is incapable of helping the men solve the riddle of who she is. She could be one of the guerrillas or perhaps a witch. Either way, her presence causes the men to turn violently on each other.

"It's all about atmosphere and tone," says Heath, "And obviously the hidden repression that are underneath all of these men's experiences. It's just a very claustrophobic movie and for genre fans I think it's going to impress them because of how it treats the typical war film, it changes it, it deconstructs it in a way that makes it into something else."

Which is what "Extraterrestrial," another film in the showcase, does to the science fiction film. In this case, a man wakes up to find himself in a strange woman's apartment and with spaceships hovering outside her window. The film mixes sci-fi with romance and a savvy dose of black comedy.

Extraterrestrial Trailer

"Extraterrestrial" Trailer

Comedy and horror mix with radical results in Cuba's first zombie film, "Juan of the Dead." When the zombie apocalypse comes, Juan can help you with the removal of your reanimated loved ones.

"Juan of the Dead"

"Juan of the Dead"

"It really shows the resolve of the characters and how adaptation and evolution really plays into their lives on a daily basis," states Heath.

Cubans like Juan are survivors. For decades they've been making do with whatever they have and relying on their own ingenuity to survive challenging circumstances. When zombies arrive at the island nation, the undead are designated as "dissidents" and the authorities even suggest they're sponsored by the U.S. government. But the ever-resourceful Juan simply sees it as an opportunity to be seized.

"It's really funny, rambunctious, inventive, creative," Heath says, "It's "Night of the Living Dead" and "Shaun of the Dead." But a very Cuban flair to it. It's got a cutting political edge to it and it's very smart in how it addresses those political concerns."

Yes, genre films are often very smart yet they don't often get the respect they deserve says Heath.

"They sometimes tell us the most about what type of society we're living in because they are often very ambitious and they do more with less," explains Heath, "So there's that creative energy there, that vibrancy, that spark."

That spark also ignites a showcase of El Mundo Extraño shorts on Saturday March 17.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Shoreline Entertainment

"Sal," a film screening outside El Mundo Extraño but one that pushes genre conventions as well.

El Mundo Extraño looks to become a permanent part of SDLFF, and based on the pool of films that were being considered this year it looks like Latin genre filmmaking has a bright future. Among the films that didn't make it in, there's Mexico's "The Fifth Commandment," a serial killer film with a distinct bent for Catholic horror; Chile's "Baby Shower," that oddly mixes telenovela steamy sex with near torture porn violence and gore; and Argentina's "Phase 7," an infected person film filled with mundane government bureaucracy. All of them tackle genre filmmaking with a distinctly Latin flavor.

Plus take a look at the genre filmmaking outside of El Mundo Extraño screening at the festival this year: "Sal," which pays tribute to Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns; "El Infierno," a narco thriller; "La Hora Cero," an action film; and you can't go wrong with veteran rebel filmmaker Arturo Ripstein's "Las Razones del Corazon." Once again, lots to choose from.

So join me in welcoming this thrilling new sidebar and prepare for a strange and wonderful cinematic adventure.

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