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Festival Highlight: Documentaries At The San Diego Latino Film Festival

Go Beyond The Feature Films

Above: "Corazon en Yambo" is one of the documentaries screening at this year's San Diego Latino Film Festival.

Guest blogger Rebecca Romani suggests going beyond the feature film at the 20th Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival.

If you’re like most people, you probably started yawning when the documentary section for the Oscars came up, but probably snapped to when they announced the winner of the Documentary Shorts category, “Inocente,” shot here in San Diego. That’s right, here in San Diego.

And then that other film about the musician that won best feature documentary that also played San Diego? “Searching for Sugarman?” What was that again? You weren't paying attention to the documentaries playing in town that might have been worth checking out?

No need to fret, you don’t have to worry about waiting for the next Oscars to find out about documentaries that you might have missed. This year’s San Diego Latino Film Festival has got you covered.

The SDLFF has developed a reputation for excellent programming in the relatively new documentary features list, Documania. Two years ago, the SDLFF was ahead of the curve, screening the timely documentary, “Precious Knowledge,” about the fight for Mexican-American Studies in grade schools in Arizona.

This year, documentary curator Mario Diaz has been especially rigorous in his screening choices, coming up with a program worthy of the festival’s 20th birthday and its position as one of the oldest and most diverse festivals of Latino film in the US.

If you are willing to wait in line, “Harvest of Empire” will be well worth it. Sure to play to a packed house, the documentary is based on the book of the same name by journalist Juan Gonzalez. “Harvest” is a timely take on the publically little-known history of how US governments and corporations shaped Latino immigration to the US through manipulation and support of governments and multi-nationals from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego. Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu joins other well-known speakers for an unflinching look at the secret and not so secret history of the uneasy triangle of the US, Latino immigration north, and the neighbors to the South. “Harvest of Empire” screens just once on March 15 at 8:30 pm.

Ever wondered what happened to the school buses of your youth? Mark Kendall knows. You can follow Kendall down to Guatemala for one of two screenings of “La Camioneta: The Journey of one American School Bus,” the intriguing story of one such bus that travels down to Guatemala to be reborn as brightly colored public transportation that will carry Guatemalans to work every day.

The themes introduced in "Harvest of Empire" take on a particularly personal and tragic tone in “Con mi corazón en Yambo.” When we think of desaparecidos, we tend to think of Argentina or Chile. Meet Pedro José Restrepo, and walk with him in the Plaza of Quito, Ecuador, as he asks, where are my sons who disappeared in 1988? Director Maria Fernanda Restrepo has created a gripping look at her family’s experience under the brutal dictatorships that rocked Latin America in the 1970’s and 80’s under the tutelage of the US. As with many mysteries, not all who talk in the documentary are innocent, not all who are silent are guilty.

On a lighter note, music is everywhere at this year’s SDLFF, and the documentary program is no exception. From Cuba comes the lyrical, infectious “Silvio Rodríguez: Ojalá,” about the prolific singer of “Nueva trova, ” Silvio Rodriguez. Known as Cuba’s John Lennon for his dynamic, leftist music like the title song, “Ojalá,” Rodriguez talks about love, life and the legacy of the revolution in his beloved Cuba.

If “classic” Latin music isn’t your thing, then line up for “Gimme the Power” about Mexican band, “Molotov,” directed by Olallo Rubio, a major Mexican radio personality in the 1990’s. Radical? You bet! But be ready for a humorous and biting, yet so Mexican take on the recent political and social changes in Mexican society. And, oh yeah, frequent visitor to San Diego, music video director, musician and artist, Sergio Arau is in it. You can catch this take on the sound track to Mexican politics twice during the festival.

What more appropriate documentary for a film festival than a meditation on what happened to all those Super 8 films your dad obsessively shot? Mexican director Andrés Pardo gets equally obsessive about 2,000 feet of film he finds at flea market and makes it his mission to chase down their subject, the curly-haired little girl of the title, “Buscando a Larisa,” and ask her, how did these home movies get here? Does Pardo find Larisa? Find out the answer to these questions and more at this year’s Documania program.

Sometimes life IS better than fiction…

--Rebecca Romani is a guest blogger for Cinema Junkie. Her interests are in foreign films and festivals.

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