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Festival Highlight: San Diego Latino Film Festival’s Shorts Program

Shorts Pack A Punch

Above: "La Luna en el Jardin" is one of the shorts screening at the San Diego Latino Film Festival.

Guest Blogger Rebecca Romani gives us a preview of the shorts program st the San Diego Latino Film Festival.

The great thing about film festivals is that they can make up for the lack of short films that used to screen before the main feature in United States cinemas, lo these many years. Despite the lack of screening venues, short project makers soldier on, turning out a wide range of subjects from short documentaries to tiny, self-contained jewels.

The San Diego Latino Film Festival, which opens tonight, seems to have a special place in its heart for pieces usually under 40 minutes. The festival, now in its 20th year, features 9 short film programs from the innovative Cine Gay to the often surprising Hecho en USA and one of the latest additions, Cine de Mujer.

Of course, the quality can vary, and sometimes one has to go in with a certain degree of suspended belief, but the rewards can be great. This year, there are a number of shorts to seek out.

Close to home are the shorts in Frontera Filmmakers and Hecho en USA, two programs that give the screen over to local filmmakers and other filmmakers working on the borders of countries and culture. Not to miss in Frontera are two very different documentaries which promise to hold your attention and attract a significant crowd. "Sane-Art...is Made this Way" by director Julio Charris Gallardo comes via Colombia on the Caribbean side. It features a dynamic range of artists and pays special attention to indigenous and Afro-Caribbean artists. From just down the road comes "The Unique Ladies," and if you want a seat, you should probably make the show early. This documentary by Gloría Móran, was shot in San Diego and takes a close look at a rare phenomenon, female lowriders in the local clubs. If you’re into lowrider cars, don’t miss this.

Hecho En USA turns the lens on the Latino experience in the USA, whether it be as subject or director. As such, Arizona is again front and center in the provocatively titled "Bombing Arizona." Like "The Unique Ladies," this documentary looks under the surface at a little appreciated art, in this case, street graffiti, known as bombing. Director Ricardo Bracamonte examines graffiti as a means of resistance, particularly in reaction to Arizona’s anti-immigrant policies. This is visually one of the best documentaries on graffiti to come out in recent years.

For Family Shorts, the list is varied and promises beauty and inspiration. "Cardboard Camera," by Carlo Olivares Paganoni, explores what a boy can do with a dream, cardboard and an eye for the shot while "Me llamo Haiti," by Mar Domínguez Ortega and Amparo Mendo Soria, puts cameras in the hands of local children. Two years after the devastating earthquake that rocked this island nation, the children still find things to celebrate and document in their world.

"Me llamo Haiti" screens as part of the San Diego Latino Film Festival's Shorts Program.

If international is what you are looking for, look no further than the aptly named "Cortos Internacionales" and "Cortos Espagnoles." One of the best of the Internacionales selections hails from Peru. "Detras de Espejo" by Julio O. Ramos, is gritty, slightly sordid and oh, so gripping with an end you don’t expect. "The Espangnoles" are a little lighter than they were last year, but keep your eye open for "Muertos y Vivientes," directed by Iñaki San Román y Josu Díaz. Even Spain has zombies and one woman heads in the opposite direction from the rest of us: the cemetery.

The San Diego Latino Film Festival prides itself on widening its scope and supporting diversity. Two relatively new programs are well-curated this year with strong and provocative pieces. From Cine Gay comes a short that takes on a number of issues, including government violence and the special dangers Gay Latinos often face. To be gay in Guatemala is to be discrete as "Sin Ruta" by Luis F Midence shows, but that isn’t always enough as a gay musician soon finds out as he tries to leave the country. Cine de Mujer doesn’t shy away from controversy, either. "Captive Radio," a documentary by Lauren Rosenfeld, feels ripped from recent headlines about FARC captives in Colombia. Rosenfeld documents the strange condition of keeping in touch with kidnapped loved ones via radio deep in the jungle.

And yet from Cine de Mujer also comes what is arguable the jewel of the shorts, an animated art piece, "La Luna en Jardín," from Cuba. Directors Yemelí Cruz and Adanoe Lima create a lyric and stunning look at Dulce Maria Loynaz’s novel, “El Jardin.” using lush 3D techniques and stop-motion animation.

This year’s Latino Film Festival boasts one of the strongest lists of selections in its 20 plus years, with features from award-winning directors and up and coming young stars. The temptation is to get caught up in the whirlwind of long-format stories, but if you do, you might miss out on some of the best offerings of the festival- the shorts. Keep an eye on the shorts programs- you’ll be glad you did.

Rebecca Romani is a guest blogger with an interest in foreign films and film festivals.

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