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Preview: San Diego Film Festival

Entering Its 12th Year But Second Under New Leadership

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars in

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Above: Chiwetel Ejiofor stars in "12 Years a Slave," based on an incredible true story of one man's fight for survival and freedom.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando previews the 12th Annual San Diego Film Festival.


The San Diego Film Festival kicks off its 12th year tonight with the San Diego premiere of “12 Years a Slave.”

The San Diego Film Festival is 12 years old but it’s only in its second year under the new creative leadership of Kevin Leap. He’s president of the San Diego Film Foundation, the non profit organization that runs the festival. He says he learned a lot from his first year.

“Yeah you really do have to eat an elephant one bite at a time,” Leap explained with a laugh, “No, we actually tightened it up a little bit and we spent a lot more time jurying the films and making sure we had the highest level quality films possible as opposed to quantity. We’ve cut back a little bit, we still have quite a few events, but we really have cut back on the events a little and we just have gone for a higher level of film, a higher level of panelists, a higher level of quality all around.”

This year they received 1400 entries and selected 108 features, documentaries and shorts to highlight. Leap says that what separates the San Diego Film Festival from other festivals in town is diversity and quality.

“We have films that represent just about everything,” Leap said, “We have a lot of issue-oriented things. For instance we’re working with Mariel Hemingway, she’s going to be coming and we’re giving her our Humanitarian Award. She has a documentary called ‘Running From Crazy,’ and if you know anything about her, she’s the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway, and there’s quite a bit of mental illness and substance abuse in the Hemingway history.”

Leap also pointed to “green” documentaries as well as a film called “Breaking Through.”

“It’s about LGBT politicians running for office and becoming elected,” Leap said, “In fact Todd Gloria and Toni Atkins are both featured in it and we’ll be having them do a little panel discussion.”

This year Leap is especially proud about the tribute the festival is paying to giving director Judd Apatow.

“We’re going to be doing that on Thursday night at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego at La Jolla. He’s a completely different director than Gus Vant Sant, who we paid tribute to last year but he’s a lot of fun and he’s just very contemporary and doing some great things,” Leap added.

The festival is hosting San Diego premieres of a pair of films stirring some Oscar buzz: “12 Years a Slave” (their opening night film tonight at the Reading Gaslamp) and “August: Osage County.”

In addition to the Hollywood fare, there are also some strong indie titles like “The German Doctor.”

“It’s about this Argentinian family that befriends this German doctor and it turns out that he’s Joseph Mengele and he’s been helping them and it just brings out this entire moral dilemma with them,” Leap said.

This year the festival is spreading out around the county. Films like “12 Years a Slave” will screen at the Reading Gaslamp; the Apatow Tribute will be at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla; the Mariel Hemingway film will be at the Joan Kroc Peace and Freedom Center at USD; and the awards ceremony will be on the roof of the Palomar Hotel.

“Our goal is to start doing more things in North County and in South Bay including some screenings in Escondido during the year and Chula Vista, just truly becoming a county-wide event,” Leap explained, “So we just want to make sure we serve San Diego county as a whole and not just the contingent of people that will go to the Gaslamp, which is why we are putting things, a lot of things in La Jolla and intend to expand beyond that.”

The festival received increased financial sponsorship, which has allowed them to lower ticket prices a little, although there are still deluxe VIP packages for $500 that allow access to all parties, lounges, and films.

Leap also expressed appreciation to Jeffrey Lyons, the festival’s chief juror and host.

“He’s a nationally renowned film critic and he was really helpful and instrumental in helping to build the festival,” Leap said, “it’s going to be a good five days.”

The San Diego Film Festival runs through Sunday. For a complete schedule of events go to the festival website.

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