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San Diego Latino Film Festival At 25

Founder Ethan Van Thillo looks back at festival’s history

Photo caption: Actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna flank director Alfonso Cuaron at the...

Photo credit: SDLFF

Actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna flank director Alfonso Cuaron at the San Diego Latino Film Festival ,where "Y Tu Mama Tambien" screened, in 2002.

San Diego Latino Film Festival At 25


Ethan Van Thillo, San Diego Latino Film Festival founder and executive director

Beth Accomando, KPBS arts reporter


Cinema Junkie SDLFF Recommendations

"Cronos" (Beth will be introducing the film)

"Alucarda" (Beth will be interviewing the daughter of director Juan López Moctezuma after the screening)



"El vecino"

"Mexico Barbaro II"

"Y Tu Mama Tambien"

"Nueve Reinas/Nine Queens"

Check out the various showcases

Full film listing

Festival catalogue

As the San Diego Latino Film Festival kicks off its 25th anniversary season on Thursday, founder and executive Director Ethan Van Thillo looks back on the festival's history.

In the early 1990s, Van Thillo came to San Diego from UC Santa Cruz where he had been running a Chicano Film Festival.

"I saw that no one was doing anything like this in the region and with such a large Latino population, I thought it was very important to start a film festival that celebrates the Latino community and that also tries to combat the negative stereotypes that we were seeing in news and TV and film. So we started a small film festival, we were the only one of its kind and we were called Cine Estudiantil, supporting Latino student films from Mexico, Latin America and all over the U.S.," Van Thillo recalled.

Van Thillo recalls that those early years of running the festival were both challenging and fun.

"Once you decide to do something, you just have to go and do it, you might screen it on the side of a wall or on a screen in a small house but thing is to announce that you are going to do it so that people know that every year they can count on a Latino film festival in San Diego," he said.

The festival launched in 1993, the same year that Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro made his feature film debut with "Cronos." Nine days ago Del Toro took home two Academy Awards.

"This is a door, kick it open, and come in. Thank you very much," Del Toro said at the Oscars on March 4.

Del Toro’s career runs parallel with the San Diego Latino Film Festival, and his film "Cronos" screens Thursday as part of the festival’s 25th anniversary celebration (I will be there to co-present it at AMC Fashion Valley).

Photo caption: Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein at the 2012 San Diego Latino Film Festival.

Photo credit: SDLFF

Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein at the 2012 San Diego Latino Film Festival.

"A lot has happened in 25 years," Van Thillo said. "There’s definitely more Latinos in Hollywood. We have Latinos winning Oscars, it's amazing."

In accepting his best directing Oscar for "The Shape of Water," Del Toro said, "Thank you. I am an immigrant like Alfonso [Cuaron] and Alejandro [González Iñárritu] my compadres. Like Gael [Garcia Bernal], like Salma [Hayek] and like many, many of you. And in the last 25 years, I've been living in a country all of our own. Part of it is here, part of it is in Europe, part of it is everywhere. Because I think that the greatest thing our art does and our industry does is to erase the lines in the sand."

Van Thillo is thrilled by such recent successes but he does not want them to blind people to the problems that still exist.

"There’s still only three percent of Latinos that are actors or actresses that are on screen so there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. We still need more Latino representation in front and behind the cameras," Van Thillo noted.

That is why the festival has evolved beyond just screening films once a year.

"So about 16 or 17 years ago we were able to create the Media Arts Center San Diego, which is a non-profit organization that teaches youth how to make films and we have started camps and Teen Producers Project where we go into the community and it’s those year round community programs that have been able to help sustain our organization. We also have our own movie theater now called the digital gym cinema where we screen indie and foreign films throughout the year so you have to evolve and continue to be connected to the community as well," Van Thillo says.

Van Thillo is proud of the festival’s growth.

"We started as a small student film festival at local campuses with maybe a few dozen films, a few hundred people and now we’re expecting 20,000 people screening over a 165 movies so it’s been an incredible journey," he said.

With incredible memories, like showing "Y Tu Mama Tambien" in 2002 and having director Alfonso Cuaron and stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna in attendance.

"I still see those photos of a young Alfonso and Diego and Gael on the stage at Hazard Center and I think, gosh that really happened, and it’s amazing to see where they are now and I think it’s important that the festival celebrate that success but also to find the next Gael, find the next Del Toro and to celebrate the filmmakers of the future," Van Thillo said.

That commitment to emerging filmmakers makes the festival an exciting and important event every year. Maybe new Latin talent will be discovered this week as the San Diego Latino Film Festival is poised to enter its next quarter century.

You can access the festival catalogue online.

San Diego Latino Film Festival kicks off its 25th anniversary season on Thursday. Founder and executive director Ethan Van Thillo looks back on the festival's history.


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