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San Diego Latino Film Festival

Love, intrigue and beautiful landscapes haunt the characters in

Credit: courtesy photo

Above: Love, intrigue and beautiful landscapes haunt the characters in "Los que aman, odian" from Argentina.

— The San Diego Latino Film Festival is still going strong, celebrating its 25th anniversary with a wide choice of Latino films from around California and around the Latino world.

It’s a special anniversary with some film selections you won’t want to miss.

This year’s festival is primarily scheduled into the Fashion Valley Mall with daily screenings at the Digital Gym on El Cajon Boulevard.

One of this year’s sleepers is the shorts program schedule. Closely allied to the showcases, according to programming manager, Moises Esparza, the shorts programs offer the same categories but in small, compelling bites — cinematic tapas, if you will. Want to find out more about Latino life but want some diversity? Try the Relatos Latinos shorts program. Or, for a fun look at Spain, check out the Cronicas Españolas offerings.

Many of the standouts continue to screen through the end of the festival.

One such standout is “Los que aman, odian,” a stylish neo-noir from Argentina. New Argentine cinema is all about tight stories and richly lensed visuals, and this film does not disappoint. Set in the mid-1940s in a lonely hotel on the edge of a sandy beach, “Los que aman, odian," follows Dr. Huberman who arrives at his cousin’s hotel for a much-needed rest only to find his ex-lover and her sister, husband in tow, already there. It’s an elegant tale of dark desires, thwarted love and a twist you might not see coming. The visuals are stunning, the soundtrack lush and the murder, delicious.

Border life and immigration are two of the themes front and center in this year’s festival.

“Under the Same Moon” (2008) returns as one of the anniversary screenings. Kate del Castillo stars in this festival favorite of parallel stories of a mother working illegally in the U.S. and her son left behind in Mexico.

Another film, “Amigos del tren,” looks at immigration through the eyes of Marcello, a Bolivian living in Mexico, who helps migrants from Central America traveling north. In this documentary, Marcello’s daily interactions with the people on the train show clearly the hardships and violence driving them to take their lives in their hands as they pass through Mexico.

“Undocumented” is the true story of Dr. Harold Fernandez, who, at 13, made the voyage in a boat to the U.S. during hurricane season. As a brilliant college student, Fernandez is faced with a decision that could derail his academic career and put the lives of his undocumented parents in danger. “Undocumented” chronicles Fernandez’ struggle and triumphant rise to the top of his field in cardiac surgery in New York. First-time director Patricia Shih has found an inspiring story, but Fernandez deserves better than a documentary done in a 1990s made-for-TV style with lazy editing choices.

A love of music pops up in several films, including the ambitious debut feature, “Weigh Down” from local director Sergio Lopez, about an aging jazz musician who comes back to town looking for his son. Lopez shot the film in San Diego, and locals will be delighted to see several well-known Barrio Logan locations.

One of the most charming films about music is the sleeper hit, “Helena,” shot in primarily in Mexico City. In “Helena,” a surprise encounter between Ivan, a Mexico City disc jockey and Julieta, a Spanish cellist in Mexico City for the day, produces romantic sparks and some fabulous sound fusion when Ivan takes Julieta out on the town. Will Julieta’s stay last more than 24 hours? Find out in Director Alejandro Sugich’s love letter to the Mexico City he knows.

Considering how much Puerto Rico has suffered from two hurricanes in less than 20 days, it’s a nice surprise to find two Puerto Rican films on the schedule. Puerto Rico’s film industry goes back to the days of silent film, but more recently, Puerto Rico has had more of a starring role as stand-in for exotic locales for mainland American productions. Films made in the Spanish spoken in Puerto Rico are a hard sell on the island, as most Puerto Ricans tend to see them as art house pieces, preferring to watch English-language films made in the U.S.

Nonetheless, two excellent films are on screen at this year’s Latino Film Festival. The documentary “Vietnam, Puerto Rico,” is a sobering reminder of how clobbered Puerto Rico has been both by the hurricanes that hit and the lack of aid that came after. Set in a barrio on the coast of Guaynbo, the story of Vietnam echoes that of the island in general — local corruption, a crippling debt and mass migration inspires the population to fight back against the forces that would put its lands into the hands of a multinational corporation.

On a lighter note, “Broche de Oro: Comienzos” had audiences laughing uproariously at the antics of seniors making friends and creating alliances in a retirement home. The prequel to the hit “Broche de Oro,” the film is director Raul Marchand Sanchez’s fond tribute to his grandparents’ on his mother’s side — the first film was inspired by his paternal grandparents. According to Marchand Sanchez, the film nearly did not get distributed as the second hurricane almost destroyed the publicity materials as well as the film. With more than 40 percent of the island still without power, even now, it’s a wonder Marchand Sanchez was able to get the film ready for release.

Although Puerto Rican films may not get major attention in Puerto Rico, “Broche de Oro: Comienzos” has been playing to full houses at this festival and sold out other festivals in advance.

Two more documentaries to keep in mind have local origins. Isaac Artenstein brings his new documentary “Challah Rising In the Desert: The Jews of New Mexico.” Artenstein’s feature looks at the five waves of immigration, including Conversos escaping the Spanish Inquisition, that shape this unique community on the U.S./Mexico border.

Closer to home, Paul Espinosa turns his camera on beloved San Diego activist and musician, Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez, who died in 2016. Sanchez rose from his beginnings as a simple farm-worker to national recognition for his activism and music. The original screenings are already sold out so the festival has added a new screening.

The San Diego Latino Film Festival continues through Sunday, March 25. Be advised that some films are screening at the Digital Gym. See the San Diego Latino Film Festival schedule for times and dates.

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