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San Diego Latino Film Festival Will Be Online And At The Drive-In

"La odisea de los giles" starring Ricardo Darin will play at the South Bay Drive-In as part of this year's San Diego Latino Film Festival.
Alfa Pictures
"La odisea de los giles" starring Ricardo Darin will play at the South Bay Drive-In as part of this year's San Diego Latino Film Festival.

Fest kicks off 28th year on March 11

The 28th Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival kicks off March 11. It was the first film festival forced to cancel its in person event because of COVID-19. Festival founder Ethan Van Thillo shared what a year of pandemic pivoting has been like.

The 28th annual San Diego Latino Film Festival kicks off March 11. It was the first local film festival forced to cancel its in-person event because of COVID-19. Festival founder Ethan Van Thillo shared what a year of pandemic pivoting has been like.

Last March, the 27th annual Latino Film Festival had to cancel its in-person event on its opening day following Gov. Gavin Newsom's ban on public gatherings of more than 250 people. It was a painful decision for festival founder and executive director Ethan Van Thillo.

San Diego Latino Film Festival Will Be Online And At The Drive-In
Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

"One of my commitments to the community since day one has been the idea of you never not hold the event," Van Thillo said. "You always hold the event. I don't know if people understand that about me, but in terms of my passion and my focus, you always find that print, even if it's not the exact print you want to screen, you screen it on Bluray or digital. You're going to screen that movie no matter what. So for me to actually have to not hold a festival for the first time in 27 years was devastating. It was just emotionally draining, physically draining and for our staff as well. And for everyone, there was kind of this grieving process, which I think is the grieving process that everyone's been going through this past year. It's been a challenging year."

But Van Thillo is ready for a new year with the festival offering mostly virtual online screenings but with the addition of a few drive-in events where people can at least come together in their cars and see films on the big screen and even enjoy live music for a pop up drive-in event at the Westfield Mission Valley mall parking lot.

Not being able to hold in-person events, however, has been a challenge because ticket sales to the festival and other screening events were a key way to generate income. Virtual ticket sales are not as high as in-person ones. Plus many film distributors ask for what is known as geo-restrictions on virtual screenings. This means the festival can no longer serve audiences south of the border because virtual tickets are often only allowed for San Diego area residents.

Van Thillo said, "We've lost close to $500,000 in our annual budget this past year, which is just incredible that we're still standing and talking to you right now and that we're going to have a film festival. But thanks to federal support, PPP loans, city support, state support, we're still able to provide the programming. And we were very strong."

There have been some silver linings.

"One of the exciting things that did happen during the festival was these virtual livestreams and the ability to connect with filmmakers from all over the world," Van Thillo explained. "They were in Europe and then South America, Mexico, it was just incredible to get them on and have that dialogue. And so I do believe one positive thing this past year is learning how to have these live streams, this communication, this dialogue, because, again, it's not the same thing, but you still feel that sense of connection with the filmmakers, which I think they so badly need too. They want to see their work out there and they want to discuss their film."

The 28th San Diego Latino Film Festival runs March 11 through 21.

I will have recommendations for top films to check out next week when I speak with festival programmer Moises Esparza and interview some of the filmmakers.