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Arts & Culture

16th Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival: Film Highlights

The 16th San Diego Latino Film Festival kicked off last night with films, music, and a gala party. Now we can get down to the business of seeing films. Here are a few suggestions for what you might want to seek out and mini-reviews of some of the films that I had a chance to screen in advance. All films are at the UltraStar Mission Valley Theaters at Hazard Center.

Tonight docs are what's hot. At 6:30 you can catch "The Devil's Breath," a work by local filmmakers:

Here's the description from FaceBook: "In October 2007 the worst firestorm in San Diego history claimed 11 lives and injured dozens of people. The world watched as 7 fires spread throughout the county fueled by fierce, Santa Ana winds. Those gusts are referred to as 'The Devil's Breath.' Seven of the victims who died in the Harris Fire, were undocumented people from different parts of Mexico, including three women, who were making a dangerous and illegal trek through the rugged mountains of San Diego's east county when they suddenly became trapped in the storm's path."


There will also be a screening of "The Garden" at 7:30, Scott Hamilton Kennedy's documentary was nominated for an Oscar this year and it follows the plight of a group of farmers who struggled to keep an urban garden in Los Angeles. The film shows the farmers not only up against City Hall and a wealthy developer but also in conflict with other community groups. The film follows this struggle to its bitter end and offers an inspiring story of how people can learn to voice their opinions, organize and try to get their story told.

Also tonight is Carlos Saura's documentary Fados at 6:00 pm. Under the musical supervision of Carlos do Carmo, the film explores Fados' evolution over the years from its African and Brazilian origins up to the new wave of modern Fadistas.

Also a quick note on some special programs. There will be the 3rd Annual Cine'Mation, Un Mundo Extrano, Cine Mujer, Frontera Filmmakers, the 4th Annual Cine Gay, the 3rd Annual Borders on Film, and the country of focus is Spain for this year's Hecho en Espana: A Celebration of Spanish Cinema.

Now to the feature film recommendations...

Amor, Dolor, Y Viceversa (Love, Pain and Vice Versa)


Saturday, March 21, 7:00 PM

Sunday, March 22, 12:00 PM

(México/Spain, Spanish with English subtitles)

Barbara Mori plays a young women who dreams of the perfect lover. But she's determined to find out if he exists so she pretends to be raped and then has a police sketch artist draw the man of her dreams. Now imagine what happens when he's brought in for questioning and reveals that he's been having nightmares about her. That's the twisted basis for this dark, romantic thriller. Mori starred in an equally twisting tale of romance last year, Ugly Me, but that film ending with sweet satisfaction. There's nothing sweet here but it's wickedly satisfying.

Angels, Inc.

Saturday, March 14, 11:00 am

Saturday, March 21, 1:30 pm

(Spain, Spanish with English subtitles)

This one sounds intriguing as a man dies and goes to heaven, only to discover that because of an administration mistake, his own daughter has never been assigned a guardian angel. So the man decides to go back to earth himself and become an "angel" to aid his daughter.

Bajo La Sal

Saturday, March 14, 7:00 pm

Wednesday, March 18, 9:45 pm

(Mexico, Spanish with English subtitles)

A series of murders in which young women are the victims leads Commander Trujillo to Santa Rosa de la Sal, a small town near a salt mine. Bodies start showing up in the snowy mountains of salt renewing interest in cases that have remained opened for many months. Victor Zepeda is a teenager who becomes involved in the case. He works in his father's mortuary where some of the bodies are brought. But he's also been following the murders in the press and has been creating a bizarre stop action animated horror film using Barbie-like dolls to depict a vicious serial killer. Director Mario Munoz creates a taut procedural thriller with some innovative horror elements.

Before The Fall

Sunday, March 15, 7:30 pm

Thursday, March 19, 10:15 pm

(Spain, Spanish with English subtitles)

A meteor is about to hit earth and basically annihilate the planet. Heroic efforts to save earth may be going on somewhere on the planet but not in the small Spanish town where Ale lives. Here it's small scale panic with people fleeing but without much purpose - I mean where do you run to escape a meteor hitting earth? This is no Hollywood Armageddon with Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck trying to out stud each other. Instead, director Javier Gutiérrez gives us a mostly effects free film that creates an intimate but intense drama about what's important in life even as the world is about to end. Global annihilation fades into the backdrop as Ale has to protect his brother's family from a convict who has just broken out of prison and vowed revenge. Such emotions may seem petty with only 72 hours to live but that's what makes this film interesting and fresh. Antonio Banderas produced this award-winning film.

El Cant Dels Ocells

Thursday, March 19, 6:00 pm

(Spain/Portugal, with Portuguese subtitles)

The Three Wise Kings travel in search of the Messiah who has just been born. Okay this is not a prequel to Monty Python's Life of Brian but it has a strange tone that's hard to define. It is sometimes silly, sometimes funny -both intentionally and not - and yet it is often luminously beautiful in its crisp black and white images. Filmmaker Albert Serra employs hardly any dialogue in this strangely compelling experimental work.

Conozca La Cabeza De Juan Pérez

Friday, March 13, 7:00 pm

Saturday, March 14, 10:15 pm

Sunday, March 15, 9:45 pm

(México, Spanish with English subtitles)

This description hooked me: "Away from his body, the severed head of Juan Pérez the Great (a low life magician) recalls what led him to ‘lose his head'." This I have to see! So if you feel like gambling on a horror comedy, this one is it!

Los Cronocrimenes/Timecrimes

Friday, March 13, 10:00 pm

Tuesday, March 17, 10:00pm

Friday, March 20, 9:45 pm

(Mexico, Spanish with English subtitles)

Filmmaker Nacho Vigolando spins a weird and wild tale about a man who finds himself in a time machine and travels back in time a mere hour. But that's time enough to create utter chaos in his life and a plot that exponentially spins out of control. Tense and funny, this one provides a great ride.

El Cuerno De La Abundancia

Monday, March 16, 10:30 pm

Saturday, March 21, 7:30 pm

Sunday, March 22, 6:00 pm

(Cuba / Spain, Spanish with English subtitles, Comedy, Feature Narrative)

I got hooked on Cuban comedies a few years back at the festival so I'm willing to gamble on this comedy by award-winning director Carlos Tabío. The cast includes Paula Ali, Laura de la Uz, Enrique Molina, Jorge Perugorria, and Yoima Valdes.

Cyrano Fernández

Wednesday, March 18, 10:30 pm

Friday, March 20, 10:15 pm

Sunday, March 22, 8:30 pm

(Venezuela, Spanish with English subtitles)

Edgar Ramírez plays the title character in a retelling of the classic tale of Cyrano de Bergerac.

Desierto Adentro

Wednesday, March 17, 7:30 pm / s2

Friday / 3 / 20 / 6:00 pm / s6

(México, Spanish with English subtitles)

This film was spotlighted in a closing night showcase at Cannes' Critics Week. Director Rodrigo Pla's La Zona was a Best Fest Winner at SDLFF '08. Based on that previous film, I will definitely be checking this one out.

GB 2525

Thursday, March 19, 8:30 pm

Saturday, March 21, 10:30 pm

(USA, English, Sci-Fi)

An indie video sci-fi set in a dark, futuristic landscape where a gang truce is broken. Filmmakers Jojo Henrickson and Kieron Estrada will be in the house to make this a more memorable night.

The tag line for the film: "In the future, the only things that have changed... are the weapons."

O Pai O

Sunday, March 15, 8:30 pm

Thursday, March 19, 8:00 pm

(Brazil, Portuguese with English subtitles)

It's Carnival time in the historic site of Pelourinho (Salvador, Bahia, Brazil), and we follow a group of characters through a series of comic, romantic and tragic events. The film has a little of Slumdog's vibe in that it captures the gritty and the lyrical side by side, finding both beauty and tragedy amidst the poverty. And like a Bollywood film, people tend to just break out into song on the streets. Vibrant, fun, and ultimately deeply moving O Pai O has a rhythm that's hard to resist.

Perro Come Perro

Tuesday, March 17, 8:00 pm

Friday, March 20, 10:30 pm

Sunday, March 22,10:30 pm

(Colombia. Spanish with English subtitles)

A gritty Colombian gangster flick - with humor! "nuff said, I'm there.



Saturda, March 14, 8:00 pm

Sunday, March 15,10;30 pm

(Chile, Spanish with English subtitles, Fantasy, Feature Narrative)

Santos concerns a failed comic book artist living in a parallel universe where he becomes a superhero who must save the world. Too bad he wasn't able to appear in Before the Fall then things might have turned out different. This might be one for fanboys.

Silent Light

Friday, March 13, 5:00 pm

Saturday, March 14, 6:00 pm

(México, German with English subtitles)

From the acclaimed director of Batalla En El Cielo and Japon, comes another challenging and compelling work of art. Filmmaker Carlos Reygadas makes exquisite use of cinematic space and natural light as he carefully composes each frame of this remarkable and quiet epic. Set in Northern México's isolated Mennonite community, the film focuses on a husband and father of seven as he struggles with his love for his wife and his mistress. There's a beautiful order and symmetry to many of Reygadas' images that contrasts with the emotional turmoil and lack of order in his characters' lives. This is a gorgeous, transcendent, and monumental work that deserves to be seen on the big screen. The ending on this one will take you by surprise.

Sin Nombre

Friday, March 13, 8:00 pm

(México, Spanish with English subtitles)

Cary Joji Fukunaga's first feature film is in the vein of City of God as it follows young men ensnared in a violent and criminal culture, and the women who love them. Stunningly shot, the film captures the harsh contrasts of the gang world. Executive produced by Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna.

Sleep Dealer

Saturday, March 14, 10:00 pm

Monday, March 16, 10:30 pm

(U.S.A., Spanish with English subtitles, Sci-Fi)

Already being labeled a "cult classic," this indie sci-fi flick sounds great. It won acclaim at both the 2008 Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals.

Sultanes Del Sur

Sunday, March 15, 10:15 pm

Wednesday, March 18, 7:00 pm

(México, 98 min., Spanish with English subtitles)

And finally let me highlight a heist film that sounds promising. In this case, a band of thieves steals millions from a Mexican bank but along the way the scheme turns bad.