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Arts & Culture

Festival Look Back: San Diego Latino Film Festival

"El Infierno" from the San Diego Latino Film Festival.
Bandidos Films
"El Infierno" from the San Diego Latino Film Festival.

Another Year Wraps Up

The San Diego Latino film Festival closed last night. Guest blogger Mukul Khurana takes a look back on the event.

If there is one thing that stood out at the 19th annual San Diego Latino Film Festival, it is that SDLFF has come of age--the production values across the board were a far cry from the student roots of the festival. The content has almost always been good. However, quality has often lagged behind. Those days, it seems, are over.

Case in point (and also a "coming of age" of sorts), is the romance film "Mamitas" directed by Nicholas Ozeki. Incredibly well acted by E.J. Bonilla and Veronica Diaz, watch for these two names to come up often in the future. Likewise, "Hecho en USA I" the first program of shorts was a pleasure to watch. The first day of offerings was rounded off with the Spanish comedy "Para Que Sirve un Oso?" This excellent film, directed by Tom Fernandez stars Javier Camara and Geraldine Chaplin (yes, related to Charles Chaplin). And that was just the beginning!


"Borders on Film" was another program of shorts from around the world. It delivered more of that mentioned quality production values. The evening felt complete with an entry from Puerto Rico, "Under my Nails" directed by Ari Manuel Cruz. This intense movie about sex and obsession was very ably acted by Kisha Tikina Burgos and Ivan Camillo. It does, however, leave you with a creepy feeling for the second day.

The weekend was a continuation of the strange and supernatural feeling with "El Paramo." Skillfully directed by Jaime Osorio Marquez, this Colombian movie kept up the suspense level to a high degree. Essentially, the story reveloves around a group of soldiers who find a military compound deserted and all the soldiers who had been stationed there dead. Oh yeah, and there is this woman who has been walled up... Totally different, "Bollywood Dream" was the story of three Brazilian women who decide to take their acting careers to India in order to break into Bollywood. As one of the actresses puts it, "Since there are 800 films being made every year..." Directed by Beatriz Seigner, this entertaining film delves into Indian dance and mythology. It is not the same movie coming out that we expect going in.

"Cortos Mexicanos" and "Captive Beauty" (Colombia) were Sunday viewings that demanded attention. "Captive Beauty" directed by Jared Goodman, had an interesting premise--women jailed for various crimes participate in a beauty pageant. Chilling at times, the prison becomes something that we wouldn't expect for a week of festivities.

The workweek began but there was no end in sight for serious film afficionados. "Cortos Internacionales" took an international look at the art of delivering a visual message in a short amount of time. On a Monday came another standout film--"La Otra Familia" directed by Gustavo Loza, the story of Hendrix, a cute but brave boy who is badly neglected by a drug addicted mother. But he gets temporarily adopted by a loving gay couple (played by Jorge Salinas and Luis R. Guzman). The film also stars the lovely Ana Serradilla, in attendance at the festival to promote the film.

For a total change of pace, the next day featured "Cine'Mation Shorts." The diversity and scope of the animation was breathtaking (mind you, this wasn't animation for children). In one, "Eso Te Pasa Por Barroco" by Pablo Serrano Rosillo, dinner takes on a nasty dimension. On the other hand, "Unfinished Spaces" a Cuban/American documentary directed by Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray, portrayed something we don't see often. It was the story of three architects commissioned by Castro to create Cuba's National Art Schools. What were the philosophies that manifested themselves in physical structures? "Viento en Contra" directed by Walter Doehner and starring Barbara Mori, was a Mexican entry done very Hollywood style. However, this thriller was compelling with a carefully structured and plausible story. You never saw it coming.


Midweek, "El Infierno" directed by Luis Estrada, was not the most original theme. But, this story about Benny Garcia (Demian Alcazar), goes a long way into explaining the mentality that has allowed crime to flourish south of the border. Corruption and greed rule in this black and brutal movie (and no, it didn't stop the audience from laughing). "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!" is the moral of the story of this narcotraffic darkly comic satire. And another surprising standout film came from Argentina--"Un Cuento Chino" directed by Sebastian Borensztein and featuring Ricardo Darin, was a comedy about a lonely hardware store owner and a Chinese immigrant named Jun. It starts with a cow landing on Jun's fiancee!

On Thursday, "Cine Experimental" took center stage. From the brilliant 11 minute short by Victor Carrey, "La Huida" to the rambling 22 minute "Walt Disney Square" from Brazil, all kinds of tones and styles were allowed free rein. The week ended with "Cortes Espanoles" a collection of shorts from Spain. As usual, Spain delivered thoughtful and technically perfect shorts with an edge. "Amador" directed by Fernando Leon de Aranoa, was a continuation of that quirky Spanish style. Marcela (Megala Solier) is hired to take care of the dying Amador (Celso Bugallo). She does this so that her future with her husband is assured. But life has other plans for her.

The last weekend of the 11 day festival, contained other gems and surprises. If the "El Mundo Extrano" sidebar took us on a journey into the strange and supernatural then "Paraiso for Sale" (directed by Anayansi Prado) took us on another journey. The Panamanian documentary is about low property values and American retirees. Corporations and people with money pitted against a poor indigenous population--guess who is winning?

A powerful ending to a great festival run: "Hecho en USA II" (shorts made in America), "Reportero" (a documentary by Bernardo Ruiz about the drug war just across the border in Tijuana), and "Agnus Dei: Lamb of God" (a documentary by Alejandra Sanchez about sexual abuse perpetuated by a priest) were the serious subjects presented on closing day Sunday, March 18..

This is just a short synopsis of highlights at the San Diego Latino Film Festival.

Mukul Khurana has been covering film festivals in San Diego for over a decade. His background is in Comparative Literature, which he studied at San Diego State University and America Studies, with minors in Media Communications and Political Science, which he studied at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. He is passionate about art and culture and has followed music and theater on the San Diego scene since moving to California. He can be reached at