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Arts & Culture

21st San Diego Latino FIlm Festival Promises Some Good Fare

Roberto Bermudez (Ricordo Darin) trying to solve a murder in "Thesis on a Homicide" from Argentina
courtesy still
Roberto Bermudez (Ricordo Darin) trying to solve a murder in "Thesis on a Homicide" from Argentina

Good Alternative For Mid-Week films

Offerings at the 21st San Diego Latino Film Festival promise more variety than what's currently in theaters. Guest blogger Rebecca Romani has suggestions.

If you have looked at the rundowns at some of the local cinemas lately, it seems to be a toss-up between Oscar nominees and action films. In other words, last year’s releases plus some explosions.

How about looking elsewhere?


If you’re searching for a little more diversity, you might want to check out the largest and longest running Latino Film Festival in the US, happening right here in San Diego from now until Sunday, March 23.

From stylish thrillers to touching comedies and a wide variety of choices in between, this year’s SDLFF offers some satisfying alternatives to the common cinema fare.

“It’s a little schizophrenic,” admits the festival’s Director of Programming, Glenn Heath. “There’s a little bit of something for everyone.”

Heath has been quite pleased with this year’s turnout, with full houses for many of the films being show last weekend.

“We expect some sellouts this week as well," Heath said.


Heath considers the animated feature, “Anina," from Uruguay and Colombia to be a sleeper film.

“It’s a great film for kids and for the family,” he said. “It’s got great visuals and kids will love it.”

Uruguay’s official entry into the Oscars, “Anina” tells the story of ten year old Anina Yatay Salas, cursed or blessed depending on how you see it, with a name that reads as a palindrome from one end to the other. She is also not as in love with her name as her father is and gets in trouble standing up to her classmates who tease her for it. When Anina and her nemesis receive a mysterious punishment for a playground scuffle, Anina learns a valuable lesson about who people might really be on the inside.

What filmgoers might also love is the stylish neo-noir film from Argentina, “Thesis On a Homicide,” shot in glorious noir style and tautly delivered. Argentine star Ricardo Darín plays Roberto Bermudez, an intense lawyer-turned law professor with a penchant for trying to solve other people’s cases. When a young woman’s beaten body is discovered on campus, Bermudez’ mind quickly goes to work, homing in on one of his young students, son of a former friend, whom he suspects of being the murderer. As Bermudez sets up the unsuspecting sister of the dead girl as bait, he may become caught in a Hitchcock like trap, with his career, his reputation and his sanity on the line.

In a lighter and utterly charming vein this week is also “El Paseo 2,” from Colombia. John Leguizamo stars as Lucho, the slightly nerdy dad of a rather sexy little family, whose dearest wish is to take his family on a family vacation. When wife Gloria’s striking ex-boyfriend shows up, Lucho goes into overdrive- trying everything to make this a memorable vacation for his wife, kids and irascible mother-in-law.

The San Diego Latino Film Festival is known for some hard-hitting documentaries and this week’s line-up is no exception. A number of them are festival stand-outs. including “Cesar’s Last Fast,” highly recommended by both Heath and Ethan Van Thillo, executive director and founder of the festival. “Cesar’s Last Fast” examines Cesar Chavez’s last protest, a 36 day fast in 1988 to bring attention to the use of pesticides in the field’s and their effects on farm workers. Other documentaries not to be missed are included in the Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB) Showcase. “Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle” plays several times during the week. Salazar, a well-known Chicano journalist who covered the Chicano Movement in the 1960’s, died under mysterious circumstances at the hands of L.A. law enforcement. Forty-four years after his death, this documentary looks at Salazar’s life and work while seeking out why Salazar died in the middle of a remarkable career.

The SDLFF always features a number of showcases and one of its most provocative is the Cine Gay showcase. This year Cine Gay takes on transgender issues, same-sex marriage and being undocumented in a number of features that screen through the week. One of the most moving and thought-provoking pieces is “Quebranto,” the story of Fernando Garcia, once a promising child actor in Mexican movies in the 1970’s now living on the margins as a transvestite named Coral. Not an easy to film watch, nonetheless, it is an amazing portrait of someone determined to live out his chosen identity and the mother who wants the best for him.

Same-sex marriage and being illegal doesn’t seem a natural fit in the US, but in the Canadian film, “Margarita,” (see review), the characters don’t seem to bat an eye as Margarita, a Lesbian Mexican nanny facing deportation, gets not one but four marriage proposals. Which person will Margarita choose?

Last but not least, Van Thillo highly recommends the Cuban Film Showcase. Not many Americans hop over the border to take the plane from Tijuana to Cuba. Likewise, not that many Cuban films slip across the ocean and into American cinemas- both probably in part because of the American embargo of Cuba. This year, the SDLFF is paying homage to one of the masters of Cuban film, Daniel Diaz Torres, known for his wickedly funny, discrete satires of Cuban society, politics and social structure. Three of Diaz Torres’ films are showing throughout the week, including his last film, “La Pelicula de Ana,” a perceptive satire of the Cuban film industry. Diaz Torres passed away at the end of 2013 from cancer.

The San Diego Latino Film Festival continues through Sunday, March 23rd with two major venues, the Digiplex in Hazard Center and the Digital Gym on El Cajon Boulevard in North Park. Please see the SDLFF website for times and locations.