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Arts & Culture

21st Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival Heads Toward Strong Finish

Juan Roa Sierra contemplates a move that will change the direction of Colombia's history forever, in "Roa."
Juan Roa Sierra contemplates a move that will change the direction of Colombia's history forever, in "Roa."

What To See This Weekend

While other Latino film festivals in the United States seem to be falling (temporary) victim to funding shortages, the San Diego Latino Film Festival (SDLFF) is going strong with five screens spread between two venues.

Across the country, many film festivals have experienced difficulties staying open. The Los Angeles Latino Film Festival recently skipped a year and the New York Latino Film Festival, which launched so many films and careers, is now dark.

As the SDLFF heads into the completion of its 21st year, executive director and founder Ethan Van Thillo paused for moment to consider what keeps the oldest Latino film festival in the U.S. running.


In part, Van Thillo said, “it’s the year-round programming, the education workshops and the constant presence in the community.”

Film festivals by themselves are hard to maintain, Van Thillo said, “they pass so quickly and it’s hard to keep staff on through the year.”

The San Diego Latino Film Festival tweets about the exciting weekend finale to its 21st year, March 21, 2014.

What the SDLFF does differently from its sister festivals, according to Van Thillo, is maintain a growing community presence through their recently relocated space, The Digital Gym, which moved from Golden Hill to its current location on El Cajon Boulevard.

The new space, Van Thillo said, allows the festival to continue to show independent film from a variety of sources year round and to run a steady stream of workshops designed for community learners interested in getting more hands-on production instruction.


“We have a commitment to the local community and are geared towards local viewers,” Van Thillo said. “The community sees that and respects it.”

And this year, that commitment seems to be paying off. Multiple screenings have sold out, and this weekend promises to be no different.

If you’re planning to see some of the festival’s more popular offerings, organizers suggest you either come very early or buy tickets online.

This weekend's offerings continue the themes of diversity and surprising stories that dominated the early days of the festival.

As can be expected, documentaries about life on the border have been especially popular. This weekend, several of the strongest ones are screening again.

The 21st annual San Diego Latino Film Festival wraps up Sunday, March 23. Please check the San Diego Latino Film Festival for the sites and times of the mentioned films and more.

The 21st annual San Diego Latino Film Festival wraps up Sunday, March 23. Please check the San Diego Latino Film Festival for the sites and times of the above-mentioned films and others.

  • “Cesar’s Last Fast,” the documentary about Cesar Chavez and his last public protest in 1988 to bring attention to the plight of farm laborers working in pesticide-covered fields, has sold out every time it has screened. Advanced tickets are highly recommended for this documentary, sanctioned by the Chavez family and featuring interviews by such Chicano icons as Dolores Huerta.
  • One of the least expected, and perhaps intriguing documentary subjects is the focus of the Latino Public Broadcasting documentary, “Las Marthas.” Who would have thought that the border towns of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo would host a George Washington celebration complete with Colonial Ball, let alone for 116 years? Award-winning filmmaker Cristina Ibarra follows festival preparations of two debutantes over the year it takes to get ready for this extraordinary celebration on the Texas-Mexico border.
  • The hybrid documentary/recreation, "Who Is Dayani Crystal?" has played to sold-out houses during the week. Starring popular Mexican film star Gael Garcia Bernal, the film is based on the true story of the Arizona medical examiner’s office investigating the mysterious death of a border crosser with the words “Dayani Cristal” tattooed across his chest.
  • Based on several true stories but still within the borders of fiction is “Avenues,” the moving first major feature from Aaref Rodriguez (see interview). “Avenues” is the subtly told story of Saul, a gang member recently released back into East Los Angeles after serving 10 years for homicide. How Saul must navigate his new life and what ultimately happens to him makes this film stand apart from the usual Latino gang films currently making the rounds.
  • One of the more unusual bio-pics in the festival is “Roa,” directed by Andres Baz, about the assassination of Bogota Mayor and popular presidential candidate, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, in the late 1940’s, a killing that echoes in the current conflicts in Colombia today. Who really killed Gaetan? Who was behind the accused assassin, Juan Roa Sierra (beautifully played by Mauricio Puentes)? Shot in gorgeous, velvet tones, “Roa” is a stunning period piece that suggests that history can turn on even the slightest of hesitations.
  • Looking for something fun to finish out the weekend? Spain might have just the thing. An interesting twist on the chick flick, “Una Pistola in cada mano” features the interlocking stories of several men at various crossroads in their relationships. Starring some of the top men in Latin Cinema today, Javier Cámara, Ricardo Darín, Eduardo Noriega, Luis Tosar, “Una Pistola” is a sly commentary on modern relationships. From G., who gets unexpected advice from his wife’s lover about how to make her happy to P. and L., who have started to find bedding their lovers a challenge, shall we say, “Una Pistola” is a fun but sympathetic romp through the complicated world of love.