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Arts & Culture

14th Annual San Diego Film Fest In Full Swing

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Festival debuts new Social Justice Initiative

San Diego Film Festival Preview
San Diego Film Festival Preview
KPBS film critic Beth Accomando previews the San Diego Film Festival.

ANCHOR INTRO: The 14th annual San Diego Film Festival kicked off last night to a sold out crowd at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando has this preview of the festival. FEST 1 (ba) Plans for this year’s San Diego Film Festival began in January and required screening thousands of entries to select the 104 final features, documentaries, and short. Tonya Mantooth, the festival’s vice president and director of programming, says this year the festival launched its Social Justice Initiative showcasing documentaries and panel discussions about important global issues. TONYA MANTOOTH: I think what we are trying to do in year four is to kind of create a voice and create our voice and really start to build something around that. The San Diego Film Festival runs through Sunday at Reading Gaslamp and La Jolla Arclight Cinemas. Beth Accomando, KPBS News.

Wednesday night the Reading Gaslamp Cinemas rolled out the red carpet for the opening night of the 14th annual San Diego Film Festival.

Festival Vice President and Director of Programming Tonya Mantooth was on the red carpet: "We are so excited. I think it’s going to be five days of amazing films. We’re going to see so many filmmakers come to San Diego and we’re so excited for them to experience the city, but then for the audience to be able to spend time with the filmmakers, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun."

Adrien Brody arrived on the red carpet and was also there to partake in a discussion after the screening of "Septembers of Shiraz," in which he co-stars with Selma Hayek. Film critic Jeffrey Lyons was on hand to moderate Wednesday night’s discussion and will be on a critics’ panel on Saturday to dispel myths about his profession.

"People think that critics are only people who look for flaws and it’s not true. I’m a movie fan. I’ve seen 30,000 movies, reviewed 15,000 and I’ll go into an Ashton Kutcher movie optimistic," Lyons said.

Mantooth is part of the new leadership team that took over the festival four years ago. She’s eager to debut a new programming block this year.

"The Social Justice Initiative, and we’re so excited about that. We’re building out a really significant panel that we are bringing in filmmakers from around the world to talk about social justice issues, specifically where documentaries are concerned," Mantooth said. "I think what we are trying to do in year four is to kind of create a voice and create our voice and really start to build something around that."

Dale Strack, CEO and chairman of the San Diego Film Foundation, which presents the festival, agreed.

"It’s finding its own personality. We’re beginning to put things into it that are definitely signature San Diego from our perspective. From our military films to our social justice initiative, also our documentaries in general are outstanding and I think the level of independent film has been unbelievable and the submissions we’ve had are a record high, which says to me filmmakers are seeing San Diego as a great place to launch their work and find an audience," Strack stated.

Audiences will also be treating to the presentation of four tribute awards, one of which is the Auteur Award going to Brit Marling.

"I’ve always respected her work," Mantooth said. "I find that she brings a lot of intelligence to whatever she is doing so whether she is writing it or producing it or acting in it she brings a certain depth to her performance. And I wanted the chance to honor her and that’s why she is the auteur award because she really does span across many aspects of the industry."

Marling represents the kind of independent filmmaker that is sometimes a hard sell to mainstream audiences. That’s why the festival is offering a special ticket bundle to entice newbies to try the festival experience with a friend.

"That way if you can’t commit to all five days and try to get the most out of a film festival pass, if that isn’t something that works for your schedule this is a chance for you to put your toe in the water, experience it and see some films you wouldn’t normally see and then hopefully come to a party as well," Mantooth explained.

But the films are the main focus.

"There’s a couple of films I want people to pay attention to and one is 'India’s Daughter' and it’s the filmmaker Leslie Udwin and it’s a really powerful documentary in our social justice tract," Mantooth said. "One thing that’s interesting this year is we had a Paramount executive that was a panelist last year and he met a young filmmaker and he thought he was a talented young man and they began to work together and since our last festival they’ve produced two feature films together and we’re premiering both of them at this year’s festival and that came out of a local filmmaker and an executive at the festival and his life changed and they have several films."

That couldn’t have scripted any better. The San Diego Film Festival runs through Sunday at the Reading Gaslamp and Arclight Cinemas.

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