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Arts & Culture

Newly Rebranded San Diego International Film Festival Kicks Off Tonight

Devin Bonnée stars as Johnny Frank Garrett, a man wrongfully executed for murder in "Johnny Frank Garrett's Last Word."
A7SLE Films
Devin Bonnée stars as Johnny Frank Garrett, a man wrongfully executed for murder in "Johnny Frank Garrett's Last Word."

Festival finds new downtown venues

Newly Rebranded San Diego International Film Festival Kicks Off Tonight
GUESTS: Tonya Mantooth, San Diego International Film Festival executive and artistic director Beth Accomando, KPBS arts reporter

The San Diego Film Festival is going through some changes this year — both planned and unplanned. Here's a preview of the festival that runs Sept. 28 to Oct. 2.

When running a film festival, there are things you plan to do and then there are things that happen, that you simply have to react to. For the San Diego Film Festival, executive and artistic director Tonya Mantooth intended to rebrand the festival this year as the San Diego International Film Festival in order to reflect what she said, was "since we took it over five years ago we really felt it was important to have a strong international presence and we've always programmed international films and that has continued to grow over the five years to the point that we really felt like it was time to put that name in our brand. We received 2,000 submissions from 65 countries so we have a strong representation as far as foreign films are concerned."

Mantooth programmed three films from Spain including Pedro Almodóvar's "Julieta," Helena Taberna's "The Cliff," and Julio Medem's "Mama," starring Penelope Cruz. San Diego does have a Latino Film Festival that focuses on countries such as Spain but Mantooth said she does not see the events as competing with each other because they occur at different times of the year when different films are available. She said she hopes to partner with festivals like the San Diego Latino and San Diego Asian Film Festivals in the future. This year, she is partnering with the San Diego Jewish Film Festival and FilmOut on screenings.

But Mantooth also had to deal with the unexpected closure of their home base theater, Reading's Gaslamp. Finding venues is always difficult for film festivals but the San Diego International Film Festival was able to essentially just move down the street. They now will have their opening night at the historic and gorgeous Balboa Theater and also make use of the Regal Horton Plaza Cinemas, as well as The Geoffrey Off Broadway.

Opening the festival at the Balboa tonight is "Other People." Written and directed by Chris Kelly and starring Molly Shannon, it concerns a comedy writer who moves to Sacramento to help his sick mother.

Caitlin Stasey and Lucas Neff play a young couple who get more than they bargained for in "Fear, Inc."
Electric Entertainment
Caitlin Stasey and Lucas Neff play a young couple who get more than they bargained for in "Fear, Inc."

As a fan of horror, I was happy to see that genre represented by Vincent Masciale's "Fear, Inc." and Simon Rumley's "Johnny Frank Garrett's Last Word." Rumley is a British filmmaker who has delivered some effectively offbeat entries into the genre with films such as "Red, White, and Blue" and "The Living and the Dead." With "Last Word" he turns to a real life case of a young man executed for the murder of a nun. The man, Johnny Frank Garrett, insisted on his innocence and with his dying breath he cursed all those who had anything to do with his execution. Then people connected to the case began dying off. That is all true. What Rumley does is take those real life events and present them as something more of a supernatural tale of a curse from beyond the grave. In an odd way, the film also serves as a social commentary about justice, or the lack there of, in America's legal system where politics and the media can play a substantial role.

There is also a horror short from a local San Diego filmmaker, Michael Lewis Foster, who will present the world premiere of "Hush," a disturbing tale of a mother and her son.

The festival concludes on Sunday and one of the more interactive events will be the screening of the documentary, "Ants on a Shrimp" by Maurice Dekkers of the Netherlands. The documentary is about food and opening a restaurant so following the screening there will be three chefs cooking up tasty tidbits for people to sample and then participating in a Q&A panel.

The San Diego International Film Fest runs tonight through Sunday at multiple downtown venues.

A complete film schedule is available online.

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