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Arts & Culture

Fall In San Diego Is For Film Festivals

Charles Bronson stars in Sergio Leone's epic spaghetti western "Once Upon A Time in the West," which screens Oct. 11 at the 12th Annual San Diego Italian Film Festival.
Charles Bronson stars in Sergio Leone's epic spaghetti western "Once Upon A Time in the West," which screens Oct. 11 at the 12th Annual San Diego Italian Film Festival.

A preview of San Diego’s upcoming film festivals

GI Film Fest 2018 San Diego Sizzle Reel

Fall in San Diego means it’s time for film festivals of all kinds. Here’s a preview to help you plan.

I don’t know how other cities are for film festivals, but come September in San Diego and festivals stack up like a club sandwich that is too big to wrap your mouth around. In the next couple months, there will be at least five film festivals (there may even be some additional ones that I am not aware of) to tempt filmgoers off their couches.

Film festivals are generally designed for the more adventuresome filmgoer, the person who might want to see something that you can’t find anywhere else or who wants to see a film in a bigger context and with a discussion surrounding the films.


The GI Film Festival San Diego kicks off Tuesday night at the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) with two films about Japanese American soldiers during World War II. One film is a narrative short called “American” starring George Takei and the other is an hour-long documentary called “The Registry.” Takei has focused a lot of his energies recently on highlighting the Japanese American experience both in this short film and his bigger, more personal project, “Allegiance.”

The festival has a narrow thematic focus in terms of looking to films made by, for, or about veterans and those in the military but strives to reach broadly in terms of the types of films showcased. You can find documentaries as well as animated films, narrative features as well as shorts locally made films as well as ones from outside the U.S., and diversity in terms of looking to the LGBTQ, black, female and Japanese American experiences within the military. There is even one local short, “The Dark Resurgence,” that is described as a “Star Wars” fan film about the Sith Empire.

The GI Film Festival San Diego is part of a larger festival project that, as its website states: “transcends the world of film festivals by creating a true community where passionate filmmakers, our veterans and those who support them can gather for a few magical days to educate, heal and preserve the legacies of our veterans.”

San Diego is one of the cities that holds its own GI Film Festival. This year’s festival runs Sept. 25 through 30 at the Museum of Photographic Arts and the UltraStar Cinemas at Hazard Center.

Partially overlapping but mostly following on the heels of the GI Film Festival is the San Diego Italian Film Festival, now in its 12th year. The overlap occurs this Friday, Sept. 29, as the Italian Film Festival holds its kick-off for feStivale 2018 at Bread & Salt in Barrio Logan for an Italian-Mexican Festa. There will be food inspired by both cultures. Being Italian I am proud to say that the Italian Film Festival has not only always served the best food but also in abundant quantities.


The festival itself runs Oct. 3 through 14 with the Museum of Photographic Arts as home base, but with films also screening at the San Diego Natural History Museum and La Paloma Theater.

The feStivale 2018 showcases new Italian films, documentaries, as well as a retro screening of the great Sergio Leone spaghetti western epic “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968). As with the San Diego Jewish Film Festival, the Italian Festival always provides excellent conversations about the films.

The festival opens Oct. 3 at MOPA with the Manetti Brothers’ mobster musical “Ammore e malavita/Love and Bullets.” That description has me intrigued. It closes on Oct. 14 with the gorgeously animated film “Gatta Cenerentola/Cinderella the Cat.”

Programmed on top of the Italian film festival is the San Diego International Film Festival. To complicate matters even more, the San Diego International Film Festival added “International” to its name a few years ago giving it the same acronym as the longstanding San Diego Italian Film Festival. So when looking for information be aware that the festivals not just overlap but can come up together on web searches.

While the Italian feStivale 2018 is focused on films showcasing Italian culture in some way, shape or form, the San Diego International Film Festival tries to encompass anything and everything with an emphasis on getting Hollywood films before they open to a wider release and then luring celebrities down for screenings and awards. Many of the films at this festival will show up at mainstream theaters but others — especially the shorts and indie films - might be harder to track down.

The festival has added tracts of films focused on the military, Native Americans, and horses but still hasn’t quite developed a strong personality beyond throwing big parties. They do try to consistently highlight films with a social consciousness as well as films made by local filmmakers. This year they also list such themes as Illusion, When Worlds Collide, and A Stranger in a Strange Land.

The festival can claim one of the city’s most impressive cinemas as its opening night venue, the Balboa Theater downtown. But with a gorgeous old-school movie palace, it seems a bit disappointing that the opening night feature is the Melissa McCarthy real-life inspired film “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” That cinema and its large screen cry out for films like “2001” and “Lawrence of Arabia” or at the very least “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But any film is improved by that venue and the film promises to allow McCarthy a chance to act rather than just clown around.

And squeezed into October you can also find German Currents, a spread out festival that screens films two days a month September through November. You can catch it on Oct. 26 and 28 as well as Nov. 16 and 18, all at the Digital Gym Cinema. The festival cites this as its mission statement: “Movies offer an entertaining medium to explore popular culture and social trends. German Currents brings German language films to a diverse southern Californian audience and offers a venue for cross-cultural exchange.”

Then brace yourself for more tempting cinematic choices as the 19th annual San Diego Asian Film Festival rolls into town Nov. 8 through 17. More on that later.

As you can see, lots of film festival options to get you through the fall months. And if I missed listing any film festival coming up, please send me a note to let me know.