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Arts & Culture

San Diego Filipino Film Festival kicks off inaugural event

San Diego Filipino Film Festival
"The Fabulous Filipino Brothers," the feature directing debut of Dante Basco, has its San Diego premiere at the inagural San Diego Filipino Film Festival.

New festival showcases 40 films in person and more online

October is Filipino American History Month so it’s the perfect time for San Diego Filipino Cinema to launch its first ever San Diego Filipino Film Festival.

When Benito Bautista and Emma Francisco started making films more than a decade ago, they felt like they had no platform to show their work. When they arrived in San Diego in 2015 they decided to make a difference to both the Filipino and filmmaking communities. So they founded San Diego Filipino Cinema in 2018.

San Diego Filipino Film Festival kicks off inaugural event
Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

"Our mission is to discover and exhibit compelling films from the global Filipino filmmakers to the diverse community in San Diego," said executive director and co-founder Bautista.

San Diego Filipino Film Festival makes its debut

This week the nonprofit takes a historic step and launches the first ever San Diego Filipino Film Festival. The ambitious inaugural event will showcase more than 40 films in person and another 30 online.

"What we're excited about is that we have given San Diego sort of a platform to see and be curious and find out what we have globally, because there are a lot of Filipinos globally," Bautista said. "And the experience of a Filipino in Africa or the Philippines or California may not be the same."

But sometimes there are common threads especially among the short films.


"I think the common thread with all the films is about family life, Filipino family life," said Francisco, who is in charge of programming for the festival. "And living in the U.S., their frustrations with their parents not supporting them as artists. That's always there, but also we have fresh new voices that we're excited about not only talking about familiar issues but also about something different just for the sake of telling a good story."

The festival and San Diego Filipino Cinema provide an opportunity to not just showcase fresh voices but also to support filmmakers.

"That's really what we're excited about," Francisco added. "Hopefully to inspire young filmmakers to share their own stories and hopefully give them the tools that they need in order to be a sustainable filmmaker."

But putting on a festival for the first time can be challenging.

"We are inspired, but we're nervous because this is a test," Bautista said. "We wanted to see if we can engage the community in participating in familiar stories or stories that they've never heard or stories moving forward that are coming from a younger generation talking to them. But we don't know, we don't know how they are going to engage. Will they come running to theater, that would be awesome, or will they not go."

Francisco added, "Benito and I have dreamt about this for a long time since we were into Philippines filming our films and watching the audience, how films made such an impact to them."

Bautista sees that impact too.

"I see the transformative impact of cinema and how we can actually change our motivation for existence because of the things that we see and we hear, especially when the filmmaker is there and then we learn about the process and the meaning and the subtext that are embedded in the film that has been made," Bautista explained. "It's a shared humanity. We share the same emotions."

Thursday is opening night and the awards gala will be held Oct. 18 be at the Mingei Museum in Balboa Park. Cristina Godinez is corporate and community liaison for the museum, which recently completely elaborate renovations and now open to the public.

"I'm excited to use this opportunity to show other arts and culture nonprofit organizations that this space belongs to them," Godinez said. "It's not just about the Mingei. It's about sharing the space with everyone."

The museum has a special Community Monday program where they open up the new screening room and meeting space for free to nonprofits that don't have venues of their own.

San Diego Filipino Film Festival
The rock and roll documentary "Fanny: The Right to Rock" will open the first ever San Diego Filipino Film Festival.

The opening night film is a rock 'n' roll documentary called "Fanny."

"It's a band of Philippine American women in the '60s and '70s based in Sacramento. And they were rock musicians like the Rolling Stones, but they were never recognized by the American music industry because of the color of their skin," said Bautista. "We also have a special work in progress screening of 'A Long March' by Tammy Botkin. I'm one of the co-producers of this film. It's a feature documentary about the story of the Filipino U.S. Army veterans of World War II, and again, they were not recognized after the war."

Bautista is thrilled to finally be showing films in person again because there’s a magic to watching movies in a cinema together.

"The reason is because we might be four people in the theater. But we share the fluctuations and the emotional ups and downs of the film," Bautista said. "And I'm excited to experience that with audience as they watch the film as we watch the films."

San Diego Filipino Film Festival will attract far more than four people with its diverse selection of films. It is a welcome addition to San Diego’s rich array of film festivals and offers a wonderful complement to our San Diego Asian Film Festival (San Diego Filipino Cinema has worked with Pac-Arts over the years) by allowing even greater representation of a Filipino perspective.

The festival runs Oct. 14 through Oct. 19 in a mix of virtual and in-person events taking place at the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park and AMC Otay Ranch Theaters.