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San Diego Filipino Film Festival returns for second year

Following fast on the heels of the San Diego Italian Film Festival's opening is the arrival of the second annual San Diego Filipino Film Festivalat AMC Otay Ranch Town Center.

The San Diego Italian Film Festival and the San Diego Filipino Film Festival (SDFFF) are all about creating a sense of community around film. SDFFF was founded by filmmakers Emma Francisco and Benito Bautista to raise awareness for Filipino cinema as an important art form and a tool for representation, education and entertainment.

"Because we are Filipino filmmakers, half of our experience and our culture is hospitality," Bautista said. "That's what we do. We welcome strangers into our house."

But that house happens to be a cinema showcasing films from around the globe and across the U.S. that highlight the Filipino experience.

This year the festival showcases 69 shorts, features and documentaries.

Marie Jamora
Marie Jamora's "Harana" is one of the opening night shorts at San Diego Filipino Film Festival.

In a change of pace from most festivals, SDFFF will open Wednesday night with a slate of shorts.

"Emma said that we want to change the format of the opening film and we want to celebrate the filmmakers that didn't stop during COVID," Bautista explained. "So Emma said, we are going to celebrate the short form. We have the narrative shorts [that] talk about love, about modern day love, about history, of war, remains of war. These are jury nominated short films."

Music Box Films
Martika Ramirez Escobar's inventive fantasy "Leonor Will Never Die" will have a San Diego premiere at the San Diego Filipino Film Festival.

The centerpiece film (screening Oct. 15) is the wildly inventive "Leonor Will Never Die" from Martika Ramirez Escobar. I had the pleasure of watching this at virtual Sundance earlier this year and am thrilled it will have a San Diego premiere at the festival.

Francisco and Bautista were also watching the film at virtual Sundanceand were texting the director, whom they had met in the Philippines earlier, to express their love for her film.

The fantastical story involves a woman who gets hit on the head by a TV, goes into a coma and then imagines she has written herself into a Philippine action film from the 1970s.

"What we love about the film is the idea of a woman Filipina filmmaker having an auteur handle about concepts and stories that are not your usual take on things. And this is coming from a young perspective and design," Bautista said.

He also wants to remind audiences that "action films in the '70s in the Philippines were big. As young kids growing up, everyone idolized action stars."

Toho Company
The late Marilou Diaz-Abaya's "Karnal" (1983) will be the retrospective film at the San Diego Filipino Film Festival.

But if you are not familiar with Filipino action films then you will still understand the power of pop culture to capture our imaginations. The film is an absolute delight and a lot more fun with an audience than watching from home at an online festival.

The festival not only highlights new films, but also pays homage to the past. This year there’s a retrospective screening of the late Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s "Karnal" from 1983.

"I want the audience to be curious about her work," Bautista said. "Her husband was the cinematographer, and her husband said, 'Why don't you direct the film?' And nervous and challenged, she did, and she did very well."

Stefanos Tai's "We Don't Dance for Nothing" is the closing night film for the second annual San Diego Filipino Film Festival.

The festival closes on Oct. 18 with Stefanos Tai's "We Don't Dance for Nothing." The film offers a portrait of a Filipina domestic worker in Hong Kong. She tells us her story in fragments and visually we get still images intercut with occasional flurries of dance. It gives us an intimate perspective on life and opens audiences' eyes to people who can sometimes seem invisible.

As a filmmaker himself, Bautista wants the festival to support other filmmakers and the festival does that through its Film Market and Filmmersion programs. Film Market helps to connect filmmakers with distributors, while Filmmersion offers master classes and mentorship possibilities. It also addresses some generational prejudice against aspiring filmmakers. Bautista hopes to convince parents that a career in the arts is possible for their children.

"They can see that a filmmaker can have a voice and a filmmaker can be economically sustainable, that a filmmaker can create impactful stories that we can learn from," Bautista said.

The second annual San Diego Filipino Film Festival runs through Oct. 18 with a diverse array of films to entertain audiences.

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I cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.
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