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San Diego Latino Film Festival Will Be Online And At The Drive-In

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The 28th Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival kicks off March 11. It was the first film festival forced to cancel its in person event because of COVID-19. Festival founder Ethan Van Thillo shared what a year of pandemic pivoting has been like.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Last month, the 27th annual Latino film festival had to cancel its in-person event on its opening day. That was following governor Gavin Newsome's ban on large public gatherings. It was the first San Diego festival to have to cancel because of COVID-19 KPBS arts reporter. Beth Armando speaks with the festivals, founder and executive director, Ethan Von Tilo about the past year and the upcoming 28th Latino film festival

Speaker 2: 00:30 Ethan a year ago, the San Diego Latino film festival was the first San Diego film festival that had to cancel their event. And you guys had to cancel it like on your opening night. Now it's a year later and you guys are completely online for this year's event. What does it feel like?

Speaker 3: 00:50 Yeah. I seem to remember you and I having our, one of our first zoom meetings ever interviews ever. We were, we were both learning how to use zoom about a year ago. Um, yeah, I know it was just right after we, uh, had to postpone the film festival, you know, for me as the founder of the San Diego Latino film festival, uh, one of my commitments to the community since day one is been the idea of you never not hold the event. You always hold the event at the screening. Uh, I don't think, I don't know if people understand that in me, but in terms of my passion and my focus, you know, you always find that print, even if it's not the exact print you're going to, you know, you're going to screen it and Blu-ray, or digital, you're gonna screen that movie no matter what.

Speaker 3: 01:32 So for me to actually have to not hold a festival for the first time in 27 years, uh, was devastating. It was just emotionally draining, physically draining our staff as well, you know, just kind of went through it. And everyone kind of, there was this grieving process, right, which I think is the grieving process that everyone's been going through this past year. Uh, it's been a challenging year. Uh, 500,000 people have lost their lives due to COVID here in the us. Uh, but just, you know, the loss of jobs, uh, entertainment, industry, artists, filmmakers, film, festivals, trying to survive is, you know, it's just been incredibly difficult. So we had to postpone the film festival. Um, but thankfully the support of the community is, has been there. Um, this past year, uh, we had an individual donor campaign where people could donate and support our organization. Uh, our staff has just been incredible, uh, just pivoted quickly to a virtual format. So we've, uh, immediately started screening movies, uh, of, uh, digitally virtually with our digital team cinema and then our educational program. Uh, we immediately were able to do our Saturday team producers class, uh, virtually, uh, but yeah, but not without its difficulties and challenges. Like all of us

Speaker 2: 02:50 I've been able to expand a little bit in terms of what the festival is able to do because you're doing virtual screenings, but you are also taking of our San Diego drive in.

Speaker 3: 03:02 Yes. Uh, you know, we have beautiful weather here in San Diego and we have these wonderful driving experiences that already exists. And so our opening night, March 11th is going to be at the South Bay driving. We're so excited to see the movies on the big screen. Uh, we're actually taking over two screens at the, at the drive in, so you'll have a chance to see the classic movies, Zoot suit, uh, that's the seven o'clock screening, it's the 40th anniversary of Zoot suit. And then after that, the nine o'clock screening is a front that a filmmaker shorts program. So it's supporting local film makers. Uh, and then on the next screening, we're screening LA all these sayings, they look healers, which starts with DeCarlo that deems and Argentine film. And regardless of that, Dean has been a fan favorite of our film festival. And then after that, we're screening from that filmmakers documentary short documentaries.

Speaker 3: 03:50 Uh, so yeah, I just imagine if you're a local filmmaker and to go out to the drive in and see your movie on the big screen, I'm really excited about that to me. That's fantastic. And it goes back to the, you know, why we created the organization in the beginning, right. Is to support local filmmakers to support young, Latino filmmakers in particular. And so to see their movies on the big screen is going to be fantastic. And then on March 20th, doing something a little different, we're going to kind of create our own pop-up, uh, drive in experience at Westfield mission Valley mall on Saturday, March 20th. So we're going to put a huge 50 foot screen. Uh, it's the parking lot, just kind of West of the target there and the parking lot, uh, we'll have live entertainment. Kimberlites gonna play some salsa before bringing a little bit of our, so neither Latino, um, experience to the festival. And then, yeah, we're going to screen another Argentinian film theater, which is a nice family friendly movie, sweet heartwarming film that everyone should enjoy. So yeah, opening night and then kind of closing weekend, and we'll both be driving experiences and everything else will be virtual.

Speaker 2: 04:51 You mentioned that you're going to have some live music. Your event in the past has always been about a lot of in-person things, whether it's food and drink and music and discussions after the films. So how has that been like trying to recreate that in a mostly virtual environment,

Speaker 3: 05:11 One of the toughest toughest things for us to do, you know, it's that in-person environment and celebration of culture and cinema food, art music, you know, that that's been made the made the festival so interesting. And, and you're running from one editorial to the next to try to get into the film on time. And then you see an actor and people are taking photos on the red carpet. So, you know, that experience we do miss. And we miss seeing of course our attendees in person and talking about the films and opening up the catalog and stuff. But that says, you know, we postpone the last year's festival. We had it in September. And one of the exciting things that did happen during the festival was these virtual live streams, you know, and the, the, the ability to connect with filmmakers from all over the world, you know, they were in Europe and then South America, Mexico is just to get them on one screen and have that dialogue.

Speaker 3: 06:00 And so I do believe, uh, one positive thing this past year is learning how to have these live streams, these, this communication, the dialogues, because, you know, again, it's not the same thing, but you still feel that sense of connection with the filmmakers, which I think they, they so badly need it too. They want to see their work out there and they want to discuss their films. So I think we had close to 70 hours of a live stream Q and A's this past festival. So that's going to continue to, so after the movies, I encourage everyone. It's nightly. There's going to be two to three Q and A's every, every night. So please enjoy those Q and A's get onto YouTube Facebook and check out the Q and A's with the filmmakers. It's pretty fascinating.

Speaker 1: 06:39 And what have been the financial challenges of all this? So how has it been trying to adapt to this kind of new environment where selling in-person tickets is not really the main source of your income?

Speaker 3: 06:54 Yeah, so our organization is built upon earned income, and it was something that we were, you know, really good at over the years, whether it's registration fees for our youth media and tech camps or ticket sales from our film festival ticket sales from the digital gym earned income from our video production services, everything except for the video production services that just kinda just went down completely. Um, you know, we've lost over close to $500,000, uh, in our annual budget this past year, which is just incredible that we're still standing and talking to you right now. And then we're going to have a film festival, but thanks to, uh, federal support, the PPP loans, city support, state support, we're still able to provide the programming. Uh, and, and we w we were very strong. I feel we're very confident. We're very strong. The organization is going to do fine, but it's definitely this period without earned income it's has been pretty dramatic for the organization. It has been devastating, but thankfully, uh, individual support foundation support, we've been allowed to kind of, I, you know, keep going and keep our core staff. Uh, and then, you know, we're excited to, uh, you know, uh, in the fall of 2021, we'll move into a new space and hopefully by then, everyone will have their vaccinations and feel more comfortable, and we'll be able to do some in-person events as well.

Speaker 1: 08:13 Well, I want to thank you very much for talking about this year, San Diego, Latino film festival.

Speaker 3: 08:18 Thank you. Thanks for the opportunity

Speaker 1: 08:20 That was Beth haka. Mondo speaking with Ethan van. Tillo the 28th annual San Diego Latino film festival starts March 11th. Next week, Beth will speak with the festival programmer about the film selections.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.