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UC San Diego Health steps in to help El Centro hospital stay afloat

 March 1, 2023 at 2:44 PM PST

S1: The financially strapped El Centro Medical Center gets some much needed help.

S2: This is one of the poorest counties in the nation. I mean , it's mostly Medi-Cal and Medicare.

S1: I'm Maureen CAVANAUGH. This is KPBS midday edition. Who's writing those school papers now that chat GPT is around.

S3: And I would say students who are actively using it at least , you know , maybe for one assignment a week or probably a third to a half.

S1: The voice of San Diego is out with a new Parents Guide to San Diego schools and a preview of the San Diego Arab Film Festival. That's ahead on Midday Edition. UC San Diego Health will soon take over day to day operations for Imperial County's largest hospital. That hospital , El Centro Regional Medical Center , has suffered a number of financial setbacks and staffing problems in recent years. Without UCSD Health's intervention , the medical center's financial reserves would likely be exhausted later this year. The takeover is temporary , though all parties agree that a major overhaul of Imperial Valley's health care system is needed. Joining me with more on this news is Dr. Christian Thomashefsky , chief medical officer of El Centro Regional Medical Center. Dr. Thomashefsky , welcome to the show.

S2: Thank you , Maureen. Thanks.


S2: So it's almost a ship without a rudder. We need some direction and some health care expertise to go forward. And the city itself , really , the city council , which is trying to manage the hospital , really doesn't have that expertise.


S2: The staffing is not the issue so much. I mean , we staff the emergency department. All the cardiologists out there are UCSD faculty. The critical care dogs are as well. What it does , it gives us leadership in terms of a game plan going forward , how we're going to do the finances , how we're going to make the big decisions. And those will be made by leadership from UCSD that will come in in the interim to help until we stabilize the hospital and get a permanent CEO and CFO.

S1: Now , El Centro Medical Center closed its labor and delivery department this year.

S2: And that was a hard decision to make. And I know the optics look bad , but concentrating all the labor and delivery , all the deliveries at one hospital in the valley makes a lot more sense in terms of volume and expertise that comes with volume. So I think that was the right decision to close the R&D and transition it to Pioneer's Hospital , which is about ten miles up the road. If you're going to have a plan for the Imperial Valley and needs to have both hospitals involved and doing shared services and each hospital concentrating on what it could do best instead of duplication , I mean , duplicating everything about hospital doesn't make sense for two small hospitals and a valley that only has 200,000 people.


S2: I mean , it's mostly Medi-Cal and Medicare. So essentially , the hospital , every time we've been a patient , we're actually losing money at El Centro Regional Medical Center. We're not getting reimbursed from the government , especially from medical rates , to cover our costs. Meanwhile , costs have escalated. It's hard to attract talent to Imperial Valley. You know , a lot of people commute from San Diego or other area or even Yuma. And so you're looking at higher costs for personnel to try them out there. Not to mention the supply chain issues that we've all gone through , but we're a little hospital in El Centro , so we have less leverage in terms of negotiating with , you know , with suppliers and then try on top of that. Insult to injury , COVID. I mean , at one time I had 130 critically ill COVID patients in that hospital , and that's a hospital that normally runs well at 90. So that just put a big strain on it. Yes , we saved a lot of lives , but there were a lot of costs involved with tents , extra , extra staff , traveling nurses that came in. So that really put an extra strain on that system.

S1: I want to follow up on something you said , because I know many Imperial County residents often seek health care outside of the county. That actually increases your hospital's financial problems , doesn't it ? Right.

S2: Especially those patients that are going over the hill to get care , whether they go north to Palm Springs or San Diego west , if they are well insured and it's elective staff , which we could actually have a positive margin on , that's a big loss to us. Yes. In terms of that volume and that does hurt us.

S1: Tell us about the particular health needs in Imperial County and some of the challenges in providing that care.

S2: The real challenge , I think , that everywhere in California , rural areas is getting subspecialists to get involved with care. A lot of times we don't want to transfer patients and patients don't want to be transferred. I mean , that's a that's a 50 , $60,000 helicopter ride. If they're unstable. And getting ground transport is an ordeal , trying to find an ambulance to take somebody to ours. I mean , that's a six hour trip for that ambulance out of their day is really hard. So anytime anybody has any complicated issues , it we really want to keep them in El Centro. And that's why we brought in our critical care team to try to help keep more patients , because at the end of the day , I want I want to and I think the valley want great care closer to home and going over the hill is not it's not it's not a good solution probably. But so so specialty care is my big challenge.

S1: We've heard about particular health problems affecting people in Imperial County , like a high rate of asthma , etc.. Tell us a little bit more about that.

S2: True , with all the air quality issues of particulates , especially from farming and from the Salton Sea blowing into the northern valley , there is a lot of lung issues and that causes inflammation. And then you have a population that has a high incidence of the big three killers , you know , high lipid , high cholesterol , diabetes , hypertension. You throw all that in there. It's especially a challenge to take care of those patients and maintain them healthy. And then you throw COVID on top of that. Those are all high risk things for COVID having a worse outcome. And that's why I think at one time when we admitted patients with COVID , our hospital , even though we had good critical care , we had one in three patients dying from COVID. That's how bad it was , because these people are sold vulnerable because there are pre-existing illness to these viruses and other insults.

S1: You know , it was estimated that El Centro would completely run out of funds by later this year. So is teaming up with UCSD Health.

S2: I mean , that's crazy to have a whole unit devoted to that when I have a good pediatric unit up the road to pioneers and closing ob gyn , that preserved a lot of costs and getting rid of a lot of our travel nurses. These are nurses that come in from outside the area to try to come and help , but we end up paying high , high costs for that. So doing all those things has preserved our cash flow at least until September and beyond. And because the bond holders are seeing such positive changes and efficiencies and care that they're probably going to well , extend an olive branch and give us financing to extend throughout , you know , a year or a year and a half as we get our finances in order.

S1: What's really going to turn this around for health care in Imperial County ? I know that this takeover is meant to be temporary. The goal is to revamp the separate elements of Imperial Valley's health care system.

S2: We've got a lot of nurses coming through our local programs and imperial , and that was a big cost. We are paying these companies up to $200 an hour , our nurses. So that was a big drain and everything is reaffirming to the valley that we can offer quality care. So a lot of this elective stuff that was going over the hill. We'll start coming to us. So I think we do that. We'll get our alignments back up. We'll be able to give a higher level of care and also get patients that also can contribute how well our contribution margin in terms of that , they're that they have some good insurance as well to help us.

S1: And how do you think that's going to change things for your patients.

S2: With increased volume and increased specialty care ? I think everybody benefits from that because we get better expertise. You don't want to go to a place and only get as a one offs. So as we increase our volume and provide more critical care , more pulmonary care , more urology , I think things will improve for everyone.

S1: Now , the plan for this temporary takeover is 12 to 18 months.

S2: There seems to be an appetite from both the north and the south part of the valley to make this a , so to speak , a health care district where we look at economies of scales and efficiencies across the whole valley so everybody does a better job. Plus , once you combine the hospitals , you become more favorable in terms of payments. So I think if that happens , I think that will will be the thing that gives us the on the continue on beyond a year and a half.

S1: Okay , then. Thank you so much. I've been speaking with Dr. Christian Thomashefsky , the chief medical officer of El Centro Regional Medical Center. Dr. Thomashefsky , thanks so much for your time. I appreciate it.

S2: You're welcome , Maureen. Thank you.

S1: They can write essays for students , create art and music , and even help with office work. You may have heard of generative A.I. like Chat , GPT or Dali , but what are they exactly ? KPBS reporter Jacob Baer looks at how these complex machine learning algorithms are impacting San Diegans. Oh , I get a.

S4: Picture in online technology that with a little human prompting , can write code , create images and audio , and even make videos almost as good as we can. That's now a reality. They're called generative artificial intelligence systems. University of San Diego professor Anna Margaret explains how one of them works.

S1: You say , Hi , Chatty Betty. How are you doing today ? And chat GPT produces probability for many different responses and then picks basically the highest probability response. And that's what it spits out.

S4: Chad GPT is the most famous version of generative A.I.. It's only been out since November but already has more than 100 million users , including many high school and college students.

S3: And I would say students who are actively using it , at least , you know , maybe for one assignment a week or probably a third to a half. Menu.

S4: Menu. Agni is a senior at UC San Diego. He says many students won't admit to using the tools because they feel guilty or they're unsure if it will get them in trouble. In fact , UC San Diego sent out a letter to students about artificial intelligence systems.

S3: Basically , they said if a professor isn't explicitly allowing , it's not allowed. It's considered cheating.

S4: Agnese says some UCSD professors have kept it banned , while others have given it a partial or full green light. Marvin says while the text based systems can sound convincingly human , they're not perfect.

S5: The model can give false answers.

S1: Can give answers that they actually are not supposed to give. So they've also been trained to , you know , not give harmful answers to questions , but you can trick them depending on how you prompt them.

S4: A.I. is also causing a stir in the art world.

S1: All of the copies of your face walk into a bar.

S4: Some local artists like Beck Covestro , applied the technology in their work. But there is controversy over the way the systems are used.

S6: They're trained oftentimes on the work of artists or writers who are not being credited or compensated for that work. And so to me , that's a concern with how these kinds of programs might impact the arts community , broadly speaking.

S4: While some local artists are using generative AI to help create digital images in physical paintings , Hopper strolls works often question the ethics of the fast growing technology.

S6: Who is well represented ? Who is not represented ? Who is made more visible by them ? Who's made less visible by them ? So I think there's a lot of potential for exploitation. The more and more that we use these programs.

S4: Agni compares the current quality of chat GPT writing to a talented sophomore in high school. But he says it notably can't do citations just yet. Still , Agnese says its use goes beyond the classroom.

S3: For college application essays for applications of graduate school job applications , scholarships. You know , writing samples for a creative job. I mean , this this thing has infinite uses.

S4: Marbut says rules and regulations for generative A.I. will be key as the technology is here to stay. But she did want to clarify one thing to people who are wary or scared about the so far unregulated technology.

S5: But I don't think that.

S1: We as a society need to be worried about general artificial.

S6: Intelligence at this point. I think we're still.

S1: A long ways off from. That.

S4: That. And while UC San Diego warns against using AI , Agnese sees it as a tool rather than cheating. Plus , he says there's pressure to embrace generative A.I. or risk falling behind.

S3: I mean , I don't use it to complete assignments , but certainly when I've had writer's block or when I've needed some inspiration on a topic , it's it's it's too tempting.

S4: Marbut says the technology could impact many fields in San Diego over the coming years , such as business , science , health care and even the media. But just to be clear , Chalkbeat didn't help me write this story. And for now , I'm happy about that.

S1: Joining me is the Human Intelligence behind this piece , KPBS reporter Jacob Air. Jacob , welcome.

S4: Thanks for having me back.

S1: So help me out here because I know nothing about using generative A.I.. If a student wanted to use it to help write a paper , say , on the Great Depression.

S4: And then they have to create a log in. And then once they have their free account set up , they would type in something either on their computer or phone along the lines of , you know , let's say write a 1000 word paper on the Great Depression in a professional tone. You can also give it further specifics or change any of the details that I just said. So a different example could be write a 2500 word paper on how the Great Depression affected , let's say , health and financial outcomes for people born during that time period. And then all you have to do is hit enter and it should write the paper.


S4: In the case of Chat GPT three , it was actually trained on this massive amount of text that's called the common crawl dataset , and that uses machine learning technique called unsupervised learning , which kind of sounds scary , but it's basically where the model learns to find patterns and then make predictions without being explicitly programmed. The one thing to note is that for CBT , its dataset only currently goes up to 2021 , so it wouldn't be able to answer something that's happened recently or anything since then. So , for example , it wouldn't be able to write a paper about the recent natural disaster in Turkey , in Syria.

S1: So if the AI pulls relevant sections from printed material , which is total plagiarism , would it somehow put that information together in a new form ? Yeah.

S4: And you know , the question of plagiarism is complicated and there's a lot of debate and in fact , legal battles going on about this as we speak here today. But catchy beat doesn't necessarily just pull these relevant sections from a book or other text in total plagiarism. What it does do , it generates these response based off statistical patterns , which is where it learns from that larger common crawl dataset we talked about. And Anna margaret , the UC professor who I talked to , she helped explain it to me. So basically , when you ask it a question or provide a prompts to chat GPT , it generates a response by analyzing the words you typed and then it attempts to predict the most probable sequence of words that would follow based on the patterns it learned from its training data. So , you know , while the model draws on information from books , articles , other sources , it doesn't necessarily directly copy or plagiarized specific text. And also it's learning as it goes. So , you know , the more and more users try it out , it's responses are also changing.


S4: There are some of the big players at this moment and what they do , they take text and turn it into digital images rather than text to text like chat. GPT three. But in the same light as Chad Beatty , they scan a wide database to create the digital images. So while the artistic community , at least here locally , is split , whether or not these programs are going to help with creative endeavors or stunt them , the bigger question is , is the idea of plagiarism or copyright ? And currently , Getty Images is actually currently suing air generator stable to fusion in the U.S. for copyright infringement. And we'll see how that plays out.

S1: Now , it sounds like many professors at UC San Diego have told students not to use artificial intelligence programs to write their assignments.

S4: There are some students who are using it in a copy and paste fashion , and that's definitely easier to catch. But many students , at least the ones I talked to , are using it only to start their school work , and then they'll make changes as needed. So there are many A.I. plagiarism checkers like Openai text classifier , but they're not that great yet. And keep in mind that these A.I. programs are learning from user input. So it's an ongoing battle to try and have the checker tools to keep up with their programs. But in terms of if you're just copy and pasting , yes , it is more likely to be caught. But for the folks who are making tweaks , it becomes a lot more complicated.


S4: Languages. It can also summarized long pieces of text into shorter versions. It can help classifying objects , images and in some cases even create 3D models and animations. And there's also uses where it can generate new music or different types of audio. But what it can't do. It can't reason. It can't think critically. It doesn't have moral or ethical judgments. Keep in mind that no matter how smart this is , it's not human. It can't replace human creativity or artistic expression in that train of thought. It doesn't have humanlike , you know , consciousness or intelligence. And it also struggles with biases and limitations that can be input through the data or their training algorithms.


S4: Yes. I've had many conversations with Chad , Djibouti.


S4: Some were more basic. It really ranged. And I was at points trying to test its limits , at other points , just trying to understand it. But it really has been constantly updated. Some of its responses were pretty straightforward and others were honestly incorrect. So that's something really important to keep in mind when you ask you kind of more complicated questions or maybe questions that don't have one answer. It can default and say it can't provide opinions. That's kind of its safeguard. So it does good with basic questions and basic prompts. But the more complicated ones , you know , it's not perfect and you really need to be fact checking. What these A.I. generative programs are outputting and if they're actually correct.

S1: Now , one of the people you interviewed said that he might use A.I. to submit writing samples for a creative job. Now , that sounds really bad.

S4: I think he brings up a good point. It seems like a lot of high school and college students are very much tuned in to how programs like Chatbot and other generative A.I. work and they're applying it in their lives. But on a larger scale , this is likely going to affect multiple different sectors. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. But there are concerns with how it's being misused , and that's why regulation is going to be so key. U.S. Professor Anna Margaret brought this up , but there needs to be regulations for this or else it is kind of a free for all and without regulations. Of course there are. Not everyone has the best intentions. So , yes , it could be misused. Okay.

S1: Okay. I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Jacob Air. I really appreciate it. Thanks for explaining it , Jacob.

S4: Thanks for having me on.

S1: This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen CAVANAUGH. A year after Russia's invasion of Ukraine , people across California have felt the conflict. KQED's Rachael MYROW checked back in with people and companies in Silicon Valley affected by the war. And here's what she learned. A year ago , 80% of the Ukrainian workforce for outsourcing company jet bridge fled the country. Now they're all back in , well , western Ukraine , which is relatively safer. But that's not to say everything's normal outside of work.

S7: Everyone is physically okay. But the lack of electricity is a huge problem now.

S1: Bay Area based CEO John Seung Kim is married to a Ukrainian and his in-laws live in recently liberated Nikolayev. He worries the city might be shelled again or his family could be drafted or both. He worries that might happen to his employees. They worry , too.

S7: I can see on Zoom that they're starting to get the 10,000 yard stare from trauma.

S1: The company's Belarus based workforce is now in Poland. For years , Ukraine has been one of Silicon Valley's favorite offshore outposts for educated , relatively cheap I.T. labor. Google Grammarly Ring and many other companies employ workers in Ukraine. And while many Ukrainians have fled to safer places like the U.S. , others have stayed or returned out of patriotism or because they don't want to leave family behind. Andy KURTZ is CEO of the online expert platform. Just to Answer , has about 315 employees based in Ukraine , up 65 people from last year.

S2: We were fairly well prepared. We do have generators at our offices. We do have starlink's , you know , free Internet in our offices. And so it's interesting , a lot of our employees and their families even come to our office when the power goes out because they can take a hot shower and they can charge their devices and be warm.

S1: Since the war has started , KURTZ says he's been to Ukraine twice and he's going again next week.

S2: These are good , kind , smart , talented , hardworking , funny , interesting people that don't deserve this. I feel like we've been in a position to be able to be helpful because of all of our connections there.

S1: He set up a nonprofit that's raised more than $3 million , built a mental health center , and directed his employees to update and upgrade military equipment. Both Kim and Kurt Sig insist Ukraine will win eventually. It's just a matter , they say , of how many people will die between now and then for the California report. I'm Rachael MYROW. How does your child's school stack up against public schools in San Diego ? Does the school have the language services or teacher experience that your child needs ? Is overall achievement in core educational courses going up or going down ? The answers to those and many more questions can be found in the latest Parent's Guide to San Diego Schools , published by Voice of San Diego. And joining me is Jacob McKinney , education reporter with the Voice of San Diego. Jacob , welcome.

S7: Hi , Maureen. Thanks for having me.


S7: It's it's a big project.


S7: But we team up with the good folks at the UC San Diego Extension Center for Applied Research and Evaluation , who help us compile these just mountains of data. It's a collaborative process and it takes , honestly , months of work.


S7: Currently , we evaluate everything from the percentage of English learners free or reduced price meals levels , chronic absenteeism , graduation rates and percentage of experienced teachers. Essentially anything that the state can give us that we think will help parents make decisions. But , you know , like I said , it's always changing until the last guide. We didn't include a new metric that we came up with and in collaboration with UC San Diego that ties incomes to test scores. So if there's something that you think is important , we'd love to hear it. Please get in touch.

S1: I want to talk to you in a minute about that new metric , because that's very interesting. But I just overall , this guide is really pretty complicated. In fact , your article is specifically about how to use the guide. And I'm wondering what kinds of things can parents find out about their children's schools in the guide ? Yeah.

S7: You know , it is it seems like a lot of data and it is a lot of data , but but once you start to get a hang of it , I think it's pretty easy and a little intuitive. We have a whole lot of things that that parents should definitely pay attention to , which is , for example , the test scores , whether it's English language or math test scores and the trends of those test scores. So , for example , we have some helpful little arrows that either point down sort of up to the right side to side , down to the right or straight down. And those give you an idea of exactly how your school has done on test scores and how that compares to how they used to do. So one of the things that's a little discouraging , but probably not surprising is that a lot of these arrows are pointing down. COVID , you know , really kind of rocked schools across the country and locally. But that is one thing that I would definitely pay attention to. For parents , the income test scores metric is another thing that I would definitely pay attention to. And , you know , I think that those are two of the things that when it comes to just straight up numbers are pretty important. But luckily , like you , like you mentioned , we have this how to use this guide piece in the guide that breaks it all down for you.

S1: Jacob , tell us more about this new income versus test score metric.

S7: We came up with it in partnership with the UC San Diego Extension's Center for Research and Evaluations , because test scores can inherently be flawed metrics. Often test scores can just represent the level of poverty in a school area. So as as poverty goes up , test scores tend to go down. This metric highlights how test scores are doing as compared to the poverty levels in the area. It often highlights kind of the exceptions , right , and shows which schools exceeded or fell below where they're predicted Performance level is based on their poverty level. So this is a really awesome metric that we're very proud of that allows parents to dig deeper into how schools are doing and not just how the neighborhood is doing.


S7: Yeah , But but as I mentioned , this is a very , very specific year in school history in terms of we're still coming out of the COVID 19 pandemic. And so a lot of these test score numbers are a little more bleak than we're used to.

S1: What can parents do with all this information ? Can they look at a school their child is going ? And so , you know , I don't like that we need to change schools.

S7: That's exactly one of the things that they can do. Yeah. Maureen , we hope that parents use this data to make really informed decisions about their children's education. Many school districts have choice windows that allow parents to decide where they'd like to send their children. That's one of the very useful bits of information that this guide breaks down. Choice Windows for all of the districts in our area that that have made those windows available. And when you take all of this information into account , it allows parents to decide if a school is doing what they hope their children's school will do. In addition to that , we also have information about whether a school offers language immersion programs , international baccalaureate degree programs , a whole bunch of things that that allow parents to figure out if the school even offers the kinds of things that they'd hope their children's education will include.

S1: And the numbers in this guide , I suppose , are only a starting point for parents to get to know their child's school.

S7: I mean , these again , you know , the numbers and data are important. It only represents one portion of what a school is , what it offers , the kind of community it offers. So we would encourage , as you said , parents to use this as a starting point to to get to know the schools that are in their neighborhood and maybe get to know schools that are another option for their child in their district.

S1: Now , the fact that some children go to a well performing schools and others go to underperforming schools seems fundamentally unfair.

S7: I mean , the the unfairness of the performance of schools is an achievement. Gaps that exist is something that is very high up on Voice of San Diego's list of things to tackle in education without people knowing about this. These things don't change. And so we hope that community members , taxpayers , parents , neighbors , that they can see these scores and understand just the degree to which an achievement gap exists.

S1: I've been speaking with Jacob McKinney , education reporter with Voice of San Diego. Jacob , thanks so much.

S7: Thank you , Maureen.

S1: Voice of San Diego is hosting a parent's guide workshop next Monday , March 6th , at 9:30 a.m.. It's free and open to the public that will be held at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center. You can find information about that along with the parent's guide on the Voice of San Diego website. That's v osd dot org. This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen CAVANAUGH. The San Diego Arab Film Festival kicks off on Friday with in-person screenings and food at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. The festival is put on by the nonprofit organization Karama and run by volunteers. KPBS arts reporter Beth ACCOMANDO previews the festival with committee chairman Larry Christian and member Maha Ibarra.

S5: Larry , We're on the eve of the 12th annual.

S1: San Diego Arab Film Festival sponsored by Karama. So give us a little background.

S5: On the festival and.


S7: So at the end of 2011 , Karama decided that we would make sure that this happened. So we took it on and had our first festival in 2012. Karama is a broader organization , does a number of things , but we decided that we would take responsibility to to start an Arab film festival in San Diego and do what was necessary to keep it going. And that's we've been able to do that for 12 years now.

S5: And the festival opens on Friday.

S1: So tell us about your opening night film.

S7: Alam Alam is a is Arabic for Flag. It's about youth and a school within Israel. The school flies the Israeli flag and there's a young guy who meets a new girl in the school who is has a more of an activist bent than he did. And he started to get interested in it and joined an effort to replace the Israeli flag with the Palestinian flag. MOTIN.

UU: MOTIN. Mo , Ginny. I was going to love this guy.

S5: And Maha , you're going to be introducing a pair of films at the festival. So let's start by talking.

S1: About Jasper , which is about a young Syrian man who comes to the United States after losing his entire family in Syria. Yes.

S5: Yes. You know , he's chasing his American dream. He is coming to the states and then he hits certain barriers and beginning to discovers the divisiveness of U.S. politics. His next door neighbor is an alcoholic and he tries to help her. And yet he refuses and he gets into trouble trying to help her.

S4: Yes , sir.

S7: How long have you been here ? Show her one once a month ago. Yes. Any family living with you ? Just what you need to go to the immigration office and get yourself a permanent U.S. I.D.. Do you understand me ? Yes. Yeah. And wait for a paper from a lawyer.

S5: So what that does is really shows the importance of letting go of our biases and preconceived notions and how it's so important to being to be there for your community and support them. And because otherwise you will not be happy either. So it's about to me , that's what it represents. It's about being a community with your neighbors , supporting them and so on. And there's also a love story in that as well with with the young man who is actually acted by the Lebanese , by a Lebanese guy , and he falls in love with one with a girl. And his co-star is actually none other than Lorraine Bracco , for who many of you would know her as star in Goodfellas and , of course , as the psychiatrist in The Sopranos. So she is amazing. So a very powerful performance there. I cannot pretend like I know what you've been through , but I do know what it is.

S1: To lose someone you love.

S7: You did. Wow.

S1: Wow.

S5: Pretty much.


S5: And my husband died a few years ago. I just think that's why you're such a mess.

S7: Sorry for him. I'm. Right.

S1: And that was a little clip featuring Lorraine Bracco from Jasser. One of the things I liked about the film is how well it conveys Jossa's point of view.

S5: One of the things about the film is , yes , you're beginning to see things through the eyes of the Syrian refugee. And then you start seeing yourself as well. So I think it's really good for everybody because it really opens your eyes to what's going on and also how people perceive us here in this in the United States. And tell us about the other film you're introducing , which is Memory Box. Right. Memory Box is it's a Lebanese film. It is actually. It really rings a bell for me every box , because it is about how , you know , our collective shared memory and how it shapes us. So for me , who is someone who left at a young age ? Lebanon. I left during the height of the civil war in Lebanon. It's very personal to me. What it is about is a young girl living with her mother in Canada , in Montreal , and one day a big box arrives with all the memories of her mother has sent to her friends , like tapes and recordings. And the girl delves into it and discovers the past of her mother , including her love affair , including the Civil War. So at least for me , it was it's very touching because it's it's that memory of that time. It fills some gaps. And it's also for the next generation how to share that , what we've been through with our kids. And hopefully also it's for the larger public to see not just what we've been through , but just life , how it was in Lebanon right before. And hopefully they'll share a little bit piece of that with us. And Larry , what is.

S1: The breadth of the entries , your screening , in terms of how many.

S5: Different countries are you getting submissions.


S7: Shorts and features from Morocco to Iran and the Gulf states and Sudan. So it's it really covers North Africa , Southwest Asia , even down into further south into Africa. We don't see many films from Sudan. So we were we were anxious to show one when we came across one because people don't think of Arabs as being there. Right. One of our goals is to is to show the breadth of the Arab world in Arab culture. And so we always try to pick out a range. So this year we have features from seven different countries and shorts from , I think , maybe five others. And we try to give a range of countries , but also a range of cultural references between that urban , rural look at generational issues , gender conflict , all these things that are current in the region. And to show non-Arabs that all of those things are part of the mix of when we talk about Arab culture. And then then the other goal of the festival is to provide kind of a signpost of expression for the community to celebrate itself in a public way , because a lot of times being publicly Arab isn't comfortable.

S5: You mentioned the Sudan , and one of my favorite films from the festival this year is the one.

S1: Called The Dam , which if you want to talk about diversity , it represents a diversity.

S5: Of film styles. So tell me about this parable about the political upheaval in Sudan. Well , the dam is really about a guy called my hair. He's a traditional bricklayer. They were building a dam in the Sudan. And every night he starts wandering into the desert and doing something secretly. We don't know what it is. And he's building some mysterious mud construction. In the meantime , they're showing us all the political upheaval that's going on as people fight for freedom in Sudan. And then something happens with this creation that he makes. It's a very visually beautiful film. You're seeing a lot of , like beautiful images of the desert. It is rather slow , but somehow you have to just engross yourself in it. It's kind of magical , actually. And as you also begin to watch the lives of the brick makers building the dam , it says it's it's beautiful. And Maha , talking about beautiful films. You also have one called Under the Fig Trees , which is a really.

S1: Lovely movie because , like the dam , it invites you into another world.

S5: And stylistically it just doesn't feel concerned with a conventional linear plot. Absolutely. I loved under the fig trees. I to me , again , it's one of those things that took me back to my young days in Lebanon , you know , playing in the orchards , climbing the. Trees and just being again here , it was so beautiful , the images and you just feel you're sitting in an in a in a. I don't know if you call it an orchard of trees and just climbing the trees , eating figs. It's just you just want to be there. It's just lovely. That's all I can say. Well , I want to thank you both very much for talking about this year's Arab Film Festival. Thank you.

S7: Thank you.

S1: That was Beth ACCOMANDO speaking with Larry Christian and Maha Ibarra. The San Diego Arab Film Festival begins on Friday and runs this weekend and next at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.

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