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Posted: March 10th, 2017 | Arts & Entertainment, Features, Top Stories | No Comments

By Joyell Nevins

Latino Film Festival returns to Fashion Valley

Five screens, 11 days, more than 160 films. The San Diego Latino Film Festival will incorporate drama, comedy, romance, documentary and other film styles to share the Latino experience at the AMC 18 Fashion Valley theaters from March 16-26.

The festival is in its 24th year and draws audience members from California to New York, along with special guest actors and filmmakers from Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Spain.

More than 600 entries are submitted every year, but only the top-ranking ones by festival staff can make the cut.

“The criteria we use to rank the movies includes cinematography, editing, storytelling style, and originality,” said Moises Esparza, programming manager for the festival. “We are, above all, most interested in what the film proposes about the Latino experience.”

(Images for graphic courtesy of Latino Film Festival)

The festival began in 1994 as a small student film festival called Cine Estudiantil. It was held at several different schools the first few years. Then in 1997, renowned actor Edward James Olmos came as a special guest. The house was packed, and an idea was born.

The film festival was moved to a commercial movie theater, special guests were invited, and corporate sponsors and media outlets started to take notice.

“We had the option of using multiple auditoriums within one movie theater, and we could present a diversity of movies that appeal to diverse audiences within the Latino community,” said Ethan van Thillo, executive director and founder of the San Diego Latino Film Festival.

More celebrities began to attend, and the reach of the films increased. Well-known names such as Ray Bradbury, Clifton Collins Jr., and Jacob Vargas have all appeared at the festival. This year, Bruno Bichir, Stefanie Sherk, Cecilia Suarez, Sofia Espinoza, Jaime Garcia, Andres Almeida, Maria Rojo, Jesus Magana, Rodrige Reyes, and Marimar Vega all will be making an appearance.

In 1999, the film festival branched out with screenings throughout the year and morphed into the nonprofit Media Arts Center San Diego. Now, in addition to the film festival, the Media Arts Center has a “Digital Gym” in North Park.

The Digital Gym boasts a movie theater that shows 15-20 independent films a month; a tech bar computer space with Power Mac G5s loaded with graphic and design software; a media lounge and a digital techie store. Media Arts Center also hosts training, workshops and outreaches for future filmmakers and audio, visual and multimedia designers.

The San Diego Latino Film Festival still remains one of their biggest and broadest events of the year.

“Our 24th festival is going to be the best and most important ever. Not only will it include entertaining new movies never before screened here in San Diego; but this year comes at an important time in our country’s history. The festival stands for all that is good with the U.S.A. and our border region — diversity, creativity, innovation, international collaboration y más,” Thillo said.

The festival boasts spotlight films like Oscar nominee Demian Birchir’s directorial debut, “Un Cuento de Circo and a Love Song” and tributes to and screenings of iconic filmmakers Manolo Caro and Arturo Ripstein. It offers opportunities to meet such talented artists at special question-and-answer sessions.

But it also provides an audience for documentaries like “Beyond the Crossfire,” a project by a group of students at High Tech High Chula Vista. The film explores the effects of gun violence in the U.S., capturing stories of leaders in brain health, youth mentor programs, peer to peer counseling and juvenile justice reforms who are all working to reduce the violence.

It took two years for the students to finish the film, learning everything from how to finance a film project to creating a DVD. “Crossfire” was completed three days before their graduation. However, more than eight of the original students that served as directors and crew will be at the festival.

“It is still a relevant topic with a strong call to action for viewers,” High Tech 11th grade science teacher Nuvia Ruland said. “We hope it inspires everyone who sees it to get involved in small and big ways to make change in their community.”

“Beyond the Crossfire” is part of the Frontera Filmmakers showcase, which also includes first-time filmmakers and a short film compilation. To help audiences determine which movies to watch out of the masses available, the festival’s film curators have put together “showcases,” collections of films celebrating certain countries, genres or themes. There are 18 total, including a CineGay showcase, providing insight into the Latino LGBTQ experience; focus on the countries Brazil and Mexico; and one dedicated to movies revolving around food.

The festival extends beyond the film screenings. There will also be Sonido Latino daily musical performances by local and international artists and the second annual Sabor Latino Food, Beer and Wine Festival. That event includes unlimited food and beverage tastings by celebrated Latino chefs and more than 20 craft breweries and wineries from San Diego and Baja California. All proceeds benefit the Media Art Center’s youth education and outreach programs.

Start and end the film festival with a bang as well: The Opening Night party will feature live music and dancing at Balboa’s Historic Abbey, while the Closing Night party will be an upscale soiree with music and cuisine at the Meze in the Gaslamp.

Find out more information about the events, the films, and the screenings at Learn more about Media Arts Center at

—Freelance writer Joyell Nevins can be reached at You can also follow her blog Small World, Big God at

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