Our Civic Shame, Their Filmic Pride

San Diego Latino Film Festival excels where OC has nada

Within Orange County exists the most-Latino city in the United States, Santa Ana; four colleges that reward film degrees; and a plague of multiplexes that places us among the top 10 American metro markets for the most silver screens per capita. Ipso facto, a Latino film festival, right? ¡No chinges, cabrón!Unless you count the fuzzy television entertaining wearied immigrants at the INS offices four stories below the Weekly's headquarters, there is nothing in la naranja to suggest that voracious Latino flick-watchers reside here.

This is a civic embarrassment. Other, lesser areas across the country are years into their respective Latino movie marathons. Los Angeles began its version in 1996, which makes sense considering enough Spanish-speakers reside in El Lay to justify an American takeover. That San Francisco, New York and Chicago also run similar shindigs isn't surprising, either—the Windy City's festival is the country's oldest at 20 years, actually. But Austin, Texas? Cambridge, Massachusetts? ¿¡Pinche Toronto, Canada?! You know something is dreadfully wrong if a city of hosers hosts one more Latino film festival than Orange County.

It's DIY time, people. A group of young, artistically inclined local Latinos—I'm looking at you, Santa Ana's Centro Cultural de México—should caravan down to San Diego and steal some pointers from the annual San Diego Latino Film Festival (SDLFF), which starts today. What originated 11 years ago as a showcase solely for student-made movies is now one of the better film festivals in the country, embellishing its reputation not just by rolling reels, but also by holding retrospectives on obscure-in-the-States/cinema-colossuses-everywhere-else directors, fascinating seminars, and un chingo of notable filmmakers and stars. This isn't your Newport Beach Film Festival trotting out a 50-some-year-old Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird or hailing A Christmas Story as a modern-day classic, 'mano.

More than 100 feature-length films, documentaries and shorts from across the Hispanic galaxy will show over the SDLFF's two-week duration. To the organizers' credit, the only famous film in their lineup is the forever-acclaimed Amores Perros—most other selections will be marking their American debuts in Pete Wilson's former fiefdom. Two of the more promising choices include Radio Favela: Oma Onda no Ar(Something in the Air), a 2003 Brazilian feature based on the true story behind a pirate radio station exposing police corruption in Brazil's slums; and the Sundance Special Jury Prize-winning Farmingville, a 79-minute documentary depicting the racially charged atmosphere that suffocated a Long Island suburb in 2001 after the savage beating of two Mexican day laborers (full disclosure: I appear in a scene decrying anti-immigrant blowhards). Extra credit to the eagle eyes who can spot the Orange County residents among the immigrant-bashers that provoked my diatribe!

Festival workshops are open to the public and nicely affordable for non-industry types, addressing such pertinent subjects as financing for television (American Familyproducer Gregory Nava leads the discussion on that one), how to survive as a starving indie visionary and the art of shameless self-promotion. The most entertaining workshop, however, is "Distributing and Marketing Your Film"—one of the panelists will be Julio Noriega, film division manager for the Venezuelan media conglomerate Venevisión. Venevisión, lovers of liberty may recall, was one of the news organizations that said nuts to objectivity and openly called for the overthrow of Venezuela President Hugo Chávez during an attempted 2002 coup. Will Noriega extol the virtues of assisting in the attempted deposal of a democratically elected leader alongside his advice to sucking up to distributors? Go and find out.

Also scheduled for the SDLFF are tributes to comedian John Leguizamo and director Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu. But the most intriguing scheduled feature is a new program that seeks to invite a prominent director to serve as guest God every year. The inaugural auteur is Mexican cult icon Arturo Ripstein, whose bizarro efforts during the 1970s and early 1980s single-handedly supported his native country's cinematic reputation during an era of narcopelículas and stripper-dwarf escapades. Besides moderating events, Ripstein will curate a revival of three films that influenced his career: the 1954 sword-dueling classic The Seven Samurai; Fellini's epic of disaffected bourgeoisie life La Dolce Vita; and Nazarín, a 1958 attack against the Catholic Church by Spanish surrealist Luís Buñuel that's a much-needed skeptical antidote to our Passion-drenched soul.

The San Diego Latino Film Festival is not so much a 35-millimeter orgy as it is cultural festival—there will even be exhibits by local artists, concerts featuring rump-and-consciousness-shaking groups such as Quetzal and Very Be Careful, and buffets galore. This celluloid wonderland could be ours, Orange Countians! Are we going to let a conservative hellhole like San Diego trump our conservative hellhole?

THE SAN DIEGO LATINO FILM FESTIVAL STARTS THURSDAY, MARCH 11. THROUGH MARCH 21. FOR MORE INFORMATION, LOG ONTO WWW.SDLATINOFILM.COM OR CALL (619) 585-3359.

 
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