Few would look to Fashion Valley on a Tuesday night as the hub of a cultural revolution, but the many motivated students, filmmakers and cinemaphiles who eagerly awaited the San Diego Latino Film Festival were at ground zero of a powerful movement.
For the 22nd year the SDLFF has graced the city with its diverse selection of domestic and international Latino cinema.
SWC Adjunct Lecturer Neil Kendricks led his History of Film as Art class on a field trip to the festival. Kendricks, who has taken his classes to the event since he started teaching, has shown work there himself. He said he saw inherent value for students of film.
“It’s just the exposure to a lot of different forms of story telling and how images can be very impactful,” he said. “I think it’s really important in terms of Southwestern, which has a large Hispanic community, that students get to see a range of Latino voices from around the world get to create a forum for self representation. This a great place to see people doing really effective artwork and telling their own stories.”
Kendricks also stressed the value of students seeing films beyond the mainstream Hollywood fare typically shown at a local cineplex.
“It’s the same movies playing,” Kendricks said. “What film festivals bring to the table is that they widen the palette of what you get to taste and enjoy. A festival like this provides access to other voices that you otherwise wouldn’t get an opportunity to hear. ”
Kendrick’s students picked up this notion quickly. Scarlett Caro, an anthropology major, said it was important that students didn’t limit themselves to a singular small community.
“I think it’s actually great to expand from our common modern outlook,” Caro said. “We are expanding (our outlooks) to other countries. That’s great. Even if it’s next door.”
Juan Quemado, a journalism major, said the festival helped him get in touch with his Latino roots and is key to promoting a mixture of cultures to a public that is otherwise unaware of non mainstream Hollywood films.
“I don’t think a lot of people are aware of how many Latino movies come out,” he said.
Phillip Lorenzo, the exhibitions director of the Film Festival, said San Diego’s borderlands location is significant.
“The Latino Film Festival matters more than anything else because of where we are,” he said. “San Diego is directly connected to Tijuana. We have a direct connection to Latin America. That necessitates us having a (Latino) Film festival. It’s to celebrate culture, it’s to celebrate nuestra gente in a way that won’t be done by Hollywood.”
“Everything else is pretty much standard Caucasian cinema,” he added. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it’s a matter of accurate representation of the complexity of the continual (influx and mixing) of ethnicity and ethnic identity in the U.S. And I think that Hollywood still ethnically cleanses us and really doesn’t have much understanding of what we’re really about.”
Writer/director Mike Ott, whose film “Lake Los Angeles,” a movie about a girl who creates a fantastical world in a hostile desert habitat in Central California, was screened at the festival. He said the atmosphere was great for independent cinema.
“It’s a place to get exposure, it’s a place to kind of get the ball rolling on your films,” Ott said. “Getting to come to San Diego to show my movie (and see) all these little kids running around holding the posters is really exciting. For me it’s inspiring to see people watch the film.”
Public reception to the events has been positive, at least from the students. Kendricks said his classes are mostly made up of people who have never been to a film festival before.
“This was my first time at this festival and I definitely will return next year and hopefully sometime during this following week to see other films,” said Katrina “Kat” St. Aubin, a visual arts major.
St. Aubin said “Lake Los Angeles” was eye opening.
“It made me feel fortunate that I was raised here and it made me feel like I took a lot for granted,” she said.
St. Aubin said she also appreciated the international aspect to the festival.
“It’s a celebration of film outside of the U.S,” she said. “I think that it’s important for filmmakers from other countries to share their artistic style and also their (home culture’s) messages. It’s a great opportunity for us to share cultures visually, I mean we are a melting pot regardless, but it’s nice to actually sit and have someone tell you a story that you can experience for an hour or two. ”
St. Aubin said the post-screening Q&A with writer/director Ott was also culturally enriching.
“When I was going to film festivals when I was a student it was inspiring for the sake you can see some one who made a movie with not a lot of money and watch it and (say) maybe this is something I can do,” Ott said.
Kendricks’ praised the way the fest made the filmmakers accessible to the public and the networking opportunities that arose from that.
“If you are an aspiring filmmaker you need to go to festivals,” Kendrick’s said.
Lorenzo also pointed out that festivals build communities, with artists and critics coming together to network and to make something new.
“The Mexican New Wave,” he said, “if it’s Alejandro Iñárritu (“Birdman”), Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”), Guillermo Del Toro (“Pacific Rim”), if they don’t form this bond, we don’t see them in Hollywood.”
SDLFF is more than just a networking opportunity, it is a beacon of inspiration and community involvement
“We are the largest single Latino event in San Diego,” said Andy Gonzalez, director of Art De Latino, the visual art portion of the festival. “It’s a focal point for a lot of people.”
Gonzalez first attended the festival 15 years ago he said, and volunteered to use his curator experience to add to the experience.
“Every year we try to make the festival bigger and better and try to introduce more things,” he said. “So this year we have art, we have music, we have dancers and things like that. The focus is always films but we try to have different cultural pieces.”
Gonzalez said he considers SDLFF as a sort of reunion.
“They saw each other last year,” Gonzalez said. “They exchanged ideas, thoughts on the films that they saw, so every year people come back expecting to see old friends that they haven’t seen in a year.”
Lorenzo said the festival was a way for people to see each other differently and be more understanding of different experiences.
“A film festival is absolutely necessary,” he said, “because films are one of the greatest art forms we have. It combines still art, music, performance, and motion and it combines it in a way that communicate cultural understanding, it communicates ideas, gives us calls to action at times and shows us something about ourselves we may never have seen before.”