October 19, 2007

Almost 15 years of Latino cinema

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

The San Diego Latino Film Festival is turning 15 in March, and as a way to prepare the public for the huge celebration coming up, the San Diego Media Arts Center, the non-profit that organizes the film festival, started the Countdown to 15 series, a monthly showcasing of two Latino films.

This month, the series will present El aura, an Argentinean thriller, and Drama/Mex, a Mexican coming of age story a la Y tu mamá también. Both films will be screened from October 19 through 25 at the Ultra-Star Mission Valleys Cinemas at Hazard Center.


Drama/Mex runs Oct. 19 -25 as part of the Countdown to 15 series.

The films are in Spanish with English subtitles.

La Prensa San Diego interviewed Ethan Van Thillo, Media Arts Center executive director and film festival founder, to learn more about his 15 years of promoting Latino cinema in San Diego.

La Prensa: How do you feel about turning 15 in a few months?

Van Thillo: A lot of emotions are surrounding the upcoming 15th anniversary of the San Diego Latino Film Festival this upcoming March 2008. Of course on a personal level there is immense joy and pride that we’ve been able to bring to San Diego / Tijuana audiences such an event every Spring for so many years. At the same time, there’s a feeling of sadness and nostalgia about 15 years. Those who have passed away, the close to 1,000 staff and volunteers who have crossed our doors and helped us, the over 1,000 actors and filmmakers who have attended, the extreme long hours and tons of work by all those who have been involved, the partnerships gained and the partnerships lost, and the on-going struggles in takes to keep both the festival and the organization together in one piece. At the same time, there’s the feeling of joy and excitement as we remember the over 150,000 past guests smiling when seeing a film they liked or meeting a famous celebrity, the parties, the young school kids enjoying the student outreach screenings, the friendships that we’ve gained, the social change that has occurred, the forever changing of the City’s cultural landscape, the young filmmaker presenting his/her work to an audience for the first time, and so on. There’s also a feeling of ‘urgency’ and being anxious about the upcoming festival…what can we do different this upcoming festival? ... what will the next 15 years of SDLFF bring?”

  La Prensa: How has Latino film evolved in the last 15 years?

Van Thillo: Major transformations have taken place in the past 15 years. I used to be able to call a filmmaker in Mexico City and ask for a film. They would say, “hmm..let me see if the 35mm copy is in my closet. If so, I’ll send it to you.” Now, Latino and especially filmmakers from Mexico and Latin America are a hot commodity; as are their films. There are international distributors, managers, and sales agents now involved with almost all of the major films and actors/filmmakers from Latin American and Spain . Additionally, Latino entertainment has exploded since we started the festival. Furthermore, there are now more opportunities for audiences to see Latino or Spanish-speaking films then ever before.

La Prensa: What has been the greatest challenge of maintaining and expanding the festival?

Van Thillo: The greatest challenge for the festival and the organization, has been building the capacity and infrastructure of the organization. Finding year-round and multi-year funding sources that can sustain a staff and organizational activities 12-months out of the year. If you compare our festival with others across the world, our staff and volunteers put on a huge event that is comparable to major festivals. Last year we screened 180 films and ran the festival for 11-days. We’ve been able to do this at a fraction of the cost of other festivals. Or better said, we’ve HAD to do this at a fraction of the cost of other festivals. MACSD and SDLFF need the continued support of foundations, individual donors, local San Diegans, and corporate sponsors, in order to be able to grow, hire needed staff, and build capacity of organization, so that we’re around for a long time to come. I urge local San Diegans as we celebrate our 15th Annivesary to not only purchase a move ticket, but also become an annual member of our organization. Every bit helps sustain our organization and put on a great festival every year!

La Prensa: The two films, “El aura” and “Drama/Mex”, are very different. Diversity is a major aspect of Latino cinema, right?

Van Thillo: Both films were produced by ‘new’ film directors. El Aura is only the second film of Fabien Bielinsky. His first film (Nueve Reinas), was very popular. Unfortunately, he passed away last year. Drama/Mex is the first feature for Gerardo Naranjo. Thus, SDLFF/MACSD is excited to showcase these new talents to San Diego audiences and get these films on the big screen (for at least one week). Of course, these films are very different in both style, quality, actors, etc. Drama/Mex uses a lot of first time actors and is more of a controversial/in-your-face style of digital cinema. El Aura has a major budget, beautiful 35mm film cinematography, and a popular film star (Ricardo Darin). MACSD is honored to be able to have these two films represent the varied styles of Latino and Latin American Cinema. It’s important that local audiences can choose from various genres and styles of Spanish language or Latino cinema each month to see. For so many years, there’s just always been ‘one’ choice at the local movie theater.

La Prensa: What are the next films in the Countdown series?

Van Thillo: Very soon, November 9-15, we’ll be screening a Brazilian film (Love for Sale) and a Spanish drama (DarkBlueAlmostBlack).

La Prensa: Anything you´d like to add?

Van Thillo: Our Call for Entries for films for the 2008 festival ends November 1st. We encourage local filmmakers from San Diego and Tijuana to apply today and participate in our 15th Anniversary!

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