Programming a film festival is hard enough as it is, especially one as diverse as the San Diego Latino Film Festival, which screens shorts, documentaries and features from a slew of countries, all of which have their own film cultures. But this year's festival, which kicks off Thursday, March 7, at the Digiplex Mission Valley Cinemas and runs through March 17, was even more challenging, since it marks SDLFF's 20th anniversary. To put things into perspective— and to celebrate, of course—artistic director Lisa Franek, programming manager Glenn Heath and documentary curator Mario Diaz assembled a showcase of 10 films designed to represent the last two decades of Latino cinema.
"We want this to be special," Heath says. "We want this to be something that people remember."
It's a unique collection of movies from several different countries, and the directors include Pedro Almodovar, Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron and Robert Rodriguez, whose entry is Desperado, the follow-up to his breakthrough hit, El Mariachi. Yes, an American movie made the cut.
"It really helped grow Latino cinema in the public's mind," Heath says.
Franek adds that Rodriguez "changed the face of independent cinema as we know it."
Along with the 20th Anniversary Showcase, there's an overwhelming number of films to watch during the festival. So, allow me to recommend two movies that the San Diego Film Critics Society—of which Heath and I are members—is co-sponsoring. The Brazilian movie Father's Chair has two screenings: 10:15 p.m. Thursday, March 7, and 8 p.m. Sunday, March 17, at the Digiplex Mission Valley Cinemas. There's also the dark Mexican comedy Fecha de Caducidad, which also plays twice in Mission Valley: 7 p.m. Thursday, March 14, and 5 p.m. Sunday, March 16. Some critics will be on hand to discuss these movies.
But back to the anniversary: Coming up with a small collection of films that represents 20 years is no small task. Franek, Heath and Diaz started with almost 30 movies and had to whittle them down.
How do you make that happen?
"Lots of arguing," Franek says.
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Barbara: Marvelously well-acted film about an East German doctor in the 1980s who's assigned to a small-town clinic, where she must balance her professional obligations with her desire to escape to the West.
Dead Man Down: Colin Farrell is mobster Terrence Howard's right hand man, until he falls under the spell of a woman (Noomi Rapace) who wants a shot at his boss.
Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey: This doc was the opening-night movie of last year's San Diego Asian Film Festival. It's about Arnel Pineda, the Filipino singer whom the band Journey found on YouTube and eventually hired as its frontman.
Emperor: Matthew Fox plays a U.S. general in Japan after that country's World War II surrender, trying to determine if the emperor should be hanged as a war criminal. Tommy Lee Jones swings by as Douglas MacArthur.
Greedy Lying Bastards: Longtime en vironmental activist Daryl Hannah executive-produced this doc, which looks at the greedy lying bastards who do their best to convince us that climate change isn't real.
The Monk: Vincent Cassel is a 17thcentury Spanish monk who, despite living a pious life, is going to have a run-in with Satan.
Oz: The Great and Powerful: Sam Raimi directs this big-budget prequel. James Franco, Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis are all off to see the wizard.
Rocky Mountain Express: The IMAX theater at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center was recently overhauled. This latest entry takes viewers through the Canadian Rockies without leaving San Diego.
Yossi: A closeted Israeli doctor, who grieves for the lover he lost in a military event a decade ago, is trying to survive a life where everyone thinks he's straight.
One Time Only
King Kong: Not a remake! Nope, this is the terrific 1933 original. Screens at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 6, at the Central Library, Downtown.
2001: A Space Travesty: North Park's Sea Rocket Bistro kicks off its Leslie Nielsen film series with this 2001 parody. Screens at around 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 6, in North Park.
Pulp Fiction: Quentin Tarantino gave John Travolta his career back in this timeline-shifting, hysterically funny criminal tour de force. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 6, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Zardoz: The latest Trash Talk screening will kick off with San Diego filmmaker Bill Perrine's documentary Children of the Stars and conclude with this Sean Connery sci-fi cheeser. Bring your phones and iPads—tweets about the movie will show up on screen. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 7, at the Victory Theater in Grant Hill.
Alien: Ridley Scott's 1979 outer-space horror film is still the best of all of them. Screens at noon and 7 p.m. Thursday, March 7, at Reading Town Square in Clairemont.
Batman: Don't confuse it with Christopher Nolan's trilogy. Tim Burton's movie stars Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker and features that theme song from Prince. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 7, at ArcLight La Jolla.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: Ewan McGregor is a fisheries expert hired to help a sheik populate the Yemen River with salmon. Along the way, he falls for Emily Blunt. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 8 and 9, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Park Chan-Wook retrospective: Beth Accomondo of KPBS hosts the Korean auteur's Vengeance trilogy at Reaching Cinemas Town Square in Clairemont. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy screen at 4 and 7 p.m. Saturday, March 9, while Lady Vengeance screens at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 10. Attendees will receive a pass to the director's new film, Stoker, which screens Monday night.
Board Shorts Surf Film Festival: The second iteration of this fest, which features short surf films by and about women, starts at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 9, at Bird's Surf Shed in Ocean Beach. Food and booze will be dispensed.
Night of the Hunter: Robert Mitchum is a serious creep, playing a religious fanatic who marries a widow so he can get her two young children to tell him where their dad hid a stash of cash. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 11, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Raging Bull: One of the greatest. Scorsese directs Robert De Niro, who won the Best Actor Oscar, as self-destructive boxer Jake La Motta. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 11, at ArcLight La Jolla.
Thermae Romae: The San Diego Asian Film Festival presents this time-traveling comedy about an ancient Roman who's transported to modern-day Japan. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, at ArcLight La Jolla.
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story: Just when Vince Vaughn is about to give up on his dreams of becoming a dodgeball champion, he runs into Lance Armstrong, who gives him a bullshit motivational speech. Really. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 13, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Wrongfully Accused: Leslie Nielsen's parody take on The Fugitive starts at around 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 13, at Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park.
The Phantom: This Cold War submarine picture, which stars Ed Harris and David Duchovny, was shot in San Diego. Sadly, the movie sinks to the bottom.
21 & Over: Straight-laced honors student gets crunky the night before his big medical-school exam. You won't be surprised to hear that it's written by the same guys who penned The Hangover.
The Gatekeepers: Dror Moreh's Oscar-nominated documentary features interviews with all of the living former heads of the Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet. And you'll be surprised by some of the opinions they hold.
Jack the Giant Slayer: The first feature from Bryan Singer (X-Men, The Usual Suspects) in five years is about a young farmhand who takes the war between humans and giants straight to the giants.
The Last Exorcism Part II: Um, kind of an oxymoronic title, right?
No: Gael García Bernal is a young advertising executive who leads a campaign designed to take on Augusto Pinochet, the longtime Chilean dictator.
A Place at the Table: Jeff Bridges is the frontman for this documentary, which looks at hunger problems in the United States and offers some solutions. Ends March 7 at the Ken Cinema.
A Moment in Time: A Filipino couple holds out for a fairy-tale romance, even when life does its best to keep them from having it.
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga: The latest documentary from Werner Herzog and co-director Dmitry Vasyukov is missing something—Herzog himself. Though he cut the film and narrates it, he wasn't present for the year his Russian counterpart spent with trappers in the Siberian outback, and it shows. Ends March 7 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Bless Me, Ultima: During World War II, a young man teams up with an elderly medicine woman to sort out the problems in his small New Mexico town. Screens at the Regal Rancho Del Rey in Chula Vista.
Dark Skies: A young family, led by Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton, learn that some nasty supernatural beasties want to get their mitts on them.
Snitch: Dwayne Johnson goes undercover for the DEA after his son is busted during a drug sting.
Kai Po Che: Bollywood flick about three buddies who start a cricket training academy, trying to cash in on the influx of money in India around the turn of the millennium.
Beautiful Creatures: After the success of Twilight, you know there are plenty of young-adult supernatural franchises to come. This one is about witches!
Escape From Planet Earth: Brendan Fraser voices Scorch, an astronaut who needs the help of his little brother (Rob Cordrry) when he lands on an inhospitable planet full of unspeakable dangers. Hint: It's Earth.
A Good Day to Die Hard: Bruce Willis goes to Moscow, meets up with his son (Jai Courtney) and shoots a bunch of guys.
Safe Haven: The latest Nicholas Sparks romance stars Julianne Hough as a mysterious woman who takes up with a hunky widower (Josh Duhamel).
Spike & Mike's Festival of Animation: Sure, they're better known for their sick-and-twisted stuff, but this 30th-anniversary family-friendly greatest-hits set of films from the past four decades has some great stuff. Screens through March at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.
Identity Thief: Jason Bateman hits the road to find out who stole his identity. Not a spoiler: It's Melissa McCarthy.
Side Effects: This thriller is rumored to be Steven Soderbergh's final theatrical release. If so, he's going out on top with this one, about a woman (Rooney Mara) whose shrink (Jude Law) prescribes her anti-depressants that end up plunging both of them down a rabbit hole.
Oscar Nominated Short Films: All 10 Oscar-nominated short and live-action films are screening at Hillcrest Cinemas, and there are some real winners in this batch.
Warm Bodies: In a world populated by both zombies and humans, one member of the walking dead (Nicholas Hoult) starts to have feelings for a real girl (Teresa Palmer).
Quartet: It's surprising that it took Dustin Hoffman this long to direct a movie. Quartet, about what happens when a faded opera singer (Maggie Smith) is forced to move into a home for retired musicians, including the rest of the quartet she left behind, is slight, but enjoyable.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters: Sure. Why not?
Beasts of the Southern Wild: Wait, what? Didn't this micro-budget movie come out last summer before being nominated for a slew of Oscars last week? Yeah, that's why it's back in theaters, Sherlock.
Cosmic Collisions: So, that asteroid that might smash into Earth in 20 years is much bigger than previously thought? Awesome. This new IMAX movie at the Reuben H. Fleet looks at what happens when things bash into each other in outer space. On the bright side, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, at least future species will have a new source of fossil fuels.
Amour: Michael Haneke's Palm d'Or-winning drama, about an elderly couple facing declining health, is as terrifying as his movies about sadism, home invasions and fanaticism.
The Impossible: Biopic about a family, led by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, caught up in the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. Ends March 7 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Zero Dark Thirty: Kathryn Bigelow's movie, about the 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden, is a masterwork of filmmaking, and the fact that it's inspiring debate about torture should be more tangential than anything else.
Django Unchained: Tarantino takes on yet another genre—the western—and blows it up and makes it fun again. Jamie Foxx is Django, a slave freed by German bounty hunter Christoph Waltz, off to rescue wife Kerry Washington from plantation owner Leonardo DiCaprio.
Les Miserables: Fans of the legendary musical will get their fix from this big-screen adaptation by King's Speech director Tom Hooper, who relies heavily on close-ups and, sadly, Russell Crowe, who isn't a trained singer. Anne Hathaway, on the other hand, dreams a nice dream as Fantine.
Parental Guidance: Billy Crystal and Bette Midler agree to look after their grandchildren. Hilarity for a certain demographic ensues.
Life of Pi: Ang Lee's adaptation of the Booker Prize-winning novel about a boy, a tiger and a lifeboat is this year's movie that you simply must see on a big screen and in 3-D. Really.
Silver Linings Playbook: Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a bipolar guy from Philly who's just out of the mental hospital, having lost his job, his home and his wife. He moves in with his parents (Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro) in hopes of regaining his marriage, but things are thrown askew by Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who has problems of her own.
Lincoln: It might as well have been called The 13th Amendment. Despite another spellbinding performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln's biopic is really about getting legislation through Congress.
Tales of the Maya Skies: This IMAX movie explores the rich history of the Mayan people, just in time for the end of the world. At the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Argo: Ben Affleck directs and stars in this take on the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, and believe it or not, it's gonna be a Best Picture contender.
Flight of the Butterflies: It turns out Monarch butterflies are much like SDSU students—every year, thousands of them head to Mexico. This IMAX film captures their beautiful trip. The butterflies, that is.
Flying Monsters 3D: No, it's not a crappy studio blockbuster—this one is all about dinosaurs and was written and directed by Richard Attenborough, using Avatar-like technology, and plays the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.
To the Arctic 3-D: Cute-animal-movie alert No. 2. Meryl Streep narrates this new IMAX movie about a mama polar bear and her two cubs.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.