Film festivals have frequently become a testing ground to gauge audience response and occasionally garner distribution deals that will allow a film to reach a wider audience. They're also a place to see movies before they have a regular theatrical run. That's all well and good, but the bigger, better reason to go to a film festival is to watch films you simply won't be able to see anywhere else. Film distribution is a risk-averse business these days, and there are plenty of interesting movies that you won't see unless you make an effort. This year's San Diego Latino Film Festival, the 16th, has a decent blend of art-house films that are unlikely to have theatrical runs in San Diego and several pictures that you can catch before they make their way here during their regular run. The films listed below are just a sampling—the festival is screening more than 170 films in 11 days.
Silent Light: For film geeks, this is the big one. Carlos Reygadas' picture made the 2008 year-end lists of some of the few critics who were lucky enough to see it. It's beautifully photographed, and the director lets the shots, which are stunning and straightforwardly framed, run longer than what you're used to seeing. In its way, Silent Light, which explores a case of infidelity within a German Mennonite community in Mexico, is small and simple. There's no duplicity, nothing furtive—just heartbreak and sorrow. All of the actors are from that world, and though their lives might be considered slow or simple by Western standards, their emotional lives are as complicated as anyone's. The knock on Silent Light is that it's the epitome of art-house pretension, and it's easy to see why that charge is sometimes leveled—the movie is long and moves exceedingly slowly. Still, it's lovely to watch, and aside from the screenings at SDLFF, there are no plans that I know of to bring it to San Diego. Whether it's pretentious, however, will be up to you. Silent Light screens March 12, 13 and 14.
Birdsong: The fest's other big art-house offering. Albert Serra's second picture is a retelling of the birth of Christ, except that it's from the perspective of the three kings, old men wandering the desert in search of, well, they're not exactly sure what. Shot in black-and-white with natural light, Serra manages to turn what sounds like a yawner into a film that's gorgeous and surprisingly insightful and funny. Birdsong screens March 12 and 19.
Sin Nombre: This one will open in San Diego in April, but you have a chance to catch it beforehand. Director Cary Fukunaga and cinematographer Adriano Goldman won awards at this year's Sundance festival for this film, which tells the story of a Honduran teen trying to cross through Mexico by train to make her way to the U.S. Sin Nombre screens March 13, with other dates to be announced.
Emilio: Another film about a youngster headed north of the border. This one is about a naïve young man armed only with a name and a photograph, searching for his kidnapped sister in L.A. This is the first film from director Kim Jorgensen, best known for exec-producing Out of Africa and, oh yeah, founding Landmark Theatres. Emilio screens March 17 and 18, with other dates to be announced.
Fotoaktion!: Local artist Perry Vasquez produced and directed this documentary about artist Doris “Boris” Berman, her work during the San Francisco art scene of the early 1980s and their collaboration on a contemporary work at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Fotoaktion! screens March 12, with other dates to be announced.
The San Diego Latino Film Festival runs from March 12 through 22 at UltraStar Hazard Center. Find a complete list of films, showtimes and ticket information at www.sdlatinofilm.com.