With three of last year's most critically acclaimed pictures-Pan's Labyrinth, Babel and Children of Men-helmed by Mexican directors, the buzz about Latino filmmaking is loud. Of course, that's always been the case here in the border town of San Diego, where the Media Arts Center has hosted the Latino Film Festival for 14 years. In that time, the event has grown to become one of the most respected festivals of its kind, consistently pushing the proverbial envelope and exposing the works of young and underground filmmakers from across the globe. This year, organizers expect more than 30,000 people to attend the event, which runs from March 8 to 18 at the UltraStar Mission Valley theaters at Hazard Center.
"This year we have four screens, up from three," says festival director Ethan van Thillo. "If there's ever a complaint, it's that people couldn't get in because the lines were too long."
Compared with the rest of the country's Latino film festivals, San Diego's really is top-shelf, which is impressive given that the Media Arts Center has just four full-time staff members, all of whom wear a variety of hats when it comes time to piece together the festival. And yet, year after year, the grassroots crew manages to pull it off. In fact, things just keep getting bigger.
Director of operations Patric Stillman is the guy at the Media Arts Center responsible for finance, personnel, marketing and even dish duty when the kitchen sink in the Victorian house they use as an office overflows. A year ago, he added a series of gay films to the mix, and this time around, Stillman has put together Cine'mation, a showcase of Latino short and feature-length animation, adding yet another genre to a diverse lineup of films, panels and artist appearances.
"I love my films," says Stillman. "There are so many things that can be done in animation that can't be done in film. There's just so much more room for creativity and imagination."
From what we've seen so far, Stillman's done a fine job handpicking animated films for this year's festival. A sneak peek of the Cine'mation selections finds traditional, computer and stop-action animation, as well as European anime. Just the artistry of the films showcased make Cine'mation worth a glance. On this page is our take on the films that stimulated our eyeballs the most.
Wood & Stock: Sexo Oregano e Rock 'n' Roll
Otto Guerra's feature is a flashback to the flower-powered '60s. Wood and Stock-two hippie holdouts living in the here and now but lost somewhere in smoky memories of looser days-are based on the squirrelly, often trashy characters that appear in Brazilian cartoonist Angeli's work-only the animated versions are much more anarchistic and grotesque. Wood and Stock spend their days sneaking off to smoke oregano (Wood's wife is no longer down with pot), banging old burnout hippie chicks, bemoaning the overriding pressure to join "the system," getting wasted at the corner bar or playing in a rock band with a squealing pig as a front man-literally (earrings and bandana included). It's light viewing, but the clever dialogue (during one oregano smoking session, Wood whines to Stock, "My kid wants to be an economist, pal!") and the psychedelic soundtrack and visuals make it a trip worth taking.
(March 14 at 7:30 p.m.; March 17 at 10:15 p.m.)
Tragic Story With Happy Ending
A poor little girl with a heart that beats faster and louder than others tries to find her place in the world. Portuguese animator Regina Pessoa takes her on a quick but significant journey via a nontraditional style of animation. It looks like scratchboard or woodblocks, but the director actually uses a complicated process of photocopying images and scratching them onto glossy paper with Indian ink. The end result is a pulsating collection of lines and shadow that drive the girl's emotions into your own slowly beating heart.
(March 11 at 2:30 p.m.)
A Garota is a four-minute walk through a gorgeous digital masterpiece. Brazilian Fernando Pinheiro pays tribute to The Kid, the classic 1921 Charlie Chaplin film about a homeless clown who finds an abandoned child. Using the juxtaposition of black-and-white characters against a colored background and a slow, dreamy Schubert sonata, Pinheiro gets his message through-childhood poverty isn't pretty.
(March 11 at 2:30 p.m.)
These days, the big, watery eyes of Japanese anime characters can be spotted all over the world. Kids' cartoons have employed the style for years, but Gisaku is the first attempt by Europeans to make a full, feature-length anime film. Spanish creator Baltasar Pedrosa doesn't leave the tradition at all in his film; in fact, he plays it up with Gisaku's main character, a stoic Japanese samurai. The complex storyline begins in 17th-century Japan and ends in modern-day Spain. The twists and turns the samurai and his ragtag team of sidekicks take while tracking down five pieces of a magical key bring viewers through Madrid, Seville and Barcelona, dragging up bits and pieces of Spanish history and culture along the way. The quest is in the name of "preserving the order of the universe," but the significance of the film is perhaps more about the international growth of anime.
(March 10 at 11 a.m.; March 17 at 4 p.m.)
Viaje a Marte
Claymation may never achieve the fluid, harmonious motion of more sophisticated types of animation, but the genre's disarming, disjointed movement has helped it survive in the days of high-tech CGI. Juan Pedro Zaramella's short film about a boy who visits Mars and finds a nice lady running a taco shop is a cute and pleasant addition to the claymation collection.
(March 17 at 11 a.m.)
A reception for the Cine'mation art exhibition, a show featuring drawings, posters and prints by several of the film's animators, will be held on Tuesday, March 13, at the San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park from 7:30 to 9 p.m., while the Cine'mation gala will be held the following night, March 14. Visit www.sdlatinofilm.com for the festival's complete lineup and ticket info.