Monday, February 23, 2009



Copyright © 2009 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

Celebrating the best in Latino cinema from around the world, the 16th annual Latino Film Festival runs from March 12-22 at the UltraStar theatre in the Hazard Center in Mission Valley.

“It started as a student film and video festival, primarily focusing on Chicano and Latino student work from the U.S., Latin America and Spain,” said Ethan van Thillo, the founder and executive director, in an interview for Zenger’s.

“We started at UCSD, San Diego State University and at the border at the University of Baja California. We also expanded to Mesa College, so we had multiple venues.

“In 1998, we moved everything under one roof at the Horton Plaza. That’s when we changed from being just a student festival to inviting actors and directors, and started screening more feature films. We had about 30 films on one screen,” van Thillo reported.

“Now we have four screens and 161 films and are growing every day. The film festival not only has student work, but there are documentaries, features, animation and shorts; films from all over Latin America, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Central America, Spain and America.

“(The festival) has turned into an 11-day extravaganza of Latino cinema culture.


“The first festival probably cost about $4,000 when it was at UCSD. We pieced together funding from various departments. We went to the history department to get $100, the women’s department to get $50,” van Thillo reported.

“Now the budget is about $250,000. Honestly, half of that budget comes from ticket sales. The key is attendees. Tickets cost $9.50 general admission and $7.50 for students, seniors and military.

“This year we have a new Family Pack. A family of four pays only $35 and can see four films, or about $2 a ticket.

“We also have a Reel-Talk festival pass for any filmmaker, or anyone interested in the art of film making. For $20, they can see three documentaries and go to two workshops. One of the workshops, for example, is by Raul Garcia, a leading animator from Spain who also worked for Disney.

“The festival is actually a fund-raiser for our year-round Teen Producers’ Project and our work in the community.

“Within the movies, we have a whole collection of Sci-Fi, horror and fantasy films, which we call el mundo estrano.

“Every year, we focus on different countries. Last year was Argentina, the year before Chile and this year is Spain.

“We also have the fourth annual Cine Gay, the third annual ‘Borders on Film,’ and the Top 10 to Watch.

“On top of all that, we have the opening and closing night galas where we bring in music, dance and food in a party atmosphere.

“In the lobby every night, we have a dance troupe or musician performing.

“Then we have the annual Arte Latino component.

“Films from our Teen Producers Project will also be screened. We have one teen film on the im-portance of protecting our oceans, and another on TB in the Baja California region.

“From March 17-20, elementary and high school students get to see a film free from 10-12 noon.

“This year is also the 25th anniversary of the film El Norte, which was nominated for an Oscar. The director, Gregory Nava, will be coming down. He’s a San Diego native,” said van Thillo.

These international films focus primarily on high drama, rather than guns, explosions and violence common with Hollywood productions.

Photo caption: Latino Film Festival founder and executive director Ethan van Thillo works with Belinda Rojas, 26, a festival staff operations specialist and a senior at Cal. State San Marcos. Photo by Leo E. Laurence