Friday, March 27, 2009

Gay Feature a Big Hit at Latino Film Festival

story and photo by LEO E. LAURENCE

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

The crippling recession failed to make a big dent in attendance at the 16th annual Latino Film Festival, which ran March 12-22. “It’s on a par with last year,” said Ethan van Thillo, founder and executive director. There were many screening that were sold out.

The internationally recognized event in San Diego screened about 171 Spanish-language films with English subtitles, and cost over $250,000 to produce by the highly respected Media Arts Center in Golden Hills.

The movies came from Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Columbia, Chile, Portugal, Mexico, Honduras and other Latin countries. But, some of the best, professional-quality films came from Spain.

Perhaps the best Spanish movie of the whole festival was a high-quality and very funny Gay movie, Fuerta de Carta (literally translated “A Strong Menu,” though the official English title is Chef’s Special). The script was good, the casting better and the cinematography was Hollywood-quality professional. It is such a powerful movie that at times, it brought tears to my eyes.

The festival’s movie ranged the full spectrum of filmmaking, including classics, drama, comedy and sci-fi.

International films use more heavy drama than Hollywood movies, which seem to require guns, violence and explosions to be marketable.

One sci-fi movie screened was GB2525, a low-budget attempt to show life in the barrio far into the future. In typical Hollywood style, there are lots of guns and violence in GB2525!

But most of the cast and crew of the movie came down from L.A. and appeared at the festival.

One of the hottest actors who appeared was Ricardo Molina, a baby-faced, cute, soft-spoken Latino who effectively plays the role of a tough, gang member in the barrio of the future. And he’s trained in the martial arts.

But when scenes of street fighting showed on the screen, they looked so contrived and unreal that many youths in the audience laughed loudly.

Over the past five years, the festival has had to cope with the limited availability of many of the best Latino films. Producers take the better movies to the major festivals, like Havana, Cuba.

There, commercial distributors buy the best films and prohibit them from being shown in events like our local Latino Film Festival, according to van Thillo and City College Spanish Professor Juan Bernal.

That has limited the films available to our local film festival.

Whoever controlled the bar at the festival’s Closing Gala in the Gaslamp Quarter failed to provide Mexican beers at the bar.

The festival is really a multi-level event celebrating Latino culture.

Some outstanding original paintings and other art pieces were featured in the UltraStar Theatre lobby. That art exhibition is a regular feature of the annual festival, and was presented by Andy Gonzalez, curator of La Onda Arte Latino (

Corporate funding changes challenged the festival’s organizers. Some major corporate sponsors of the past dropped their funding, as they were hit by the recession.

Contact Leo E. Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or at

Photo Caption: Exciting movie actor Ricardo Molina of L.A. appeared at the 16th annual Latino Film Festival in March. Photo by Leo E. Laurence.