story and photo by LEO E. LAURENCE, J.D.
Copyright © 2012 by Leo E. Laurence for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
PHOTO: Glenn Heath
The real star behind the internationally respected San Diego Latino Film Festival is unquestionably the affable Ethan van Thillo, the festival’s founder and executive director.
“Every year we pick a country to celebrate, like Chile or México. This year we are celebrating a whole showcase on U.S.-Latino films, van Thillo explained in an exclusive interview for Zenger’s.
“There are an amazing number of films that come to us,” van Thillo reported. For this year’s festival, which took place from March 8 through 18, “we received over 600 in our selection process,” he said.
A huge operation like the Latino Film Festival, where 165 movies are screened in six theatres in 11 days, costs lots of money to produce.
It’s also a logistical nightmare. The trick is to allow large audiences to leave one screening without colliding with the mass of people arriving to see the next one.
This film festival is produced by an army of volunteers organized by the staff of the Media Arts Center in North Park, headed by van Thillo.
The Media Arts Center does lots more than produce the film festival. They also train kids in the barrio to produce movies, and have state-of-the-art equipment.
“Every year it’s a challenge to get corporate sponsors, critical to the Center’s budget,” van Thillo added.
“That’s why we need people to attend. We need people to come out and buy tickets. About half of our budget comes from the ticket sales.
“The budget for the festival has been the same for the past few years. We will spend close to $250,000 to $300,000 to put this on.”
At the halfway point in the festival, the executive director said ticket sales were “strong” this year.
This Year is Better!
“What makes this year better (than last year) is that we have really expanded our showcase programming,” van Thillo explained.
“A key difference is El Mundo Estraño, a show case for science fiction films and horror movies,” explained Glenn Heath, the assistant programmer for the festival.
One movie promoted as a horror film, Extrterrestre, was really a comical farce that drew more laughter than fear.
“Our country of focus is the United States this year,” explained Heath.
“We are showcasing the strong work that is going on by U.S. Latinos.
“We are also doing a “Latinos on TV” showcase because there are so many Latino actors on mainstream, American television,” Heath said.
“Diversity in programing meaning we’re trying to show as many different audiences to reveal underrepresented cultures, and show as much as we can in the form of fresh filmaking talent with different perspectives,” Heath explained.
Diversity is really big at this festival, where you can see dozens of movies that don’t feature guns and explosions as Hollywood is notorious for producing.
Of the 165 being screened this year, there was only one — that depicted misconduct by a U.S. Marine — which this author (a civilian volunteer with the U.S. Marine Corps in San Diego) disliked.
Another movie, El Sueño de Ivan, had a powerful story of a teenage soccer team that went up against a “pro” team. The kids almost won, but they captured this viewer’s heart.
Most of the films shown in the festival are by independent filmmakers and there are no guns or explosions, as Hollywood regularly produces.