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writing for godot

2017 San Diego Latino Film Festival Closing Weekend

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Written by Mukul Khurana   
Thursday, 30 March 2017 21:29

On the closing weekend at the 2017 San Diego Latino Film Festival, there was much diversity to be had—from thought-provoking documentaries to repeats of excellent movies to series slated for TV.  Farewell Ferris Wheel USA, 70 min.) is the story of the U.S. carnival industry and the seasonal Mexican workers who cross the border using H-2B visas (possibly the wave of the future).  This excellent documentary chronicles 6 year’s worth of trips.  In a very honest portrayal, we find out the good, bad, and the ugly—how some people regard them as family, how they are treated as expendable, and how, sometimes, employers don’t want to take care of medical needs due to injury because it comes out of pocket.  Miguel Martinez and Jamie Sisley direct this doc which shows how many businesses might profit anyway if the flow of labor is stopped due to a border wall.

Another interesting development—Netflix Presents:  One Day at a Time (USA, 90 min.) is the modern adaptation of the Classic TV sitcom.  In the 2016 version, it is a single Latina mother (Justina Machado) who is raising two kids (both genders) with the help of a mother (Rita Moreno) who clings to the ways of the old country.  I am normally not impressed by remakes, but this one is highly intelligent and manages to successfully inform the average viewer about Latino traditions without being preachy.  Directed by Pamela Fryman and co-written by San Diego native Gloria Calderon Kellett, this show raises the quality bar of episodic TV without being overly “high-brow.”

J! Beyond Flamenco (Span, 90 min.) was just plain beautiful.  This is a Carlos Saura production so it explores traditions in the vein of “Tango,” “Fados,” and “Flamenco.”  But, as the title implies, it goes beyond with great finesse.  Contrast that with Al Final del Tunel (Spain/Argentina, 120 min.)—a thriller of the highest order.  Like the dance documentary, this film is technically brilliant.  It is well thought out and all the pieces come together like they should in a great thriller.  In it, a paraplegic computer engineer discovers that a bank robbery is planned.  Interestingly, the woman who rents a spare bedroom from him seems to be involved.  Using the skills from his work, he manages to outsmart the thieves.  Though I have given away the plot, it is the “how” that makes this film another “must see.”

On totally another track, the documentary directed by Chelo Alvarez-Stehle is about human trafficking and sexual exploitation.  As the information demonstrates, Sands of Silence (USA/Mexico/Nepal/Spain/India, 86 min.) is a multinational effort.  That’s because the issues at hand are worldwide and international in scope.  But, Alvarez-Stehle begins her journey closer to home—in fact, with the story of her sister…  This is an important movie for viewers who want to understand what and how these things happen.  But also, how someone might want to work on abuse issues.

Another tour de force is La Habitacion (Mexico, 124 min.).  This anthology tells the story of a century of Mexican history using the same room but in different time periods.  In that manner, various directors are given a chance to showcase their visions and talents.  The names include Carlos Carrera, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Carlos Bolado, Ernesto Contreras, Alfonso Pineda Ulloa, Alejandro Valle, Ivan Avila, and Natalia Beristain.  As you can imagine, the quality is exceptional—as is the storytelling.  Do not miss a chance to see this collection of perspectives—a “must see.”

As part of the Cine Gay Showcase, Etiqueta no rigurosa (Mexico, 92 min.) tells the story of a wedding.  But this is no ordinary wedding—it is a marriage between Victor and Fernando.  This loving couple runs a beauty salon in Baja California.  Against great odds, they want to be one of the first ones in their region to fight homophobia and be married.  It is amazing to see the roadblocks being placed in their path while pursuing their right to get married just because they re gay.  It is also amazing to see how persistent they are in achieving their goal.  During the Q & A following the show, the point was made that “everything is possible if enough people unite.”  The first gay couple to get married in San Diego was also in attendance.  It’s no secret, “minorities” can support one another by attending the events of the other.

Speaking of which, I asked Ethan van Thillo (Founder of SDLFF) whether the changes in our political climate had affected attendance to the 2017 San Diego Latino Film Festival.  I was expecting the answer to be that the numbers were down.  But, it seems that the Latino community has been energized.  Many showings sold out—including documentaries!  Yes, there were films only meant to entertain, but people need that in stressful times.  By and large, the material shown was thought provoking and worth watching.  An excellent season comes to a very satisfactory end.

The festival has ended, but the coverage continues.  More in depth analysis and interviews to follow…  Keep tuned to this site.

Mukul Khurana has been writing about the art and culture scene in San Diego for over a decade.  He specializes in film and theater reviews as well as film festival coverage in general.

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