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Film festival celebrates 20 years Jose Guzman | Fri, Mar 08 2013 12:00 PM

The San Diego Latino Film Festival is in its 20th year, celebrating its evolution from a showcase for student filmmakers to a venue welcoming established stars in the Latino entertainment world.

Brainchild of San Diego Media Arts executive director and founder Ethan Van Thillo, the festival still adheres to its original goal of giving voice to underserved artists.

The festival primarily serves as an opportunity for filmmakers who do not have distribution and have encountered obstacles in getting their films in front of an audience.

“These are films that don’t make it into places like Landmark Theaters,” Van Thillo said. “There are tons and tons of films that are produced around the world that still don’t have distribution or venue.”

Van Thillo said what he attributes to the success of this festival is that it is unlike any other film festival and that he’s been fortunate to host Mexican soap opera stars each year, which draws thousands of fans from both sides of the border.

“These actors or actresses might be popular in Mexico or in other countries that still haven’t hit in the Hollywood scene, so sometimes they use our film festival and other festivals here in the U.S.,” Van Thillo said. “It’s kind of an opportunity to start getting to know audiences here and getting closer to Hollywood so they can get more jobs and get to more films.”

This year’s festival will bring back films that have left an indelible mark in Latino films. Thanks to a grant from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the festival this year will feature a collection of movies that have left a legacy.

“We didn’t try to really screen a film from every year, we decided to take a different little route,” he said. “We are going to showcase the top 10 films that have been very influential and ground-breaking.”

Some of the movies that are going to be screened in this year’s festival are Guillermo Del Toro’s “Cronos,” “Selena” directed by Gregory Nava, and “Amores Perros” directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Van Thillo said some of the student filmmakers who participated in the festival in previous years have now gone on to fame and earned recognition throughout the world.

“That’s what’s exciting about starting as a student film festival. For example we are screening a film this year that played at the Cannes Film Festival,” he said. “This director, David Rikers, he was at our festival close to 20 years ago as a student, early films by the great cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, who’s been nominated to various Oscars, we screened his student films as well.”

Van Thillo described his epiphany of changing from a cine estudiantil to the SDLFF after Edward James Olmos was invited to the festival and made an appearance at SDSU, where he packed the place with more than 800 people.

“That’s when I realized and woke up a little bit and said it’s important to showcase student film. Almost the same time, we know general audiences want to see celebrities and actors and filmmakers and they want to see featured films,” Van Thillo said. “As soon as we shifted the SDLFF to a mainstream venue we got out of the university campuses and that’s when the festival really exploded and corporate sponsors were interested, a lot more attendees started showing up; so that was the beginning of the current film festival, which now expects 20,000 people each year.”

The Latino Film Festival runs March 7-17. For a complete list of screenings visit www.sdlatinofilmfestival.com.

For a related video click here.

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