¡Bienvenidos al Festival de Cine Latino de San Diego!

Sofia Felix, Daniel Galos, and Homie star in Miguel Nuñez’s Levantamuertos.
  • Sofia Felix, Daniel Galos, and Homie star in Miguel Nuñez’s Levantamuertos.

Digital Gym Cinema

2921 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park

My piñata runneth over as the most wonderful time of the year for los amantes del cine locales — the 21st Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival — rolls into town for the next 11 days at UltraStar Mission Valley Cinemas Hazard Center and the Digital Gym.

Kudos to festival founder, Ethan van Thillo: 21 years and stronger than ever, my friend. Congratulations and thanks to you and your staff for all the hard work and the countless fine times spent in the dark your tireless efforts reap.

From Cine Gay and comedy to world-class documentaries and a series of Cuban films in honor of the 55th anniversary of Instituto Cubano del Arte y la Industria Cinematográficos, this year’s fest offers more showcases than ever before.

The first hint of what was to come arrived a little over a month ago. The email subject heading read: “Insane Mexican Film.” It was from Glenn Heath, San Diego Latino Film Festival program director and our arch-rival film critic over at The City’s Beat.

Inside was a link and the following note, “Consider this your sneak peek for the 21st Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival.”

Heli (2013) Official Trailer

It’s so gratifying when a festival programmer understands a critic’s taste. If Heath considers Amat Escalante’s disturbingly delightful black comedy Heli a peek, put him on the payroll as my ophthalmologist.

Heli (Armando Espitia) is the kind of cocky police cadet who would one day buy his girlfriend a cuddly pup and the next cavalierly pump two rounds into a pit bull. Heli is no Ethan Edwards; when his sister turns up missing, there will be no search in a savage world where corruption takes on many faces. What better way to describe the film than by quoting one of its vast array of scumbags: “You’ll get to know God in the land of the damned.”

Trailer, Las Analfabetas ("Illiterate")

Heli is one of three films to be hosted by members of the San Diego Film Critics Society. Group co-founder/Earth Mother, Diana Saenger (The East County Gazette’s) and MovieWallas.com’s Yazdi Pithavala will be at UltraStar Mission Valley on Saturday, March 15 at 4:30 pm to say a few words about Moisés Sepúlveda’s Las Analfabetas. The film features the incomparable Pauline Garcia, star of Gloria, which recently concluded a successful run at Landmark Hillcrest.

Teaser, Levantamuertos

Friday, March 21, finds me pulling double duty at UltraStar Mission Valley. Before introducing the 10 pm screening of Heli, come hear what I have to say about another splendidly dark offering, Miguel Nuñez’s shaggy pig story Levantamuertos, which screens at 5 pm. Did you hear the one about the Mexican coroner who is convinced that a one-night stand with an S&M diva he picked up in a bar went too far resulting in her death? Set during a sweltering heat wave, the film’s true sizzle comes from a powerfully regenerative stitch woven just below the surface preoccupation with death. There’s even talk of Mr. Nuñez putting in a personal appearance.

Heath promises that this year has something for everyone. “All genres are represented,” he says, “but I’m especially proud of the smaller gems like Kelly Daniella Norris’ Sombras de Azul and the more difficult entries like Heli. Each in their own way address the inevitable consequences of denial.”

When asked what makes the 21st Annual Latino Film Festival unique, Heath is quick to point out the HBO sponsored U.S. Latino Filmmakers Showcase. “It highlights new and engaging homegrown talents,” Heath beams. Films like My Sister’s Quinceañera and Avenues challenge the stereotypical archetypes and conventions found in mainstream Latino films by presenting complex characters grappling with difficult, emotionally tense situations.”

For more information visit fest.sdlatinofilm.com/2014/.

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