La prensa

Latino film No. 1, even in the face of Swine Flu

Author: Jose Guzman
Created: 02 April, 2010
Updated: 13 September, 2023
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4 min read

Actress Maya Zapata and producer Alan Jonsson Gavica presented the movie “Morenita El Escandalo” to San Diego audiences. Photo by Aron Martinez

Usually when a movie rolls its credits, people empty the theater. Not at the San Diego Latino Film Festival.

Almost 20,000 people attended the festival over the last two weeks and many were still in their seats when the lights came on after their movie was over. They wanted to ask questions and hear the stories from the movie-makers themselves.

But while movies and actors were the main ingredient of the festival, some said it was the stories the movie-makers told about their triumphs over adversity that added the spice to the festival.

The most common theme directors and producers touched on were the hardships of making movies in non-U.S. countries.

Mexican Co-director Rafael Lebrija, for example, who played a big role in making the festival’s feature film “Amar o Morir,” said the story was about overcoming forbidden love, but the making of it was about overcoming forbidden funding, or at least a lack of it.

Investors pulled out on the film in 2006 after a controversial presidential election that left the country with an unstable air of revolution. The U.S. recession hit full swing in 2008 and more investors pulled their money. Then the swine flu brought the Mexican economy to a grinding halt, all the while the movie’s production crew slogged forward with their filming. The movie overcame this adversity to become a national hit, winning two international awards and garnering the name “the little film that could,” by one of its producer’s and writer, Harrison Reiner.

Still, though, Lebrija said it all would have been easier if he had made the film in English. He said those are the movies the play to the U.S. audiences and other countries in the world and can make a lot more money. 

“It is more profitable to make movies in English sometimes I tell Harrison that we should make a movie in English and I’ll guarantee it would sell more,” said Rafael Lebrija “Morir” Co-director and producer.

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Another movie at the festival titled, “El Estudiante,” earned the “Cine Latino Audience Choice Award” also struggled with funding. Executive producer and scriptwriter Gaston Pavlovich said he had to get creative to stretch his dollar, or peso, as far as possible.

Officials at the University of Guanajuato let Pavlovich do his filming on campus for free. Pavlovich graduated from the University of San Diego almost 20 years ago, said he was happy that people liked his movie.

“I am glad to have received this opportunity and hopefully I have the chance to attend this festival again,” said Pavlovich. “For now I want to enjoy the ride”

Director Alan Jonsson Gavica ran into trouble with a Catholic church in Mexico City. His movie, “Morenita, El Escandalo,” features an honest man who takes up crime to save his grandfather. In one scene, he steals the highly prized first image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The Church barred him from entrance and criticized the movie before it was released.

“The church was not happy with the film,” said Gavica. “But they were criticizing before watching the movie.”

Actor Pierre Angelo said animation films were not popular in Mexico and that finding financial backing was near impossible. Last year only two animation films played in Mexican theaters, according to Angelo, and now Mexico’s version of The Academy Awards was talking about no longer considering the genre for award. His movie, “Nikte,” was about a young girl who pretends to be a princess and ends up having to save her civilization.

“In Mexico you don’t find animation films,” said Pierre, “compared to the U.S. so the Latinos have to support us, so we can continue to produce new movies.”

The festival was a melding of Latino culture from around the world. Patrons were immersed in Latino music, movie stars, and movies and of course stories of adversity. Jaime Camil, Blanca Soto, Carmen Salinas and Silvia Navarro were some of the Latino star power at the event. And, while Latino movie-makers said the movie industry in their country was a long way from Hollywood, they also said they don’t plan to stop making movies anytime soon.

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“Never stop dreaming if there is a will there is a way and no one can tell you that you can’t do it and if you have the passion and the dream you can do anything you want,” said director Isabel Cuevas.

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