San Diego Film Festival
Photo by Chris Bullock/The Ball Out

San Diego, CA — San Diego is known to many as “America’s Finest City” with its sandy beaches and year-round sunny weather.

However, unless you are a cinephile, you were probably not aware that San Diego is also home to one of the most renowned film festivals on the globe. The San Diego International Film Festival, created by the San Diego Film Foundation, brings the best in independent films from all genres together for six days of red carpet festivities, panels and of course all the movies one can handle.

The opening night of the festival (Tuesday, Oct. 15) started off with a bang, as festival attendees got to meet most of the directors of the movies being shown on the red carpet at Balboa Theatre. Tuesday also marked the premiere of “Jojo Rabbit”, a satirical black comedy that is based off the Christine Leunens book “Caging Skies”. The movie is essentially a humorous take on the Holocaust, which depending on your personal tastes you’ll either get it or leave the movie completely turned off. That being said, the movie’s director (Taika Waititi) won the TIFF Ebert Award at the Toronto Film Festival for his work on the movie.

On Wednesday, I attended the San Diego premiere of “Tribes On The Edge“, a CauseCentric Productions documentary that focused on the plight of the Indigenous Peoples of the Brazilian Amazon. In the 83-minute long film, director Céline Cousteau (granddaughter of famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau) travels through the Javari valley, where multiple tribes (the Korubo, Matis, etc.) are in danger due to continued threats from the Brazilian government, corporate interests from around the globe and disease. Cousteau’s goal wth the film was to tell a story of unification: that the plight of the indigenous directly tied in with our need to protect the environment.

San Diego Film Festival
A banner listing all the sponsors of the 2019 San Diego Film Festival. Photo by Chris Bullock/The Ball Out

I would be lying if I said that the movie did not invoke any emotion from me. Watching the members of different tribes tell stories of how their villages were ravaged by hepatitis and malaria brought tears to my eyes. Seeing the inaction from FUNAI (the government group responsible for their safety) made me angry, because these tribes act as the last defense of the rainforest against illegal loggers, etc. and you get the sense that nothing is being done to protect them.

Thursday night was the debut of the festival at its secondary venue, ArcLight Cinemas in La Jolla, where they showed the premiere of Martin Scorcese’s “The Irishman”. On Friday afternoon, I made my way to the fifth anniversary viewing of “Waiting For Mamu”, which had won the 2014 Audience Choice Award at this very festival. Upon taking my seat, I got to speak with Beatrice Fletcher, a VIP attendee who was here for the third year in a row.

Fletcher, who is also a regular attendee of the Sundance Festival, said that she loves to attend this festival because she doesn’t like to fly and it is more local for her. In regards to her favorite movie so far, she said that honor went to “Inside Game”, a movie based on the real life story of disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy and his childhood friends (bookie Baba Battista and Tommy Martino).

“I’m not a sports person, and I’m not a gambler,” Fletcher said. “But I found the movie really interesting because I had no idea how in depth that controversy was.”

Waiting For Mamu” told the story of Pushpa Basnet and how she takes children who have been imprisoned with their parents and helps to raise them (in Nepal, if a parent is taken to prison and there is no immediate caretaker, the children are imprisoned with their parents). Basnet began at age 21 while still an undergraduate in Social Work; she had visited a women’s prison and couldn’t believe the amount of children staying with their imprisoned parents. As a result, she started the Early Childhood Development Center to provide daycare for the children.

In the 14 years since the program began, Pushpa’s story has been shared across the globe thanks to the help of director Thomas Morgan. Morgan, who was at the showing and hosted a Q&A after the showing, talked about how important this movie was for him.

San Diego Film Festival
Thomas Morgan stands at the front of the theater to answer questions after they watched his film, Waiting on Mamu. Photo by Chris Bullock/The Ball Out

“Most of the movies I do focus on strong women,” Morgan said. “From my point of view, they always tend to be the most overlooked and are treated like secondary citizens. But these ladies never abandon their community and I find a strength in their resolve.”

Pushpa Basnet won the 2013 CNN Hero of the Year and 2016 CNN Superhero of the Year for her efforts in raising these impoverished children. In the years since she has started, over 200 kids have benefited from Pushpa’s kindness. According to Morgan, as of 2 weeks ago there are 62 kids at the Butterfly Home.

Later that night, Pendry San Diego was host to the “Night Of The Stars” tribute, where stars such as Laurence Fishburne, Lindsay Wagner and Pitbull were honored for their contributions to film and music.

Overall, my experience at the festival was nothing short of thought-provoking. While I’m not the biggest moviegoer, the documentaries I saw were inspiring, emotional and taught me more about the cruel irony in other countries that we don’t face in our own. If you are a cinephile, the San Diego International Film Festival should definitely be on your calendar for 2020.


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