San Diego Film Festival Adds Environmental Focus

Jojo Rabbit
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox / Kimberley French

Now in its 18th year, the San Diego Intl. Film Festival, produced by the nonprofit San Diego Film Foundation, once again steals the movie glamour spotlight from its neighbor to the north, combining major regional premieres with a focus on social and environmental issues.

Running Oct. 15-20, the festival received more than 3,000 submissions from 68 countries, including feature films, shorts and documentaries. The result is a lineup that includes 107 films, with five in the narrative spotlight competition, 20 in the narrative contest, nine in the doc competition and 66 short films, says Tonya Mantooth, CEO and artistic director.

Opening night at the historic Balboa Theatre will see the premiere of “Jojo Rabbit,” a World War II black comedy written and directed by Taika Waititi. Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” starring Robert De Niro, opens the screenings at the ArcLight Cinema La Jolla on Oct. 17. “A Hidden Life,” a drama set during WWII, written and directed by Terrence Malick, and “Marriage Story,” a divorce dramedy written and directed by Noah Baumbach, starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, are the closing-night films.

Screenings also will be held at the Theatre Box in downtown San Diego.

The Gala Features screenings include additional high-profile titles “Motherless Brooklyn,” a 1950s detective thriller directed by Edward Norton; “Clemency,” a prison drama from by Chinonye Chukwu; and “The Kill Team,” an Afghanistan war drama helmed by Dan Krauss.

“All of those are receiving their Southern California premieres,” says Mantooth. “We’re also premiering our Spotlight films — ‘Parasite,’ directed by Bong Joon-ho, ‘The Truth,’ directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, ‘Ordinary Love,’ directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, ‘A Portrait of a Lady on Fire,’ directed by Céline Sciamma and ‘Sea of Shadows,’ directed by Richard Ladkani, Sean Bogle and Matthew Podolsky.”

As in years past, the festival is focusing on several timely social initiatives, including those dealing with environmental and social-justice issues. The festival has rebranded this year to focus on a theme of “bringing the power of perspective,” says Mantooth. “Film is a unifying medium, and it’s really about creating empathy and finding common ground, and seeing that a new perspective can change the world.”

One of the fest’s new tag lines is Cinema for Positive Change. “We’re really using that as a way to bring people together,” says Mantooth. “We live in very divisive times, so it’s a big part of our mission.”

SDIFF also has a new logo “with a very Picasso-esque look, which is apt, as it looks different depending which way you look at it,” she says. “It’s all about perspective.”

As usual, the fest has a diverse slate of eco-conscious films. Mantooth cites several key pics, including Sundance Audience Award winner “Sea of Shadows,” about the extinction of the vaquita porpoise, which lives in the nearby Sea of Cortez; “Tribes on the Edge,” directed by Céline Cousteau, which, Mantooth says, is “a very topical and timely look at the eradication of the indigenous tribes in the Amazon”; and “Breaking Their Silence: Women on the Frontline of the Poaching War,” which details four taking on the battle against wildlife exploitation.

Other key documentaries include “Doing Money,” about sex trafficking; and “My Body Is Not a Weapon.” “It’s directed by Platon, and it’s visually very beautiful, but deals with a very tough subject — the use of rape around the world as a control mechanism, especially in the south African countries,” says Mantooth.

While the festival has always screened movies with social impact, this year it’s making it easier for audiences to take action. The fest, which partnered with Susan Sarandon and filmmaker Thomas Morgan on the Social Justice Initiative back in 2015, is working closely with their Square Zero production company and a new app called Scoot.

“It allows people to get more information about the film and get involved, so it extends their involvement in an issue way past the screening,” Mantooth says.
Showcasing its international appeal, the festival offers up Bong’s “Parasite”; “By the Grace of God,” directed by François Ozon; and “Temblores,” directed by Jayro Bustamante. Other sections are called A Stranger in a Strange Land, Animation Filmmaking, Twisted Humor, When Worlds Collide and the San Diego Scene.

Panels will tackle everything from technology and how artificial intelligence is affecting the business, to streaming services, women in film and development hell.
Adding further excitement are this year’s honorees: Laurence Fishburne, Jared Harris, Jillian Bell, Lindsay Wagner, Camila Morrone and Pitbull, who will perform at the Night of the Stars Tribute award ceremony Oct. 18 at the Pendry Hotel in downtown San Diego.