San Francisco Latino film festival broadens horizons

Courtesy PhotoBig beginning: Gina Rodriguez and Edward James Olmos star in “Filly Brown

Courtesy PhotoBig beginning: Gina Rodriguez and Edward James Olmos star in “Filly Brown

“Filly Brown,” a drama about a hip-hop artist with a mother in prison and a career ultimatum on the horizon — featuring Lou Diamond Phillips and Edward James Olmos — kicks off the 2012 San Francisco Latino Film Festival.

“I’d never really seen a film about a young girl poet,” Olmos says. “It’s a crowd-pleaser. It went down really well at Sundance and I think it’s universal in scope.”

Opening today, the fourth annual event, which runs through Sept. 28, includes some 40 features, shorts and documentaries screening at various Bay Area locations.   

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Olmos,  a co-founder of the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, would like better exposure for Latino films.

“I would like it to become commonplace, like you would see African-American films and Caucasian films, to become part of the texture and fiber of the country,” Olmos says. “Most of the films that you see have very little to do with Latino culture.”

Film’s immersive qualities are also important to Olmos, who believes in the form’s potent, possessive qualities.

“I think film is the strongest art form humankind has ever created,” Olmos says. “A lot of people feel that they have experienced a total event when seeing a film, much more so than reading a book or seeing a painting or watching a play. Not that those art forms aren’t penetrating, they are, but film is all-encompassing. It goes straight to the subconscious mind.”

In addition to films from the U.S., the festival also includes offerings from Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Cuba, El Salvador, Argentina, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela.

“Bertsolari,” a documentary about a traditional Basque performance art called bertso rooted in storytelling, poetry and music, depicts the celebrity of being a bertsolari.

“They’re rock stars,” festival director Lucho Ramirez says. “There was also a transformation during the Franco years because of cultural persecution. Bertso moved into social commentary, and bertsolaris would take a topic and run with it in the same way as rappers and spoken-word artists.”

“Not So Modern Times” is a comedy about an Argentine shepherd whose pastoral life changes dramatically when telephones and satellite TV are introduced into his previously primitive landscape.

Another South American film, “Dirty Hearts,” recently released in Brazil, is a historical drama based on post-World War II conflicts among Japanese people living in Brazil. Some accepted Japan’s defeat, others did not, and the aftermath caused a devastating, life-threatening chasm in the community.

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