International Latino Film Festival and S.F. International Animation Festival

Robert Avila November 8, 2007

Three to see at ILFF with Eve O’Neill’s take on where to go for more animation when SFIAF closes below.

Could there be a livelier night for an opening than the Day of the Dead? Not according to the International Latino Film Festival, which chose the largely Mexican holiday to launch its 11th International Latino Film Festival at the Castro Theater last Friday. As the party continues nonstop through next week on more than a dozen screens throughout the Bay Area, it’s worth drawing attention to two other offerings from next-door neighbor Mexico, as well as one bridging the ganglands of Los Angeles and war-ravaged El Salvador, as the fest unfurls its 16-day exhibition of nearly 100 feature films, documentaries, and shorts from far-flung corners of Latin culture worldwide. In the wake of Mexican cinema’s triumphant showing at the 2007 Oscars, the following three films serve to confirm how some of the biggest surprises can come from the shortest of distances.

1. “JC Chávez” — Mexican actor and ILFF guest of honor Diego Luna (“Before Night Falls”; “Y Tu Mama Tambien”) makes his directorial debut with this engrossing 2006 biography of Mexican boxing champ Julio César Ch´vez, whose extraordinary rise from humble circumstances to unrivalled mastery in the ring made him a popular hero, while also leaving him prey to powerful figures in sports and politics — from Don King in the U.S. to Carlos Salinas in Mexico — looking to tap his fame for their own ends. Chavez’s skillful use of brute force on the road to fame and fortune finds its metaphorical match in power games beyond the capacity of any single pair of fists to confront, let alone defeat. But there’s a transcendent power too evinced by the iconic image of the fighter, one that Luna’s film expertly evokes.

2. “Malos hábitos (Bad Habits) — The pun is old, where nuns are concerned, but Mexican director Simón Bross’s stylishly atmospheric 2007 debut feels fresh, even amid its millenarian gloom. The story follows the unhappy household of an anorexic wife and mother; her husband, a frustrated architecture professor who turns his attentions to a voluptuous student; their plump daughter, banished to a diet clinic; and the girl’s teacher, a medical school graduate turned Franciscan nun with her own special relationship to food. Turning nourishment and the body into central problems and metaphors, “Malos Hábitos” intriguingly balances science and faith, eros and thanatos, in a seemingly small, intimate tale set in Mexico City during a haunting, bible-worthy downpour.

3. “Hijos de la guerra” (Children of the War) — Alexandre Fuchs’s 80-minute look into the world of MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha Trece, the international gang dubbed the most dangerous in the world by the likes of the FBI, is riveting filmmaking from start to finish. But that it comes bracketed by a foreign policy address by Ronald Reagan signals its determination to be much more than a sensationalist treatment of urban gang life per se. Born on the streets of Los Angeles amid children fleeing the catastrophic violence of El Salvador, MS-13 is ultimately the child of many forces, not least the U.S.-fueled civil war and an episode in American foreign-policy backlash reminiscent of other, more attention-grabbing ones of the moment. Constructed of amazing, often disturbing footage as well as candid interviews with present and former gang members, law enforcement officials, sociologists, and others, Hijos de la Guerra is as complex in the emotions it stirs as in its rigorous dissection of the international and inter-generational consequences of war.

Staying animated

Attendees at the second San Francisco International Animation Festival will be lucky enough to catch movies from across the globe, in styles ranging from the traditional to cutting edge, from the family-friendly to the sexually explicit, including features, shorts, music videos, and everything in between. Still haven’t gotten your fill? Jump online and head to any one of these sites where you can find more work by some of the artists featured in the festival.

5. StudioAKA is a London-based company will loads of talent and almost all of their content available on their website.

4. A. Film A/S is Scandinavia’s largest animation company. Better brush up on your Dutch before the jump the website is in English, the films are not!

3. Ardmann Studiosdo more than Wallace and Grommit, as anyone who saw “The Pearce Sisters” can attest to. Check out the site for a great animation reel, or jump over to Shaun The Sheep’s new home to see clips from all of the shorts on the full-length DVD.

2. Partizan is an international community of directors that collaborate to produce music videos and commercials. While not under a strict policy of animation only, there’s plenty of innovative animated and graphic content.

1. The National Film Board of Canada is Canada’s major public film producer and distributor, and the NFB has been around for over 65 years. It specializes in documentary, animation, and drama. There are over 70 animated films available for viewing at their website.