When the Oscar nominations were announced last January, the trend-obsessed American press heralded directors Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel), and Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men) as torchbearers of a New Mexican Cinema. Never mind that savvy filmgoers were familiar with their breakthroughs of several years ago (Cronos, Amores Perros, and Y tu Mamá También, respectively), or that Children and half of Babel were in English. We should be thankful the mainstream press finally noticed there were gifted Spanish-language filmmakers besides Pedro Almodóvar. Of course, none of this comes as a surprise to fans of the International Latino Film Festival, arguably the most exciting and certainly the fastest-growing festiva on the famously crowded local calendar. Once confined to a handful of days in a lone venue in the Mission, the ILFF now screens nearly 50 features and docs over two weeks on every side of the bay. With an entire hemisphere plus Spain to draw from, the wildly dynamic lineup encompasses every genre and theme, from romance to revolution to religion. The appeal of the documentary 638 Ways to Kill Castro, a breathless litany of plots by the CIA and Cuban exiles, is self-evident, but the tarot-informed Peruvian suspense yarn Chicha tu Madre is of interest to more than fortune- and storytellers. Mexico is particularly well represented by Eréndira Ikikunari, Juan Mora Catlett's lushly epic tale of female empowerment set in the 16th century, and Jorge Hernandez Aldana's El Bufalo de la Noche (The Night Buffalo), adapted by Babel screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga from his poetic novel of the dark night of a young man's soul. The star of Bufalo (and Y tu Mamá También), heartthrob Diego Luna, will also be on hand to premiere his directorial debut JC Chávez, a portrait of boxer Julio César Chávez as he approaches the end of his career. Offscreen, the International Latino Filmmakers' Conference, a high-energy confab aimed at moviemakers but of interest to anyone touched by the breadth and depth of contemporary Spanish-language cinema, takes over the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. Go out and discover the next del Toro, Iñárritu, or Cuarón, ten years before the rest of the country.
JC Chávez screens at 4 p.m. and El Bufalo screens at 6:30 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro (at Market), S.F. Admission is $10-12.
Nov. 2-18, 2007