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Arts & Entertainment

San Francisco Latino Film Festival aims to increase the visibility of Latin Americans on screen

A behind the scenes photo from 'Another Orange,' one of the films screening at the San Francisco Latino Film Festival. | Courtesy Photo

Only 4% of leads in films are Latino, yet one in four movie tickets sold are purchased by Latinos, according to San Francisco Latino Film Festival director Lucho Ramirez. 

“It’s really disproportionate,” Ramirez said. “And it’s been happening forever.” 

That’s why the San Francisco Latino Film Festival aims to portray Latinos on screen with an in-person and virtual program that runs Oct. 7-22 with over 75 films across multiple venues. 

Film festival opener José Feliciano: Behind the Guitar, a documentary about the life and career of the eight-time Grammy-winning guitarist and singer, will screen Oct. 7 at Opera Plaza Cinema. 

Local highlights abound in the film festival. The documentary short “Somos Esenciales” directed by Rafael Flores tells the story of Latino essential workers at the Mission Food Hub in San Francisco, showcasing the resilience of the Latino community during the pandemic. 

Paul S. Flores, a local poet and playwright, came up with the idea for the film and serves as its narrator. “It was a wild journey,” he said of making the project. What began as a documentary about the child migrant crisis in February 2020 became a film focused on how the Latino community filled gaps in services that the city wasn’t providing, according to Flores.

Hélène Goupil’s “The Mission,” created in partnership with Mission Local and produced by Lydia Chávez, also tackles the pandemic response. Documentary short “Swap Film .Co” highlights a tightly knit group of Latin American photographers in San Francisco.

“The goal is to have a platform for emerging talent from the U.S. and some established filmmakers from Latin America,” Ramirez said. 

While the preference in the submissions process is for films set in Latin America, exceptions are made—for example, the festival could include a film out of Australia about Cuban music, Ramirez explained. 

“We also try not to totally hammer the audience with really sad films,” Ramirez said. “You know, poverty porn.” 

Cine+Más SF, a local nonprofit that organizes the festival, was born out of several other Latino film festivals throughout the years in San Francisco. “We’re a scrappy group,” Ramirez said. 

While the film festival typically opens mid-September to align with Hispanic Heritage Month, ongoing negotiations with venues related to the pandemic delayed the start of the event. 

“We create a forum for the filmmakers, and we also create an opportunity to share some of these great works that are coming out of the U.S. and throughout Latin America,” Ramirez said. 

With its robust offering of online programs, the festival aims to give viewers a curated collection at a time when so many streaming options can be overwhelming, according to Ramirez. 

The presence of such a film festival is all the more important in a city like San Francisco, Ramirez said, which has a Spanish and Mexican heritage going back to before the founding of the state. 

“We’ve always been here,” Ramirez said. “There’s more to a community than the way film and TV depict it—because we’re pretty much absent from it.” 

San Francisco Latino Film Festival

Oct. 7-22, various times & locations | Passes: $32-$200

Julie Zigoris can be reached at