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Why Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal's Ambulante film festival avoids regular movie theaters

Why Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal's Ambulante film festival avoids regular movie theaters
The Ambulante Documentary Film Festival will screen documentaries in public locations around Los Angeles for three weeks starting Sept. 19. Seen here: a screening from last year's festival at a space along the L.A. River run by the cultural group Clockshop. (Priscilla Rodriguez / Ambulante)

It's not every day that you get to watch a film on the banks of the L.A. River or at a Food Co-Op in Pasadena or the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. But it's not every day that the Ambulante Documentary Film Festival rolls into town. For three weeks, beginning Sept. 19, Ambulante will screen films on topics as varied as Latin boogaloo and Haitian machete fencing, in locations  around Los Angeles and beyond.

The roving documentary festival was launched in Mexico in 2005 by actor-directors Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal (who've continued to work on various projects together since they appeared in 2001's "Y Tu Mamá También"), along with producer Pablo Cruz ("Miss Bala" and "Sin Nombre") and Elena Fortes (the festival's founding director). Last fall, Ambulante curated its first California edition with screenings in an eclectic array of locations around Los Angeles and Orange County, from MacArthur Park to Santa Ana.

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For the record, 4:30 p.m. Aug. 12, 2015: An earlier version of this post described Pablo Cruz as the director of the films "Miss Bala" and "Sin Nombre." He was a producer.

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This week, the festival announced its second, more expansive iteration, which will include a handful of screenings in Northern California. The locations include sites in Long Beach, skid row and Pacoima, but also locales such as Watsonville and Seaside (outside of Monterey). The program consists of 28 documentaries and 15 short films that will be screened at 21 locations. The goal, says Christine Davila, who serves as director of Ambulante California, is to take documentary film to new audiences in unexpected locations.

"Documentaries tend to be shown in academic settings or educational settings," she says. "But this puts it out there for everyone. Here, we can reach audiences that are often left out of the conversation."

The lineup includes new and recently released documentary films. Among them: "No Más Bebés," a new film by Rene Tajima-Peña on Mexican immigrant women who were involuntarily sterilized in Los Angeles County hospitals in the 1960s and '70s, and the award-winning "Kings of Nowhere," by first-time director Betzabé García, about three families who live in a partially submerged Northwestern Mexican town.

There are also films about music, protest, education and Mexican wrestling. There will also be a special screening of the 1985 doc "Ornette: Made in America" in Leimert Park Village, in honor of the recent passing of jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman.

Last year, Ambulante drew almost 2,000 people to screenings around L.A. This year, with the additional screenings and a greater variety of locations, Davila is hoping to draw even more.

"A lot of culture tends to be in rather exclusive settings, which is great if you can access that," she says. "But we want to use our environment — whether it's a parking lot or a vacant lot. People can be walking along, and suddenly there's this film that you're confronted by. For us, any empty space is a potential exhibition space."

The best part: all of the screenings are free.

For the full Ambulante lineup, visit ambulanteusa.com.

Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.

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