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OC Film Fiesta goes virtual and spotlights democracy

A still from "Radical Cram School," directed by Jenessa Joffee and starring Kristina Wong.
A still from “Radical Cram School,” directed by Jenessa Joffee and starring Kristina Wong.
(Courtesy of OC Film Fiesta)

The category is democracy — a common theme through the art and theater worlds in October as Election Day approaches.

It also has been a present year-round theme in the work of Victor Payan and Sandra “Pocha” Peña, artists and co-founders of Media Arts Santa Ana (MASA). And it continues through their 11th edition of OC Film Fiesta with a selection of more than 50 films.

“This election is probably the most critical election we’ve had in a generation. We want to have discussions around important issues and the filmmakers who are addressing these issues,” Payan said.

“We need to inspire people to get out and vote because a lot of people are jaded or cynical. You’ve got a lot of young people that don’t vote by and large, a lot of Latinos who don’t vote. These are numbers that can significantly change the outcome.”

Peña added that this year’s election isn’t just important on a national level, but also on a local level. Santa Ana will elect a new mayor and three City Council members.

A mural on a wall outside a residence on Costa Mesa’s Baker Street attempts to unify the vast and ranging stories and struggles of poderosas — strong women — into a message of hope and inspiration.

Short films in this democracy spotlight include comedian Kristina Wong’s web series “Radical Cram School.” Imagine a brightly-colored children’s show with a host teaching young Asian- and Pacific Islander-American girls about social justice, revolution and how to be powerful in their bodies. Wong leads the town-hall style class, usually wearing a head-to-toe yellow outfit with a beret and multi-colored sash.

In one episode focused on civics, the girls take turns on a podium wrapped in an American flag and give campaign speeches with a background of posters featuring author Grace Lee Boggs, activist Yuri Kochiyama, artist Yoko Ono and Resistance Auntie a woman whose photo of her flipping the bird during President Donald Trump’s inauguration became popular on social media). The girls are dressed in white blazers, honoring women who fought for the right to vote.

Wong is also offering a free virtual workshop on Oct. 25 through MASA’s Millennial Producers Academy. A selection of virtual workshops and Q&A sessions with filmmakers is scheduled through October and kicks off with Dan Guerrero, creator of “¡Gaytino!” on Saturday.

Payan and Peña curate the film lineup with the goal to connect to a cultural dialogue, whether it’s gentrification, homelessness, health, affordable housing or LGBTQ issues. Two years ago, they opened up the festival for submissions leading to a mix of local O.C. filmmakers and international films.

Films with O.C. ties include short documentary “Status Pending,” following the lives of five first-generation immigration lawyers, and “Hometown Proud,” in which O.C. filmmakers document the life of Archer Altstaetter who returns to his small hometown in Ohio after living openly gay in California for 30 years.

The festival’s international lineup highlights “La Llorona” directed by Jayro Bustamante and set in contemporary Guatemala. The film plays with the Mexican and Central American folklore of La Llorona and military violence during a decades long civil war.

María Mercedes Coroy and Mara Teln appear in "La Llorona"
María Mercedes Coroy, left, and Mara Teln appear in “La Llorona by Jayro Bustamante, an official selection of the Spotlight program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
(Courtesy of OC Film Fest and Sundance Institute)

Rodrigo Bellot’s “Tu Me Manques,” which was submitted for the 2020 Oscars best international feature category, is also available for viewing. The feature deals with a father who travels from conservative Bolivia to New York City to confront his dead son’s boyfriend.

“‘Tu Me Manques’ and the play that preceded it became a huge cultural driver in South America for people to come out to their families,” Peña said. “If you were going to come out, you were going to take your parents to go see it because the film is about what happens when that intimate relationship with your primary caregivers suffers because that secrecy creates so much heartache and division.”

Payan said there’s still a gap between the filmmaking industry and U.S.-born or raised Latinx filmmakers. In fact, Latinx TV and film writers, showrunners and creators released an open letter calling for more action on inclusivity and representation on Thursday.

Launched by Tanya Saracho’s United Latinx Project, the letter, signed by more than 270 Latinx creatives, calls Hollywood “complicit in our exclusion.”

“It’s still very rare to see Chicano films, Latino films in theaters,” Payan said. “We really want to bring these films to the public and once people see them through streaming services, hopefully there’s more distribution possibilities.”

Take San Antonio-raised Robert Gonzales’ ”Boojalé” series. The 20-minute megamix of South Park-esque animation shorts about Latinos living in the U.S. through a comedic lens — from breakfast tacos, a Chicano TED talk to a local bar getting gentrified.

A scene from "Don't Gentrify my Bar" animation short in the "Boojalé" series by Robert Gonzales.
(Courtesy of OC Film Fiesta)

Unlike in the past, the entire festival lineup is available online through the platform Eventive.

“We want people to know that they can have that same film festival magic from the comfort and safety of their own homes,” Payan said. “If you buy a ticket to a film, your whole family can sit on the couch and watch it. So it’s very affordable for your pandemic dollar.”

The proceeds from the festival will go toward MASA’s programming for 18- to 28-year-olds who learn how to produce film.

“Every year we really strive to program the festival with a real sense of optimism and hope and with the intention of creating a sense of community, place and belonging here in Orange County,” Peña said. “We want to bring the global and national dialogues that relate to us right here to your doorstep. That’s more true than ever before because it’s literally brought into the intimacy of your home environment.”

If you go


What: 11th annual OC Film Fiesta

Where: Virtual

When: Oct. 15-25

Cost: $10 for individual screening; $5 for student, teachers, Santa Ana residents, military and veterans; $75 for festival pass including access to all films, workshops and Q&A

Information: masamedia.org/ocfilmfiesta2020

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