'Cinco de Mayo' film, timely history lesson

In Rafa Lara's film "Cinco de Mayo: The Battle," calendar dates are superimposed over the action counting down to May 5 — the day in 1862 when a ragtag Mexican army defeated France in the fight for independence.

It may not be the only countdown that takes place in the Regency Lido Theatre when the movie screens Wednesday as part of the Newport Beach Film Festival.

Not only is the Mexican holiday a few days away, but Lara's film, which depicts the battle in vivid (and often gruesome) detail, is scheduled to go into theatrical release in the United States and Mexico on Friday. Attendees at the Lido can get a look at the movie early — and also meet Lara and several of the cast members, who will be in attendance.

The two-hour film, which is showing as part of this year's Latino Showcase in Newport Beach, has already notched festival screenings in Miami, Chicago, San Diego and Los Angeles.

"People have really been responding, I think because of the title of the film, 'Cinco de Mayo,'" said Amy Ortega, the publicity coordinator for Pantelion Films, a branch of Lionsgate. "There's a lot of Mexican pride, and they want to go watch something that's about that."

It's that pride that piqued Max Naylor's interest when he heard about the film screening in Miami in March. Naylor, who coordinates the Latino Showcase, obtained a copy of "Cinco de Mayo" and booked it as the Mexican Spotlight for 2013.

In a pure filmmaking sense, "Cinco de Mayo" recalls Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" and Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down" as a front-line view of combat. The last 45 minutes of the film consist of the battle against the French, shot with a drab color scheme and featuring a few hair-raising close-ups of severed limbs and casualties.

The film, Naylor said, serves as a reminder of the meaning behind an often joyous holiday.

"We all celebrate Cinco de Mayo in the states, and they celebrate it in Mexico," he said. "But I think it does a good job of bringing the reality of what that holiday is to real life."

Every year, the Latino Showcase features films from Mexico, Brazil and Chile — countries whose local consulates have relationships with the festival heads, according to Naylor. The Chilean Spotlight this year, screening at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Edwards Big Newport 6, is the dark comedy "Here I Am, Here I'm Not"; representing Brazil is the 1960s music documentary "Tropicalia," showing at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday at the Big Newport.

The Latino Showcase will be the last ethnic program at the festival, which honored Pacific Rim films Monday and European films Tuesday. The festival will close Thursday night.

'Cinco de Mayo: The Battle'

Where: Regency Lido Theatre, 3459 Via Lido, Newport Beach

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Cost: $18 for film only; $40 for film and after-party

Information: (949) 253-2880 or http://www.newportbeachfilmfest.com

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