‘Reimagined’ San Diego International Film Festival returns in October

The San Diego International Film Festival is in its 19th year.

With a virtual village, drive-in screenings and a Quarantine Film Challenge, the San Diego International Film Festival will return Oct. 15-18 for its 19th year.

Tonya Mantooth, CEO and artistic director of the festival, said organizers wanted to use their film selections and panel discussions this year to “take on some of the topics that we’re all grappling with these days.”

“One of them in particular is the issue around civil rights and social impact and race relations,” she said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s festival had to be “reimagined” to allow attendees to participate from home.

“We knew that moving forward, we really kind of had to reimagine the festival and how we try to create that experience of engagement while keeping the appropriate protocols of COVID,” Mantooth said.

She added that drive-in movies have been a popular activity since the pandemic started. This year’s festival will also allow viewers to pull into a parking lot at Westfield UTC, with their cars spaced six feet apart to maintain social distancing.

“Early on, everybody saw the resurgence of drive in as an option to still have a big screen experience, and we’ve had a longtime partnership with Westfield UTC,” Mantooth said. “We’ve been talking for months about, ‘How do we create our own big screen experience?”’

Through the virtual village at this year’s festival, festival organizers hope to recreate the social interaction that would normally take place when attendees move around among the different physical venues they usually have. Online screenings, including on-demand and scheduled screenings, as well as panel discussions, will be available through the different virtual theaters in the village.

“What we’re bringing is an opportunity to still love film, still have that conversation and still engage until it’s appropriate for us to do it physically,” Mantooth said.

The festival’s organizers considered about 3,000 film submissions from 68 countries. Mantooth added that one of the films she’s excited to include in the 2020 festival is “Nomadland,” starring Frances McDormand, which premiered in September at the Venice Film Festival. It won that festival’s coveted Golden Lion award.

“This is a film we’ve been hearing about and we were so excited it came out at a time when it worked for the festival,” Mantooth said.

The plot of the film follows Fern (McDormand), as she becomes a modern-day nomad after the economic collapse of the Nevada company town where she was living.

Mantooth also mentioned “Blithe Spirit,” which was adapted from a play of the same title, and features a cast including Dan Stevens, Leslie Mann, Isla Fisher, Judi Dench. The story is about an author who visits a medium and clairvoyant to gather material for his next book, but ends up being haunted by the spirit of his first wife, who tries to sabotage his second marriage.

Some of the other featured films in this year’s San Diego International Film Festival include “Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something,” “Farewell Amor,” “Stardust,” “Drunk Bus,” “One of These Days,” and “Honeymood.” The full slate includes feature films, documentaries and shorts.

All-Access, Virtual Fest and Virtual day passes are available. For more information and passes to the festival, visit sdfilmfest.com.