Celebrating the year’s best independent cinema from emerging and established filmmakers around the world, San Diego International Film Festival is back bigger and better than ever before — with a new name. Although the film festival has always highlighted regional, national and international filmmakers, the word “international” is now officially part of the festival’s name.
“We’ve always had a strong international film lineup, but this year even more so,” said Tonya Mantooth, executive and artistic director of San Diego International Film Festival. “We felt like it was an important time for us to transition because that’s truly who we are. We receive films from 65 countries.”
Produced by the San Diego Film Foundation, the 15th annual film festival runs Sept. 28 through Oct. 2 and features nearly 100 films at two festival villages.
This year’s lineup features 95 films, including six gala films, 20 narrative competition films, six narrative spotlight films, nine documentary competition films, five documentary spotlight films, and 49 short films.
Screenings will be held in the newly-renovated historic Balboa Theatre and Regal Theaters in downtown San Diego, as well as ArcLight Cinemas in La Jolla.
“It’s always really exciting,” Mantooth said. “You’ve got different films and different activities and events going on every year.”
The selection process started in February.
There were more than 2,000 entries this year. About 70 screeners were selected to view the films. Every film is viewed twice, Mantooth said, and based on the rankings, selected films moved forward to the next step, where they were viewed again.
“We begin to identify the best of our features, the best of our documentaries, the best of our short films,” she said. “We make our selections from there.”
As executive and artistic director of the film festival, Mantooth screens every film. This year she started reviewing films in February. Since then, she has logged about 350 hours of screening time.
“I see every single one of them,” she said. “When I program the festival, I really try to give our audience a really broad spectrum of films to consider.”
San Diego International Film Festival opens Sept. 28 with the Opening Night Film & After Party at Balboa Theatre. The Night of the Stars Tribute is set to take place the following day on Sept. 29 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.
Co-hosted by film critics Jeffrey Lyons and Ben Lyons, the event honors some of the industry’s most accomplished actors, directors and filmmakers. This year’s honorees include four-time Academy Award nominee Annette Bening. She will receive the Gregory Peck Award for Excellence in Cinema.
“We are super excited for our celebrity tribute this year,” Mantooth said.
Leading the festival lineup are gala presentation screenings, which include Mick Jackson’s “Denial” starring Rachel Weisz, Pedro Almodóvar’s “Julieta” starring Adriana Ugarte, Kevin Pollak’s “The Late Bloomer” with Britany Snow, Maria Bello and J.K. Simmons, “Citizen Soldier,” from directors David Salzberg and Christian Tureaud, and “Trespass Against Us” with Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson and Rory Kinnear.
“Everybody will find something that they will enjoy,” Mantooth said. “We’ve got some great gala films that star some terrific actors.”
The lineup also includes “Po,” a film starring young Del Mar actor Julian Feder.
Based on a true story, the film follows a single working dad who cares for his autistic sixth-grade son. The film will be screened at 7 p.m. Oct. 1 at ArcLight Cinemas and at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 2 at Geoffrey Theater.
“‘Po’ was a film that really was near and dear to my heart,” Mantooth said. “It was handled with real honesty and real grace.”
Passes and individual tickets are currently on sale. In addition to screenings and events, passes provide access to the official festival lounge and parties where pass holders interact with festival filmmakers and professionals in the film community. For more information or to purchase passes or tickets, visit www.sdfilmfest.com.