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San Diego Film Festival: Growth, And Social Activism


Robin Laatz.
Courtsy photo

The five-day San Diego Film Festival has come and gone, and organizers say even in a down economy, and with early competition from home Padres games, attendance at screenings was up 25 percent over last year.

Sixteen of the 85 screenings sold out, says SDFF founder and director Robin Laatz. She notes that the increased number of sell-outs led to more people than usual getting shut out of films they wanted to see. Laatz says the festival has tried to keep admission policies simple, but may have to consider other processes as the event grows.

“Other film festivals have systems that are a little more complicated,” says Laatz. “As we grow, we will have to find a better system to manage lines.”

The 2010 SDFF stood out over past incarnations in that many films, especially documentaries, were selected for their attention to social activism.

Laatz and staff partnered with a number of San Diego organizations in conjunction with a variety of movies with calls to action:

Conviction—This California Innocence Project got behind this feature film about a woman (Hilary Swank) who goes to law school to try and free her imprisoned brother (Sam Rockwell).

My Run—Terry Hitchcock lost his wife to breast cancer, then decided to bring awareness to the plight of single-parent families by running 75 marathons in 75 days. The film festival brought in Livestrong and Susan G. Komen as partners.

Waiting For Superman—This documentary got a lot of buzz for its research of the U.S.’s broken education system. An administrator from the KIPP Adelante Preperatory Academy charter school participated in the after-screening Q&A with filmmaker Davis Guggenheim.

Bag It—The film examines society’s use and abuse of plastic. The SDFF partnered with Think Blue, Surfrider and other eco-friendly organizations. And people who brought in plastic bags were traded cloth shopping bags.

“We definitely made programming choices to help people get the most out of this experience,” says Laatz. “A lot of our films, particularly the docs, had a call to action, and asked people to go and do something positive afterward.”

She says her staff wanted to give this effort a try, and that it worked so well—in terms of attendance at these films—that it will be a major part of the 10th annual festival next year.