It’s entering its 26th year, but there may be no better time for the San Diego Latino Film Festival than right now.

After a quarter century of championing Latino films, directors and actors, it seems the mainstream cinema world has finally caught up to the festival.

Just recently, Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron won an Academy Award for “Roma,” a meticulous, black-and-white profile of a struggling Mexican family and its household servants.

Cuaron’s win marked the fifth Academy award in the past sixth year won by a Latino director. Previously, Cuaron’s contemporaries Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu had won best director honors for their films — “The Shape of Water” for del Toro, and “Birdman” and “The Revenant” for Iñárritu. Cuaron also won for “Gravity” in 2014.

“It’s not surprising; we’ve known for years how good Latino cinema has been, especially from Mexico City,” said festival founder Ethan van Thillo.

The success of “Roma” has been a boon to Media Arts Center San Diego, the organization that puts on the Festival and runs a small theater on El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego called the Digital Gym. “Roma” began playing at the Digital Gym on Dec. 14 and is still drawing audiences, becoming the Digital Gym’s longest-running, most successful film.

Will the success of “Roma” and Mexican film bring more people to the Latino Film Festival?

“I wouldn’t say the Oscars is directly affecting the film festival, but everyone is talking about Mexican cinema and Cuaron and that’s a good thing,” said van Thillo.

This year, filmgoers will find 170 films to choose from, including dramas, documentaries comedies and more.

The festival runs March 14-24 at AMC Fashion Valley 18 and at the Digital Gym Cinema. For information and tickets, visit

Among the highlights this year are a documentary on singer Ruben Blades and a 30th anniversary screening of “Mi Vida Loca” with appearances by some of the cast of the landmark Chicana girl power film,

And if more people attend to experience the latest in Latino cinema, van Thillo will take a little bit of pride in that.

“That’s the most important thing the film festival has done,” said van Thillo. “Now people are talking about Latino cinema and we’ve helped change that and build audiences here.”

Luis Monteagudo Jr. is a freelance writer and pop culture enthusiast who has attended Comic-Con for more than 20 years. He has written for The San Diego Union-Tribune, USA Today and numerous other publications.

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