It's not exactly earth-shaking news that immigration is among the key themes of this year's 14th annual Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.
What may surprise viewers is how multi-faceted that subject can be, beyond vitriolic debates about Arizona statutes, border fences and boycotts.
Edward James Olmos, chairman and co-founder of the festival, one of the nation's oldest and largest of its kind, says many of this year's films explore the two-way nature of immigration as a global phenomenon, an exchange that affects both those who move and those who encounter the new arrivals.
"This is an issue that will touch everyone's lives," said the actor, known for his performances in "Blade Runner," "Battlestar Galactica" and "Stand and Deliver." "This is something that's not happening only in the United States, it's happening across the planet as people are moving from Point A to Point B in order to stay alive."
To illustrate that idea, organizers point to the large, varied lineup of immigration-related films in the festival, which was scheduled to open Thursday night and run through Wednesday at the Mann Chinese 6 Cinemas, the Egyptian Theatre and other Hollywood venues. The Los Angeles Times and its Spanish-language sister publication, Hoy, are the festival's premiere sponsors.
The festival's closing-night offering, Carlos Carrera's feature film "Backyard," stars Mexican actress Ana de la Reguera ( Jack Black's largely unrequited love interest in "Nacho Libre") in a tale set in the gruesomely violent border city of Ciudad Juarez, where thousands of women have been killed or have disappeared in recent years. Many of the victims have been poor migrant workers in the maquiladora border factories.
In Sarah Vaill's documentary, "Women With Altitude," seven female abuse-survivors from San Francisco cross cultural borders with indigenous women while scaling the hazardous Bolivian Andes. Vaill said she wanted her movie to show how women of very different ethnic and cultural backgrounds can reach across boundaries to unite in common cause. "We really aspired not to just make a personal-catharsis story," she said. "We wanted to make it connect with the issues."
The idea of immigration as a kind of private existential crisis emerges in Miguel Coyula's feature film "Memories of Overdevelopment." Based on a novel by the émigré Cuban writer Edmundo Desnoes and screened at last winter's Sundance Film Festival, it considers immigration as a state of internal self-exile, in the case of a Cuban intellectual who's unable to fit into either a socialistic or capitalistic world.
Speaking by phone, the 33-year-old, Havana-bred director said he was interested in "examining the alienation of the individual in the 21st century," an era that he believes has witnessed "the death of ideologies."
"We don't trust politicians whether they are of the right or of the left," Coyula said, speaking of his generation, both in Cuba and elsewhere. "We were told as kids that the world would be utopia, and then when it didn't happen we were very skeptical about everything."
Although the U.S. immigration debate has seldom been more heated than at present, the matrix of issues surrounding it has been around for decades. That reminder comes through in "Harvest of Loneliness" by Gilbert Gonzalez and Vivian Price, which examines the Bracero Program that brought several million mainly Mexican migrants to the United States to work as cheap, temporary laborers between 1942 and 1964. It's also a subtext of Abby Ginzberg's "Cruz Reynoso: Sowing the Seeds of Justice," which profiles the son of migrant farm workers who became the first Chicano attorney to serve on the California Supreme Court.
Auxiliary festival programming will include a dialogue Tuesday on immigration issues, co-presented by UCLA's Latin American Institute.
Need a breather from the discussion? Olmos recommends the upbeat boxing drama "Chamaco," with Martin Sheen, and a documentary about the beloved Spanglish-speaking comic Tin Tan, among other films.
"It's always about trying to get the information out about what's happening and make it entertaining," Olmos said, "because it is the entertainment business, it's not the social-irrelevant business."