SF Latino Film Festival debut
A scene from the film Encuentros, a short film debuting at the San Francisco Latino Film Festival by Mission native Naomi Garcia Pasmanick

When the old Cine Accion film fest closed its curtains for the last time a decade ago, Lucho Ramirez and a handful of other production whiz kids found themselves yearning for a new festival to showcase films that mattered to their community. So they decided to make it themselves.

“It’s important to have a public exhibition of these films, because they’re going to keep being made,” Ramirez said.

The San Francisco Latino Film Festival is now 10 years old, and has provided a haven for films made by Spanish and Portuguese speakers from the Iberian Peninsula, South and Central America, and the United States. There’s even a special program that will showcase short films made here in the Bay Area by local filmmakers.

Among these local entries is a film written and directed by Mission native Naomi Garcia Pasmanick, with many other Mission folk contributing to the film.

Her short, titled Encuentros [Encounters], is based on a dream she had in 2016. In the dream, she spent a singular day with a man she once briefly knew in Brazil named Mario. The real Mario, whom she met in 2015, was an aspiring filmmaker who died in a bicycle accident. Although they only knew each other for a short while, the dream left her with a desire to tell the story in a variety of mediums.

Encuentros isn’t just Pasmanick’s debut film. It’s her first time ever dabbling in the medium.

“I felt that the dream was so strong and visual, that I wanted to create something with it,” she said.

Naomi Garcia Pasmanick.

She’s not what you would call a classically trained filmmaker. A daughter of two school teachers in the Mission, Pasmanick grew up around the arts, joined a band at the Mission Cultural Center called Futuro Picante, and kept herself in tune with her Latin roots. She attended the University of California at Berkeley and majored in Spanish and Portuguese Literature with a minor in Ethnic Studies and was able to spend a semester in Brazil, studying abroad in Rio de Janeiro. She moved back to San Francisco after graduating from Berkeley in 2015, and wandered through jobs in the restaurant industry until she got the idea for the film.

Her crew grew to 10 people, some of whom she recruited through Facebook and Craigslist. Some of the crew and actors cast in the film have known each other since attending classes at Buena Vista Elementary on 25th and Utah — before it merged with Horace Mann in 2011 — where Pasmanick’s parents were teachers.

One of the film’s actors, Dustin Pearson, was also an old schoolmate of Pasmanick’s and knew her parents; her father was his third-grade homeroom teacher. Pearson studied film and theater at Loyola Marymount University. He spent a semester in Moscow studying abroad, and has a film premiere of his own in Hollywood next month. He played the part of Mario and, in preparing for the role, studied up on his real-life counterpart. On one occasion, he even took a trip to Muir Woods and meditated as he got himself in the right mindset to play the young man with a fatalistic mindset.

“The self-discipline to organize and get everyone together is a real skill,” he said. Pasmanick “was very structured and organized, held leadership skills. It was almost like a mini-school with her;  even though it was 10 minutes on camera, there was like a year of prep time.”

The film explores the chance meeting between two different characters while hitchhiking through the outskirts of San Francisco — and what happens when the two keep meeting throughout the day.

Taylor Davis, who plays the female lead in the film, said the trio of Pasmanick, Pearson and Davis spent a year developing the script and the characters, often in Pasmanick’s home, so they only needed a weekend to film.

“Everyone on the production was super on-their-toes; we were really surprised in ourselves that we were able to get all of our shots in that short time,” Davis said.

A night of debuts

Encuentros is just one of many films debuting at the Latino Film Festival — it’s scheduled to run Sept. 14 at 7 p.m at the Roxie Theater with a set of other short movies in a program called Close to Home. There are eight other films by local filmmakers from around the Bay Area. But the official kick-off is at the Alamo Drafthouse with the film Ruben Blades Is Not My Name, a film about the famous Salsa musician.

Many films featured in the festival explore migration in and out of the United States. It’s generally a big theme for some Latino filmmakers, Ramirez said, but this year there are more submissions that explore those ideas. One film, named Kiko, focuses on the aftermath of an ICE raid at a warehouse that hires many immigrant workers. Another film, Towards the Sun, follows a 12-year-old migrant girl after she is put in a Border Patrol detention center.

All of the films in the festival are picked via a selection process, in which hundreds of submissions are narrowed down, with priority given to films made in the Bay Area or films that cast Latino actors. In the past, attendance has exceeded 4,000 tickets sold.

The San Francisco Latino Film Festival runs from Sept. 14 to Sept. 29 at locations across the Mission and in the East Bay.

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