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San Joaquin International Film Festival brings global view to Stockton

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Posted: Friday, December 15, 2017 12:30 pm

Once a year, the world comes to Stockton.

The San Joaquin International Film Festival will return on Saturday, bringing with it films from all over the globe, from the Netherlands, Indonesia and Lebanon to right here in the county.

“From the very beginning, I’ve brought films from around the world to the community,” festival organizer Sophoan Sorn said.

He kicked off the annual film festival in 2008, and it’s been going strong since. Local cinema fans have had the chance to see films like “Facing Windows,” “The Secret of Kells,” “The Young Victoria,” “A Cat in Paris” and “A River Changes Course” at the event.

Saturday's festival is no different, with a strong selection of offerings.

Every festival tends to evoke a certain theme.

“This year, we have a lot of films that are asking people to listen more,” Sorn said. Many of the films touch on the idea of listening to one another, whether that means paying attention to issues of civil and human rights or simply trying to better understand our friends and family.

The festival will showcase five full-length features, three of them documentaries and two narratives.

Among them is “Dolores,” a film about labor, civil and women’s rights activist Dolores Huerta. This is the Stockton debut of the film; Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers of America, has long considered the city her home.

“The story stretches across the Central Valley,” Sorn said. It touches on events such as the Delano grape strike that lasted from 1965 to 1970, and Huerta’s life before and after the formation of the UFW.

While the film touches on political topics — it would be impossible to create a documentary about a figure like Huerta, whose life has been steeped in political movements, without doing so — it’s not a political film, Sorn said.

“A lot of times when you have documentary profiles, you have an agenda ...” he said. “(It’s) a film about her as a person. You get to see her family.”

The film explores how she struggled to balance her activism with raising her 11 children, and how her career in activism affected her relationships, he said.

Another full-length film, “Listen,” was filmed entirely in San Joaquin County, mainly in Linden and Manteca. Director Erahm Christopher is from Linden, and producer Brooke Dooley is from Tracy, Sorn said. Many of the film’s crew members are also from the local area, he said.

Christopher’s work has been highlighted since the first festival, and Sorn is thrilled to be able to show “Listen.”

“It’s a film about young people who want to be heard,” he said.

The movie follows a high school counselor trying to help troubled teens, and a boy who tries to understand why bad things happen in the world.

Even though it was filmed in the Central Valley, it’s a high-quality movie with Hollywood production values, Sorn said. Unsurprising, since Christopher has been working in film in San Francisco and Montreal for years.

The film will be followed by a conversation about how to make movies in San Joaquin County.

Other full-length offerings are “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” Al Gore’s documentary about clean energy; “The Paris Opera” (L’Opéra), a behind the scenes look at the European artistic institution; and “Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe” (Vor der Morgenröte), which tells the story of a Jewish Austrian writer who is exiled from his homeland in 1936, never to return.

The features are joined by eight short films, ranging from 5 to 27 minutes each. The selection of shorts is one of Sorn’s favorite parts; it’s hard for cinema fans to see many of the amazing short films made all over the world, outside of festivals, he said.

Choosing a film to highlight among the shorts was difficult for Sorn.

“Oh my god, that’s such a hard question,” he said with a laugh.

In the end, he feels “When Grey is a Colour” — a Dutch film — is a must-see for festival-goers.

The short film follows Cato, a teen girl whose brother comes home after he attempts suicide. She wants to get close to him and understand why he did it, but he pushes her away.

The award-winning film showcases the incredible talent of director Marit Weerheijm, Sorn said.

“The film is so eloquently and emotionally told,” he said.

Other shorts explore the base camp at Mt. Everest, the romance between a hairdresser and mechanic in Paris, and a gay teen in rural Indonesia coming to terms with a crush on his English teacher and his looming arranged marriage.

“They’re a lot of stories that beckon us to listen to their experiences,” Sorn said.

The great diversity of stories is part of his goal for the festival.

“I feel like it’s a responsibility for me to not only show films, but to show cultures and histories,” he said.

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