Scenes from La Última Ofensiva, the opening film of the festival.

It seems like San Francisco hosts a different film festival every month. Cold winter nights are ideal for the City Noir Film Festival. The spring season brings the Documentary Film Festival and the SF International Film Festival. And film aficionados can attend summer screenings presented by the Queer Women of Color Film Festival, Labor Fest, and the Silent Film Festival. This weekend will be the first time San Francisco hosts a festival dedicated to cinema coming from El Salvador.

The San Francisco-El Salvador Film and Video Festival makes its inaugural debut at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts (MCCLA) Dec. 3 through Dec. 5. The festival includes 14 films from El Salvador, including documentaries, narrative shorts and animation shorts.

The Ana Gomez Cultural Collective first began discussions of a Salvadoran film festival in late 2008. By early Spring 2009, the six-member collective began focusing more on the logistics of launching the festival. Festival organizer Manuel Arias fondly looks back on the Collective’s efforts over the past years.

“We are pleased and enthused that our desires have come true to raise our little country to the highest points of the sky, to shout that as Salvadoran men and women we also have art, culture, dignity and, especially, great filmmakers. Today they raise their voices, their histories, their cameras, their analysis, and their questions in front of the stimuli that life exposes us to,” said Arias.

The film screenings will take place at the MCCLA, which has screened numerous Latin American films in the past. Jason Wallach, Events and Media Coordinator at MCCLA, views the SF-El Salvador Film and Video Festival as providing an alternative to the images that are circulated through U.S.-based corporate media. According to Wallach, U.S. audiences usually only hear about Salvadoran natural disasters and drug-related massacres.

“The festival films, many of which will show in the U.S. for the first time, are made by Salvadoran filmmakers who are not bound by the restrictions of corporate media,” said Wallach. “They are dedicated to telling the stories of their communities. These videos are examples of the everyday people, hidden places and real-life happenings in El Salvador that we never hear about.”

The MCCLA has demonstrated a commitment to showcasing the “real-life happenings in El Salvador” over the years. Jorge Dalton’s documentary Entre Los Muertos screened to a full house in 2008. The renowned filmmaker will have an indirect presence in this festival as well.

Dalton, the son of poet Roque Dalton, served as the curator of the SF-El Salvador Film and Video Festival. He researched and selected the films that are included in the Festival.

The opening night feature film, La Última Ofensiva, is a documentary about the 2009 Salvadoran presidential election. The film includes interviews with journalists, students, peasants, street peddlers, ARENA party members, FMLN activists and participants in the Peace Accord negotiations. The voices from this wide cross-section of Salvadoran society underscore the historical significance of the 2009 FMLN election victory. The film also places the election within the context of the land struggle that traces back to 1932.

José Luis Sanz, one of the directors of La Última Ofensiva, will be present at the screening. Sanz will address the significance of the 2009 FMLN election victory by drawing from ten years of journalistic experience in El Salvador.

The decision to highlight La Última Ofensiva on opening night illustrates that the festival organizers remain committed to the values of Ana Gomez herself. The Ana Gomez Collective was named in honor of the Salvadoran activist who dedicated her life to the Salvadoran struggle for peace and justice.

Gomez and her family came to San Francisco in the 1980s. Here she worked with Casa El Salvador Farabundo Martí, an organization that provided aid to Central American refugees. She received her BA and MA from San Francisco State University and her Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota. She taught Latin American History at William Patterson University of New Jersey until she died of cancer in February of 2008.

Dagoberto Argueta, a member of the Ana Gomez Collective, notes that a large segment of San Francisco’s Salvadoran community arrived during the 70’s and 80’s but many more have been born and raised here in the Bay Area. He worries that they may not have been exposed to the cultural and artistic output of El Salvador.

“The film festival is an effort akin to throwing open the windows in a room in order to create a cross-current,” said Argueta. “The Salvadoran community in the Bay Area will gain pride in home-grown cinematic productions while Salvadoran filmmakers will be encouraged and enriched by an expanded international audience.”

The SF-El Salvador Film and Video Festival opens on Friday, Dec. 3 with a 7 p.m. screening of La Última Ofensiva. Saturday, Dec. 4 screenings: 2-9:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5 Screenings: 2-6 p.m. More information at