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film pacificrimffPacific Rim Film Festival promotes cross-cultural understanding 

The aloha spirit returns to Santa Cruz when the 24th annual Pacific Rim Film Festival unspools this week. Inspired by the Hawaii International Film Festival, and dedicated to cross-cultural understanding around the theme “When Strangers Meet,” the six-day event runs Oct. 19-24, offering 20 films from countries all around the Pacific Rim at five venues countywide.

In addition to the Del Mar Theatre and The Rio Theatre, festival films will also screen at the Riverfront Twin, Cabrillo College Watsonville Center, and the Crocker Theater at Cabrillo College.

All films are screened free of charge, with the exception of the closing night benefit. This year’s closer is MARIACHI GRINGO (USA, 2012, 107 min.), a comedy about a 30-year-old Anglo man from Middle America who moves to Guadalajara to pursue his dream of becoming a mariachi musician. Singer Lila Downs co-stars for director Tom Gustafson. The film will be preceded by a live performance from Mariachi California de Javier Vargas. At The Rio, 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Of special note this year are four films by local filmmakers. In PLAYING WITH FIRE (USA, 2011, 60 min.), associate professor at the UC Santa Cruz Film and Digital Media Department, Gustavo Vazquez, tells the story of a fireworks maker in the Peruvian Andes. At The Rio, 5 p.m. Monday, followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Vazquez. THE POWER OF TWO (USA, 2011, 100 min.), by UCSC lecturer Marc Smolowitz, tells the story of two Japanese half-sisters with cystic fibrosis, who have become athletes, authors and advocates. At The Rio, 7:30 p.m. Monday, followed by a Q&A with Smolowitz.

Santa Cruz native Sasha Friedlander’s documentary, WHERE HEAVEN MEETS HELL (USA, 2011, 80 min.) follows the perilous work of East Java miners braving toxic conditions to carry 200-pound bags of sulfur out of an active volcano. At Crocker Theater, 8:25 p.m. Tuesday, followed by a Q&A with Friedlander. Closer to home, Watsonville filmmaker Consuelo Alba documents the annual Dia de los Muertos celebration at the Pajaro Valley Art Gallery in COMMON GROUND (USA, 2012, 30 min.), where locals come together to build their own altars. At Cabrillo College Watsonville Center, 4 p.m. Sunday, and at The Rio, noon Wednesday.

The biggest crowd-pleaser may be the opening night offering, THE TOPP TWINS: UNTOUCHABLE GIRLS (New Zealand, 2009, 100 min.) Leanne Pooley’s documentary introduces us to two of New Zealand’s most beloved cultural icons: Jools and Lynda Topp. Farm-bred twin sisters who started out as street-corner buskers, singing, yodeling and playing guitar, they are also cheerfully upbeat lesbians, and anti-nuke, pro-civil rights activists. As comediennes, the twins are like a two-woman Monty Python troupe with a rotating cast of comic characters of all ages, genders and classes. As musicians, their songs are infectious, witty and heartfelt, and, as personalities, they are irresistible. So is the film. At the Del Mar, 8:30 p.m. Friday, and at The Rio, noon Monday. film pacificrimfest1

Speaking of tunes, one of the most democratizing things about the ukulele is that everyone can play it. But not everyone can play like Jake Shimabukuro. Takashi Nakamura’s documentary, JAKE SHIMABUKURO: LIFE ON FOUR STRINGS (USA, 2012, 60 min.), explores the life and sudden, meteoric career of the gifted young Hawaiian-born uke virtuoso, who plays everything from The Beatles, to classical, to jazz. At the Del Mar, 8 p.m. Saturday, Q&A to follow with Nakamura.

Here’s a look at the rest of the festival:

NOODLE (Israel, 2007, 80 min.), Ayelet Menehaemi’s gentle comedy about a Tel Aviv flight attendant suddenly charged with raising the small Chinese son of her deported housekeeper. At the Del Mar, 6 p.m. Friday. BUFFALO BOY (Vietnam/Belgium/France, 2004, 98 min.), Minh Nguyen-Vo’s coming-of-age tale of a teenage farm boy in lush French Vietnam in the 1940s. At the Riverfront, noon Saturday.

SAVING PRIVATE PEREZ (Mexico, 2011, 102 min.) Mexican stereotypes and Hollywood movies are satirized in this action comedy about a Sinaloa crime lord sent by his mother to rescue his brother from the Iraq War. Beto Gómez directs. At the Riverfront, 2 p.m. Saturday, and at Cabrillo College Watsonville Center, 4:45 p.m. Sunday.

THERE ONCE WAS AN ISLAND (New Zealand, 2010, 56 min.) Briar March documents the disastrous effects of climate change on a tiny, unique island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. At the Riverfront, 4 p.m. Saturday.

THE TSUNAMI AND THE CHERRY BLOSSOM (Japan, 2011, 39 min.) Lucy Walker’s doc explores the resilience of Japanese culture and spirit in the wake of the 2011 tsunami. Double-billed with Jake Shimabukuro: Life On Four Strings at the Del Mar, 8 p.m. Saturday. Also at Cabrillo College Watsonville Center, 3 p.m. Sunday.

CAFE SEOUL (Japan/South Korea, 2009, 94 min.) In Masaharu Take’s fictional foodie comedy, a transplanted Japanese reporter hooked on Korean sweet-rice cakes tries to save his favorite bakery from neighborhood gangsters. At The Rio, noon Sunday.

THEY CALL IT MYANMAR: LIFTING THE IRON CURTAIN (USA, 2012, 95 min.) Robert H. Lieberman’s doc explores the long, culturally diverse history of Burma, and its modern struggles toward democracy. At The Rio, 2:15 p.m. Sunday.

film pacificBURMA VJ (Holland, 2008, 85 min.) Director Anders Ostergaard chronicles the peaceful dissent of Burmese monks in 2007, protesting the military dictatorship, a story smuggled by a guerrilla coalition of courageous video journalists. At The Rio, 4:20 p.m. Sunday.

FOREIGN LETTERS (USA, 2012, 105 min.) Two immigrant teen girls, one Israeli, the other Vietnamese, bond in an American high school in the 1980s in Ela Their’s autobiographical drama. At The Rio, 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

THELMA (Philippines, 2011, 120 min.) Young Maja Salvador stars in Paul Soriano’s drama as an impoverished teenage girl who enters a footrace to help save her disintegrating family. At The Rio, 2:15 p.m. Monday.

SHUN LI AND THE POET (Italy, 2011, 100 min.) A Chinese barmaid befriends a Slavic immigrant in an Italian fishing village in Andre Serge’s thoughtful character study. At Crocker Theater, 6 p.m. Tuesday.

DANCING ACROSS BORDERS (USA, 2010, 88 min.) Anne Bass documents her efforts to bring naturally gifted Cambodian teen Sy Sar to the School of American Ballet in New York City. At The Rio, 1 p.m. Wednesday.

SPLINTERS (USA, 93 min.) The gift of a surfboard from a visiting Australian pilot changes an entire community in Papua New Guinea in Adam Pesce’s lively documentary. At The Rio, 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Pacific Rim Film Festival runs Friday, Oct. 19 through Wednesday, Oct. 24. Visit pacrimfilmfestival.org.

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