Following Hispanic Heritage Month, on Wednesday, October 18, the Newport Beach Film Festival’s (NBFF) annual Mexican Spotlight event will take place at Triangle Starlight Cinemas in Costa Mesa. The central focus of the night is the screening of Radical (2023), starring Eugenio Derbez, along with an exclusive Q&A with those behind the film, an afterparty, dance performances, live music and a hosted bar, all completely open to everyone who purchases tickets. 

“In mainstream American films, a lot of Latinx people are pushed to the sidelines, and they’re not the main focus,” Bernadette Velasco, Mexican Spotlight Co-Lead, said. “Even though we’re seeing more representation today, they’re still not the central story. [Radical is] going to be a great film that has a great message and ties in with the idea of representation. In the Mexican Spotlight, we’re highlighting them, and it’s time for Latinx people to come here and shine and appreciate their culture. They’re the main characters now.”

As the NBFF looks forward to hosting its annual festival on October 12–19, it is also celebrating 24 years since its creation in 1999. Founded by Gregg Schwenk, now the CEO, and Todd Quartararo, Director of Marketing, the NBFF has always supported “the creation and advancement of innovative and artistic cinematic works from both emerging and seasoned filmmakers and proudly embraces the passion, vision and independent spirit of these talented artists,” according to its mission statement. 

“When we founded the festival, we wanted it to be a strong reflection of the rich diversity of Southern California, and that’s why we have a very large Mexican Spotlight,” Schwenk told CALÓ NEWS. “We have a spotlight on China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam, and this year, we have a Filipino spotlight as well. We also have an Italian-French spotlight to focus on those filmmaking cultures. We try to reflect the diversity of Southern California in the opportunities and events that we have at the Newport Beach Film Festival.”

Like its fellow International Spotlights, the Mexican Spotlight is run by students at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) who are enrolled in Schwenk’s, a part-time communications professor at the university, event planning course. Two of those students include Velasco and Eve Ochoa, the second Mexican Spotlight Co-Lead, who, together with an entire group, gain experience by running the event’s social media, reaching out to supporters and sponsors and equipping the after-party with entertainment and food. 

Along with the festivities the Mexican Spotlight holds for its guests, the centerpiece of the event is the screening of the Mexican drama Radical (2023), starring Mexican actor and comedian Eugenio Derbez, known for his roles in How to Be a Latin Lover (2017), Overboard (2018) and Instructions Not Included (2013), who will also be in attendance. The film, which premiered at Sundance in January and will officially be released in the United States and Mexico on October 20, focuses on 6th-grade students at Jose Urbina Lopez Elementary in Matamoros who are underperforming due to their sole knowledge of violence and corruption when their teacher (Derbez) comes with a different approach. 

“It is not just any movie; it brings the message to the public of opening our eyes to all of these issues happening in the education system and making a change in them,” Ochoa said. “What better way to do this than with an artist such as Eugenio Derbez, who is highly recognized in Mexico?”

Velasco continues, “The film itself is 100% in Spanish with English subtitles. There was a fiasco with Parasite (2019) and how Hollywood wanted to make an Americanized version in English, which is disrespectful to the Korean language. With the Mexican Spotlight, that’s something that we wanted to keep: the Spanish language. We wanted to keep it like that because it’s important to highlight that culture, and it’s important on its own. You don’t need to translate it to make an impact.”

Celebrating Latino artists is a central focus of the NBFF as they head into the Mexican Spotlight event. Not only will they be screening Radical, but all of the artists behind the film will be spotlighted through an exclusive Q&A, including the director, Chris Zalla, and one of its producers. Guests will hear the story behind the film and how they feel in terms of representation, as well as ask the artists themselves questions. “This is the center stage for them. It’s not just about watching a fun film, but you get to appreciate the work that goes behind it,” Velasco said.

Following the film’s screening and the Q&A, guests will be joined by multi-Grammy award-winning Mariachi Divas, Ivan Labra, aka DJ Ivnasty, and the Ballet Folkloríco Leyenda dance company. Additionally, by collaborating with a series of Orange County Latinx-owned restaurants, such as Chef Laura, Kalavaras, Il Sole Cucina, Sole Agave and Pluma Cafe DTLA, the NBFF is connecting with surrounding artists and businesses to truly celebrate Latino culture at its Mexican Spotlight. 

Newport Beach Film Festival
Open to everyone interested, the Mexican Spotlight event will consist of a red carpet, a screening of Radical (2023) starring Eugenio Derbez, an exclusive Q&A, an after-party, dance performances from the Mariachi Divas, live music and a hosted bar. Photo Courtesy of the Newport Beach Film Festival.

“We want to bring life and magic to the whole event; we want the Latino community to feel represented and heard,” Ochoa said. “Especially because we’re having Radical and Eugenio Derbez at our event. We want them to feel related to and remember those times when they might have had to experience corruption and violence in the education system. We’re trying to bring a little bit of joy by having traditional foods, music, dances and art, like folkloríco, at our event. Bringing Mexican magic to the event.”

One of the various Latinx-owned restaurants featured in the Mexican Spotlight event, Il Sole Cucina, owned by Chef Luis Mena and located in Rancho Santa Margarita, is Italian cuisine, but with a Latin twist, according to Mena. Known for its homemade pasta and sauces with vibrant flavors, Mena is excited to provide some of Il Sole’s favorite dishes, including their Ravioli Al Fichi, a home-made fig and goat cheese ravioli in brown butter sage sauce, Caprese salad and Linguini Al Caccio e Pepe, a linguini pasta sautéed with butter, fresh ground crack pepper and parmesan cheese.

“I’m Mexican, and I don’t want to say I’m the only one, but [Il Sole Cucina] is very popular in this community, especially Coto de Caza,” Mena said. “I’m so proud to be Hispanic-owned at one of the most famous restaurants in this area of California.” 

Historically, the NBFF has partnered with numerous non-profit and philanthropic organizations throughout Orange County and the rest of Southern California. In an effort to support the Latino community, the festival works closely with the National Alliance of Latino Independent Producers, the Orange County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Santa Ana Mexican Consulate and the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, among a myriad of others. 

“We try to put a spotlight on the creative endeavors, both from filmmakers from Mexico and the community overall,” Schwenk said. “Through our partnerships with other nonprofits, we will share that spotlight and allow those organizations their time in front of our audience.”

Not only is the NBFF’s Mexican Spotlight such a great opportunity for Latino artists to showcase their hard work and passions, as well as for the public to experience it, but it is also an accessible opportunity for the community to see their culture and heritage celebrated, something that’s not always available. Having such a beautiful, luxury event open for the general public to experience and enjoy is particularly critical to Schwenk and the NBFF, offering each one of their International Spotlights for $50 per person.

“I think [Mexican Spotlight] is important because it is an opportunity to make connections and get together as the Latino community,” Ochoa said. “It’s an opportunity for Latinos to feel united and represented, even though it’s such a luxury event. As a Mexican, I never imagined being represented and then also being a leader of an event like this, so I’m really happy.”

Velasco added, “Outside of spaces like this, the world can be very hostile, and I’m sure a lot of Latinx people, if not most, if not all, know that feeling of being excluded and know how it feels to not be important or to be recognized. Coming to the Mexican Spotlight will be a nice bubble where you can come out and feel like yourself and be surrounded by your culture and like-minded people. It’s just a good break from everything that’s going on outside, where you can come to the space and feel like you’re included and like you’re supposed to be here.”

If you are interested in learning more about NBFF’s Mexican Spotlight event, please check out their website and their Instagram.

For CALÓ NEWS readers, if you would like to attend the event, tickets can be purchased here with our $5.00 discount code, Mexican2023. 

Serena Sanchez is a freelance writer for CALÓ NEWS. She grew up in San Pedro, Calif., and studied journalism at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Her reporting interests include art, the environment,...