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Opening night of San Diego International Film Festival in Balboa Park

"C'mon C'mon" starring Joaquin Phoenix opened the festival at the Museum of Photographic Arts

SAN DIEGO — Award season is right around the corner and what better way to kick it off than the 20th annual San Diego International Film Festival. After holding an all-virtual event last year, the festival is back outside and showing films in Balboa Park, the Catamaran Resort and even one aboard the USS Midway. All 150 films can also be seen from home.

"It's so great to be back out in the public, seeing movies on the big screen," said Scott Mantz, a film critic and board member of the San Diego International Film Festival.

Thursday night at the Museum of Photographic Arts the festival kicked off with “C’mon C’mon” starring Joaquin Phoenix.

Mantz said this is what he’s been waiting for all year long. 

"The best place to watch a movie is on the big screen. Watching movies at home for me - I watched 350 movies - watching them at home wasn’t the same," said Mantz.

Though San Diego is a hundred miles away from Hollywood, that doesn’t stop the fest from showing some of the biggest films of the year and creating buzz for movies before the major award circuit.

"We're able to bring studio premieres here and be able to recognize films very early on in the awards season," said festival CEO Tonya Mantooth. "In fact, over the last 10 years, we've had 18 premieres of films that have been nominated for Best Picture, and 11 of those have won."

She’s excited about some of the big-name films that will be shown this year. Like the new Wes Anderson film, "The French Dispatch" and "The Lost Daughter," the directorial debut of Maggie Gyllenhaal.

"The power of film allows you to come back and have that connectedness and be present with other filmgoers and really experience a film together, everyone's been missing that and we’re really excited to bring that back," said Mantooth.

The event going on for the next 10 days and will have movies lined up for whatever you’re in the mood for including  “Finding Fellowship” – a documentary premiering on Saturday morning.

"The story itself is about three racially segregated churches in rural Maryland in 1968," said the director of the film John Green. 

Green came from Washington D.C. to premiere his movie in San Diego.

"My film in particular people can connect to, there are a lot of different threads. It's about hop,e community and belonging - and how these are things people can wrap their arms around, and frankly, we need more examples of how we can succeed. We’ve seen plenty of examples how we can't do it but this is a story of how we can," said Green.

"I am, in many ways, an inheritor of this story. I learned it from my 95-year-old grandmother, and I was surprised that all of this history exists in the community that I was very familiar with and still didn't know," said Green "The point of this film is to show how in a very divided time, people were able to put that division aside and come together with greater purpose." 

It will be a time for movies and popcorn in San Diego that cinephiles won’t want to miss. For tickets and information head to SDFilmfest.com 

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