RSF Rotary Club to host San Diego International Film Festival leader

Tonya Mantooth
Tonya Mantooth San Diego International Film Festival

To Rancho Santa Fe resident Tonya Mantooth, movies are much more than mere entertainment.

As artistic director of the San Diego International Film Festival and CEO of the foundation that produces it, Mantooth strives to make the annual event an experience that stimulates imagination, reflection and even change.

“We really believe that the experience of film is transformative,” she said. “It allows you to come together and see an issue from another person’s perspective.

“It gives you a sense of empathy, and from that it really creates a dialogue, and the dialogue is about how we’re going to able to come together and find solutions to some of these important issues.”

Mantooth is expected to share her thoughts about film, her career in the industry and the upcoming festival when she appears as guest speaker at the Rancho Santa Fe Rotary Club’s luncheon this month.

The meeting will start at noon, Aug. 22, at the Ranch Santa Fe Golf Club, 5827 Via De La Cumbre. Information on the event can be obtained at

Mantooth said her goal in speaking to the group is to help members understand the film festival, the nonprofit film foundation and “what a festival can mean to a city.”

A native of Santa Barbara, Mantooth came to this region to attend San Diego State University, where she majored in music and business. In addition to working as a professional musician, Mantooth became involved in the film industry.

She served as executive producer and director of acquisitions at CRM Films, and as president of the film and post-production company, The Dakota Group. As head of her own company, Mantooth Films, she produced four feature films. She is a nine-time regional Emmy award winner with more than 60 international Telly and ADDY awards.

In 2012, she and three of her colleagues — Patti Judd, Kevin Leap and Dale Strack — took leadership of the San Diego International Film Festival, which was launched 16 years ago. Their goal was to make it a vital cultural and destination event for the region.

“We’ve been able to grow it probably about 500 percent in the time since we took it over,” Mantooth said. “We saw that, one, it could be such a great opportunity to highlight cinema from around the world.

“But it could also be a great economic driver for a city. ... We felt it was something that could be beneficial for San Diego and really a worthy cause to take on.”

“We’ve been able to bring major studio premieres to the festival that have gone on to win Oscars and Golden Globes. We’ve been able to bring actors and actresses down and honor them, like Sir Patrick Stewart, Annette Bening, Adrian Brodie, Geena Davis and a number of others.”

This year’s festival, scheduled to be held Oct. 10-14, will feature about 120 films culled from hundreds of submissions and attract as many as 20,000 fans. Information is available at

The movies, ranging from shorts and documentaries to features, will be shown at two locales — ArcLight La Jolla at University Town Center and the Regal Cinema UA Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego. Special events will be held at the Pendry San Diego, Balboa Theatre and Horton Plaza Park.

Downtown is such a great footprint for a festival because it’s so walkable,” Mantooth said. “It’s got the same kind of feeling as Toronto. ... This is a great city to showcase, and that’s a great benefit for a film festival.”

Categories of films to be shown are American Indian, Environmental, Equestrian, Military, Social impact and Women in Film.

The Equestrian track was added to the program last year in recognition of the strong presence of the horse industry in this region.

“San Diego County has the largest horse per capita population of anywhere in the United States, and it’s exciting to bring these communities out,” Mantooth said.

She strives for the festival to focus on current impactful topics, such as homelessness and sex trafficking.

The goal, she said, is “to identify these important initiatives ... and to be able to bring people together to help them understand that these are issues that need to be addressed.”

One measure of the festival’s success over the last few years has been its ability to attract feature films that ended up having great success on the world stage.

The showing of “12 Years a Slave” at the San Diego festival was its premiere in the U.S. and it went on to win an Academy Award for best picture, among numerous accolades. Also presented at the festival was “Hidden Figures,” which received many Oscar and Golden Globe nominations

In addition to staging the festival, the foundation is active in the community, including bringing a tour of films to area high schools.

“Having the platform of a festival is really powerful and it can be a great vehicle for making change happen,,” Mantooth said. “I’m very proud of that, and I’m very proud of being able to bring filmmakers from around the world to the festival.”

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