The Seattle Latino Film Festival's 10-day run opens Friday at several theaters, with the goal of helping Seattle learn more about itself and its cultural diversity.

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Film festivals, especially those without much money, are conceived with a sense of mission and driven by goodwill and a list of meaningful contacts.

They also offer a city more than unfamiliar movies: They can strengthen community ties and identity.

That’s the goal of the 4-year-old Seattle Latino Film Festival (SLFF), which has grown from a four-day showcase in 2009 to 10 days in 2012, a nice chunk of Hispanic Heritage Month. The festival opens Friday at the SIFF Cinema at the Uptown with Andre Ristrum’s warmly received, Brazilian family drama, “Meu País (My Country).”

The organizers of the nonprofit SLFF, operating an increasingly ambitious program with a small organization and scant assets, describe their labor of love as “a cultural gift to the Emerald City.”

“To me, Seattle is a magic place … an artistic, multicultural place, ” says Jorge Enrique Gonzalez-Pacheco, SLFF’s Cuban-born co-founder, executive director and chief programmer. “With this festival, we are helping the city know more about itself.”

Born in Havana, Gonzalez-Pacheco, 43, arrived here in 2006, and began attending Seattle University two years later. An internationally published poet, he worked in the Cuban film industry for seven years as an assistant director and in casting, and spent time working with the Miami International Film Festival.

“I built a lot of bridges with film industries in Spain, Mexico, all over,” he says. “I have contacts with a lot of filmmakers and producers, but where I don’t have that, other film festivals help me get it.”

Gonzalez-Pacheco’s determination to create inroads into culture and education throughout the Northwest, by allying SLFF with a variety of schools, arts and media institutions, businesses and charitable funding organizations, has made it possible for the festival to spread its wealth of cinematic premieres around.

Besides offering more films than ever (31 titles from 22 countries, among them Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Spain, Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, France and Israel), SLFF will operate out of multiple theaters (among them Seattle Art Museum, Northwest Film Forum, SIFF Film Center, Kirkland Performance Center and Seven Gables), from Friday through Oct. 14.

Special guests will appear with several films, including Guatemalan filmmaker Veronic a Riedel (“Capsulas”) and Tom Gustafson (director of U.S. production “Mariachi Gringo”).

SLFF also will broadcast over Redmond City TV; offer a free screening of Emmy-winning documentary “Presumed Guilty” at KCTS 9 Studio (presented by Luis González Placencia, president of the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City); and partner with the University of Puget Sound in a post-festival lecture by Mirta Ojito, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author (“Finding Mañana: A Memoir of a Cuban Exodus”).

Of course, all of these things cost money. Most of SLFF’s $100,000 budget for 2012 (the 2009 festival cost $20,000) are in-kind contributions. Support from Microsoft, the Seattle International Foundation, the Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, 4Culture and small donors help, too.

“We have a lot of spiritual and psychological support,” says Gonzalez-Pacheco. “But we need more business support and a bigger organization. We want to go to more parts of Washington. There are Latinos everywhere, grateful these films connect them with their cultures again, and Anglos can discover that each Latino country has its own identity. The festival helps with that.”

For more information about the festival, including a full schedule of events, check www.slff.org.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com