A FILM STILL from the movie “Where Heaven Meets Hell.” Photos courtesy of Ann Parker.

Over the past 24 years, The Pacific Rim Film Festival (PRFF) has brought hundreds of documentaries from around the world to theaters across Santa Cruz. This year, the festival will open with the screening of “Noodle” on Oct. 19 at the Del Mar Theatre.

Over the course of six days, the PRFF will screen 20 films at five local theaters including the Rio Theatre and Riverfront Stadium Twin.

This year’s theme, “When Strangers Meet,” aims to establish a sense of community and promote cultural education and dialogue through film. The films featured in the PRFF come to Santa Cruz from around the world, bringing with them stories of places and people from different walks of life.

“When you’re sitting in a film, you’re forming connections with people as an audience member,” said Ann Parker, publicist for the PRFF. “One of the great things about film is that it does spark many different pieces of our reactions. It’s visual, it’s almost tactile. You’re surrounded by the experience.”

The six-day festival will offer screenings and Q&As with directors including UC Santa Cruz professors Marc Smolowitz and Gustavo Vazquez. Smolowitz directed the film “The Power of Two” and Vazquez directed “Playing With Fire,” alongside producer and Assistant Dean of Arts Keith Muscutt. Both films will be screened on Oct. 22.

“Playing With Fire” offers festival attendees a unique perspective of community conflict in a Peruvian Andes. The film follows firework makers who, from homemade gunpowder, create firework shows in honor of their patron saint. This is documented through Vazquez’s lens.

A FILM STILL from the movie “Playing With Fire.”

“[Film] is a way of sharing communities with communities,” Vazquez said. “A few may not solve problems but because it’s an artistic expression, hopefully it will inspire other communities.”

Vazquez’s first film to be featured in the PRFF was “Que Viva la Lucha,” which was screened at the festival in 2008. In this film, Vazquez documented the lives of extreme wrestlers, or luchadores, in his hometown of Tijuana.

“[Both films] have similar elements,” Vazquez said. “They’re both about popular cultures in Latino America, they’re both spectacles, and they’re about collective community gatherings and rituals.”

In “The Power of Two,” Smolowitz, a lecturer in film and digital media at UCSC gives viewers a glimpse into the lives of half-Japanese twin sisters who become renowned athletes, authors and activists despite being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

Santa Cruz filmmaker Sasha Friedlander’s documentary “Where Heaven Meets Hell” will also be screened at this year’s festival. Friedlander follows the plight of miners from Indonesia who work in an active volcano under dangerous conditions to support their families.

“A lot of the themes and storylines [in the film] are very universal,” Friedlander said. “Even though [the miners] … have completely different life circumstances, there are things that you and I would experience here.”

These miners, Friedlander said, worry about money and feeding their families while still maintaining good relationships with the ones they love. Friedlander said she hopes that the audience will walk away with an understanding of the miners’ working conditions and the struggles they face every day.

In a more explicit manner of connecting two communities, director Ela Their’s film “Foreign Letters” follows an Israeli immigrant who becomes friends with a Vietnamese immigrant. Two different worlds collide and create an inseparable bond between the girls who are able to relate to each other in a unique way.

A FILM STILL from the movie “Playing With Fire.”

By choosing to show these films, the PRFF has connected Santa Cruzans with unfamiliar cultures and exposed them to causes they may not have known about before watching the documentaries.

Contributions from the Santa Cruz community and donors, including Ow Family Properties ensure free screenings to the public with the exception of a benefit event on Oct. 24. The closing benefit will include a live mariachi band and the screening of the film “Mariachi Gringo.”

“There is a great open-heartedness about diversity [in Santa Cruz],” Parker said. “There is a great willingness, which means that this festival is just soaked up by the community, and it’s just ready for it.”