Students will be able to explore the vast cultures and lands of Asia, from China to the Philippines, all from the comforts of Santa Cruz in celebration of the Pacific Rim Film Festival’s 25th year in Santa Cruz.

The film festival will be held on Oct. 17-23 at four different venues, including the Rio Theatre, the Riverfront Stadium Twin, the Del Mar Theatre and Green Valley Cinema in Watsonville. The festival will feature 20 different films made by filmmakers from around the world, from the U.S. to Korea.

“The mission behind this whole festival is to educate and to expose people to other cultures because understanding is what leads to peace,” said founder and steering committee member Jeanne Houston. “Bottom line, that’s what we want — to get along, to understand each other, and to have peace in the world. And films are probably one of the best ways to show that.”

Inspired by the Hawaii International Film Festival and its mission to spread cultural awareness for free, Jeanne Houston and her family, along with her colleagues, such as City on a Hill Press alumnus Geoffrey Dunn and UC Santa Cruz theater professor Kathy Foley, founded the Pacific Rim Film Festival in Santa Cruz. Like the Hawaii International Film Festival, they offered free admission to the public and still do to this day.

“We began with only five films back in 1988 and now we’re showing 20 different films,” Houston said. “Everything started at the Del Mar Theatre and now we’re showing it at different theaters like the Riverfront and the Rio. We’ve always been fortunate to have wonderful sponsors like local businesses and the Santa Cruz Weekly, and now we have the [Santa Cruz] Sentinel and of course UCSC. It has been a cooperation between the university and the community in that we want students to come down and see these films.”

Staying true to their theme of “When Strangers Meet,” the festival offers many diverse films intending to spread cultural awareness, unity and understanding to the broadest audience possible.

“Here’s a movie about Tibet and people living in yurts in the middle of nowhere and they have ponies and goats, but you find that their lives are just like ours,” said film festival publicity manager Ann Parker. “They have family moments, love for their animals, the same kinds of worries, troubles, hopes and dreams. I think it’s a combination of exposing people to this very unusual and unfamiliar aspect of other cultures, and having them see how much alike we all are.”

Film genres range from romantic comedies such as with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” a story about a married couple and their modern-day issues dealing with sexuality and starting a family, to more fantastical films such as “Comrade Kim Goes Flying,” a film about a female coal miner in North Korea who dreams of becoming an acrobat despite her father’s objections, to even epic documentaries such as “Linsanity,” the documentary film following the career of famous basketball player Jeremy Lin.

“I’m excited for the film festival,” said second year Armand Avanian. “I’m a really open-minded person and I get lost in films. It’s a real wonderful experience, in a way, to live someone else’s life.”

The film festival will also be holding a special benefit showing of the film “UPAJ: Improvise,” a documentary following the collaboration between Indian kathak savant and guru Pandit Chitresh Das and American tap artist Jason Samuels, on Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. General admission tickets for this benefit screening are $15, though all other screenings are free.

“I’ve worked on a lot of different projects and this one is unlike any other,” Parker said. “It is such a nonprofit effort and the people involved are so impassioned. I’ve seen some of the screeners before, and it’s different to be sitting in that theater and seeing that big screen and it just takes you into another world. You feel like you’re a part of it. It’s one of the most rewarding events I’ve done all year.”

The Pacific Rim Film Festival will be open for six days Oct. 17-23, and will be free to the public. Seats are first come, first served.