CineFestival 2013 recap – San Antonio’s West Side Joya

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Lou Diamond Philips, Patty Ortiz, directof of Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Godfather Jesse Borrego and Gina Rodriguez pre-screening

The 35th CineFestival drew to a close Saturday night with a jam packed screening of Filly Brown attended by its filmmakers Amir de Lara, Michael D. Olmos and actors’,  Gina Rodriguez and Lou Diamond Philips.   At the Q&A, a charming Lou Diamond serenaded the audience with an impromptu rendition of La Bamba, in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the seminal chicano rock film, and Gina aka Filly rocked the mike herself, demonstrating she’s got the rap skills down cold.  Afterwards, filmmakers, friends and staff walked across the street to la Casita,the festival’s lounge that is a cute house with a huge Ice House backyard with benches and fire pits, fully stocked free Indio beer, (a nice break from the usual fest sponsor Stella), delicious sausage in tortillas and a rockin girl DJ spinning classic vinyl.

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Mission Park boys – Julio Cesar Cedillo, Jesse Borrego, Will Rothhar, Bryan Ramirez, Douglas Spain, David Philips and Jeremy Ray Valdez
Photo courtesy of Cedillo

All in all, it was a fun week of meeting young emerging filmmakers and getting to know the relatively nascent San Antonio film scene.  It all started with Opening Night film, Mission Park, a film that was shot in San Antonio by native filmmaker Bryan Ramirez.  The people came out in droves to see this home grown film – so much that there was demand for a second screening.  It was a lovefest at the screening Q&A which was attended by the producers, Douglas Spain, Armando Montelongo (Flip this House real life real estate tycoon), and cast, Jeremy Ray Valdez, Will Rothhar, Julio Cesar Cedillo and David J. Phillips (also producer).  Bryan Ramirez spoke about meeting Douglas Spain at CineFestival a few years ago and giving him the script back then which is how the Star Maps actor came on board as producer.

After the film I tagged along with the crew to Brooklynite, a fancy chic parlor mixologist bar – the type you’d find in hipster Venice or WeHo.  There I met and  talked with Jesse Salmeron, a filmmaker from the bay area whose first feature, Dreamer is world premiering at CineQuest.  Jeremy Ray Valdez produces and star’s as the film’s lead, Joe Rodriguez, a well educated young man who is unable to get ahead in life because of the lingering fear that he might be deported.  Demonstrating a strong visual approach within a timely, compassionate story, I just added Jesse to my hot Latino writer/directors to watch out for.

ALAMO CITY FILMMAKERS & THE FILM SCENE

San Antonio Film CommissionAmong the bourgeoning SA filmmakers are Bryan Ramirez, Kerry Valderama, Bryan Ortiz (all three collaborated on the asylum anthology film Sanitarium with Malcolm McDowell), short filmmaker and beloved highschool film teacher, Sam Lerma, Steve Acevedo who directed the short film El Cocodrilo, a powerful story starring Jacob Vargas as a reporter on the run from narcos, Ralph Lopez, producer of Wolf which premiered at SXSW last year, Ray Santisteban, award winning documentarian who won Best doc short for the six minute Have You Seen Marie, a slice of celebrated Chicana author Sandra Cisneros’s new book.  And if there were to be a Godfather to this crew coming up it is San Antonio’s querido, artist/activist/actor, Jesse Borrego (Mi Vida Loca) who moved back to to his hometown last year after spending 15 years in LA.  I think he is the most generous, warm hearted and enthusiastic patron saint of the Guadalupe community.

So where my SA sisters at???  Well there are a lot more females working within the documentary medium.   Filmmakers like Laura Varela whose films rescue forgotten  American Latino heroes, Deborah S. Esquinazi, the director of The Recantation, a work in progress documentary about four Latina lesbians wrongfully accused of molestation, and Lindsey Villareal, whose short doc about a Mariachi family in East LA, Canto de Familia,was super moving in an enjoyable and Mexican pride way.  She is currently attending USC’s MFA Film Production program.  Another female documentarian I was impressed with is Angela Walley who with her husband Mark made this extraordinary doc profile short, Vincent Valdez, Excerpts for John.  Watch the full short here.  

Drew Mayer-Oakes, Director of the San Antonio Film Commission told me about the matching grant available to local filmmakers which launched just last year.  Blessed by Julian Castro, the $25,000 grant will support local filmmakers who have at least $25,000 in funding commitments in place for a feature-length motion picture.  Family movie Champion by Kevin Nations and Robin Nations, is the first to have been awarded the grant last year out of 8 applications. The program is funded and managed by the City of San Antonio Department for Culture & Creative Development (DCCD). The program is a collaboration with the San Antonio Film Commission, a division of the Convention & Visitors Bureau.  This is but just one of the programs and resources Drew is putting together to ignite the local filmmaking scene

THE NEXT GENERATION

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Winner of the highschool short film showcase, Nicolas Rodriguez for his film, The Exterminator.

The festival is instrumental in providing access, inspiration and platforms for aspiring filmmakers.  I had been looking forward to Monday’s Youth Film showcase,  a program of local highschool shorts, and it did not disappoint. Taking home two awards, Best Narrative and Emerging Filmmaker was Nicolas Rodriguez from Harlandale High, the director of the wacky and original comedy called The Exterminator.   Upon accepting his award, he mentioned he looked up to filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez and Guillermo del Toro.  I was also impressed with videographer/artist Daniela Riojas, who was working as the Festival’s official photographer and is a radical artist and performer who screened her music video Pop Physique in the shorts program.  Check out her work  here.  I also got to meet Efrain-Abran Gutierrez, son of  the pioneering filmmaker who made the very first Chicano film right here in San Antonio, Efrain Gutierrez (Please Don’t Bury Me Alive).  Efrain Junior founded his own production company, Landmine Entertainment where he does everything from discovering and shooting underground hip hop music artists to currently developing a couple documentaries on forgotten Chicano activists.

I haven’t talked about The Crumbles on this blog yet so I want to give it a shout now as its become one of my favorites pieces of fresh and microbudget fimmaking; The Echo Park set slacker film completely captures the multi-culti indie hipster artist hood in an affecting way by focusing on the young persistent indie rock movement and spirit, come hell or high water. I loved the Latina rocker lead played by El Teatro Campesino performer Katie Hipoland the music (soundtrack by Grammy winner Quetzal).  The director Akira Boch raised 10k on Kickstarter to take it out on the road himself and he’s out there doing it now.  Check here for a list of the film’s DIY screening engagements.

THE SUNDANCE SUPPORT

Wednesday kicked off the first ever CineFestival Latino Writers Project lab, a collaboration with Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program.  The four writers selected to participate met with filmmaker and creative advisors, Nancy Savoca (who made one of my all time favorite h.s. movies True Love), David Riker (The Girl) Cruz Angeles whas was the co-creator of the Latino Screenwriters Lab (Don’t Let me Drown), Mauricio Zacharias (co-writer of Keep the Lights On) and Hannah Weyer (Life Support, and novelist of upcoming book, On the Come Up).  I wish I had had  a chance to really talk with the screenwriters but they were too busy and immersed with their mentors.   I did hear that they found the workshop and advisors incredibly valuable, and their only wish was that they had more time with them.  It sounds like most of the advisors offered to stay in touch with them and make themselves available throughout their creative process ahead.  Out of the four writers only Miguel Alvarez is from around these parts.  Miguel is a well known filmmaker and trusty collaborator here in Austin whose fantastic project, La Perdida plays like an Eternal Sunshine meets Seven Monkeys set in Mexico City.

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Ilyse McKimmie, Cruz Angeles, David Riker, Nancy Savoca and Richard Guay

On Saturday morning the enlightening Sundance panel, Essential Elements: Making your Vision a Reality, was moderated by Ilyse McKimmie, an incredibly generous and erudite creative guru.   The conversations and questions ranged from, at what point does a writer share their working draft, to what is the next step after final draft, and a large discussion about how critical it is to find the right creative producer.

There were a number of interesting new filmmakers I had the pleasure of meeting like immigration lawyer and documentarian Sarah MacPherson whose Stable Life, a glimpse inside the undocumented immigrants who work and live in horse race tracks won the Documentary Prize.  It was also nice to hang with filmmakers I’ve met before like David Riker.  There was a good turnout for his film and a very affected audience afterwards at the Q&A. The Girl is being released by Brainstorm Media and The Film Collective, a new consulting company headed by Ruth Vitale, former head of Paramount Classics.  This exciting and new partnership previously theatrically released Todd Solondz last film, the Ted Hope produced, Dark Horse.  For a list of theater venues and times to see The Girl (LA/NY/Chicago/Phoenix/San Antonio and San Diego check here.

Like I reported here last year, CineFestival is such a rich and nuclear community festival that reflects the unique spectrum of its inhabitants and neighbors.  There is a high level of chicano consciousness alive and well that is inspiring this young generation to tell their stories.  San Antonio is becoming a really happening artist haven and this edition of CineFestival made important steps towards developing and tapping into this artistic filmic pulse.  I hope to continue collaborating with this festival in the future and I want to thank the formidable organization, Patty Ortiz, Executive Director of Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Jim Mendiola, Festival Director, Yvonne Montoya, Program Director of Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center and Orlando Bolanos, Education Director.  Gracias por todo y hasta luego!

San Antonio Cinefestival – The Next Big Thang

If the San Antonio Cinefestival isn’t on your radar yet, watchale because the oldest chicano showcase in the U.S. is a gem in the rough and is recharging as the gold mine boutique, historical, and uniquely diverse festival it is.  I’m not the only one who thinks so – the intrepid producer and indie film ambassador Ted Hope gave the keynote address at the San Antonio Film Commission hosted summit that kicked off the 34th edition of CineFestival last weekend. I had the honor of being involved as a juror this year and visited San Antonio for the first time, to discover a rich and deeply rooted community just a few miles west of the Alamo.  I found an interesting mix of not only Mexican, but other latino and US latino generations, encompassing old school military vets, and today’s punk youth, intertwined with white Texas big city and small town folks. The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, the non-profit multi-disciplinary organization that puts on CineFestival, runs a number of programs throughout the year including the popular Tejano Conjunto.  Filmmaker, pundit, and esteemed local statesman, Jim Mendiola,  co-curated this year’s edition along with Manuel Solis.  Yvonne Montoya, the multi, multi-tasker Program Manager, the gracious Drew Mayor-Oakes director of the San Antonio Film Commission, and Patty Ortiz the director of the GCAC were just a few of the dedicated organizers who gave me a warm Texas welcome.  This year Cinefestival scored Sundance, Cannes and even Oscar nominated films in their lineup like Mosquita y Mari, Chico & Rita, El Velador.  The Festival even screened a work in progress screening of the highly anticipated Chicano noir tale, Water & Power by Richard Montoya of Culture Clash fama.  Other highlights included the fun Texas grindhouse film, The Return of Johnny V by Aaron Lee Lopez, American Mustache, which is a live performance and riff of seminal chicano film, American Me, and the local shorts program which showcased the distinct flavor of San Antonio.

Check the box: Hispanic, Latino, or other

Filmmakers Across_Borders, was the first of its kind summit that the San Antonio Film Commission hosted to discuss cross cultural creative collaboration in independent cinema.  Led by genial film commission director and filmmaker Drew Mayer-Oakes, the panelists included, along with Ted Hope, Director of Programming at The Monterrey Film Festival, Luis Garcia, music and film producer, Brandon Olmos, renowned Mexican tv/ film actor, Plutarco Hazas, and producer Don Franken.  Some bright local talents and strong voices from the community engaged with them, like Ralph Lopez whose first feature, Wolf is premiering at SXSW, and Pablo Veliz (La Tragedia de Macario – Sundance FF 2006).  Sitting in on the panels it’s evident that these young filmmakers connect to their latino background on different levels and how it informs their work.  For some it’s a big part of their process, for others not so much.  One thing was clear, their goals were to tell authentic, universal and relatable character driven stories.

Let your hair down

After a fun bar hopping first night, I saw Girl in a Coma, San Antonio’s home grown all girl punk band who played a rockin 10th anniversary concert outside at the Guadalupe plaza as part of the official opening on Saturday, with their producer, the still-fierce Joan Jett in tow.   On Sunday, Jesse Borrego (Mi Vida Loca), a muy querido native, presented Las Tesoros de San Antonio, a documentary about four impressive mariachi singers who sang with the greats of the 40s and 50s and who now in their 70s continue to sing their hearts out.  The extraordinary firebrand Doña’s were present and it just made my heart glow.  The screening was a clip of the feature documentary in the works, currently looking for finishing funds. More info and trailer here.

San Antonio is for real up and coming.  It’s mayor, Julian Castro is being pegged as the next great Hispanic hope, the city is the 7th largest in the nation, and there exists a vibrant artistic core amid the sprawled out city.

Although Texas brand name, Robert Rodriguez is from San Antonio and he frequents his hometown often, I found it hard to believe  he’s not been involved with the festival in over a decade.  The festival up until recently, had seen a lot of turnover and been short-staffed.  But if this festival was any indication, its clear that with Patty Ortiz, who took the reins of GCAC in 2009 and is a savvy and ambitious visionary, along with Yvonne Montoya, are leading a revitalized charge and mission for the festival to stay relevant and build on its legacy, while keeping its socio-political conscious roots and heritage. Cinefestival will continue to nurture and celebrate its local talent, and will be doing a round up of the spectacular alumni of the past 34 years.  Combined with its down home and intimate nature, it’s a very attractive platform for companies, filmmakers and organizations looking to connect and tap into the diverse and vibrant American mestizo culture. I’m excited about it and am already looking forward to next year.  Gracias Cinefestival!

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