For the last 23 years, the San Antonio Film Festival has always done its own thing.
“We’re not the Toronto Film Festival or anywhere close to South by Southwest, and we’re not trying to be,” said Adam Rocha, director and founder of SAFILM, which runs through August 6 at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. “But we are trying to have fun. We are what we are, which is San Antonio. We’re pure San Antonio.”
Representing the city on an international scale, Rocha said, has included fostering relationships with filmmakers, which has kept SAFILM in the minds of people in the movie industry as an event he considers “inviting” compared to other fests.
“It’s all about fellowship,” said Rocha. “I think that’s what we do as a film festival. At other film festivals, you don’t have much access and it seems like you’re left out in the cold. We’re trying to do the opposite. We make friends and we keep friends.” Along with six days of screenings, SAFILM will also hold four workshops for filmmakers: “SAG-indie Filmmaking” with Darrien Michele Gipson (9:15am Fri, Aug. 4); “Making a Career in Show Business” with producer Marcia Nasatir (9:30am Sat, Aug. 5); “The Editor’s Cut: Feature Films vs. Docs” with Anne Goursaud (11am Sat, Aug. 5); and “Seal the Deal” with Hollywood agent Harry Ufland (11:30am Sat, Aug. 5).
The Current chose 10 features to review this year prior to SAFILM. Like most film festivals, there’s good, bad and everything in between, so choose your screenings wisely. For a full schedule of features and shorts screening this year, including films that are part of the coinciding San Antonio Children’s Film Festival, visit safilm.com.
(dir. David Rae Morris)
Filmmaker Rae Morris returns to Yazoo City, Mississippi, the hometown of his late father, to reexamine the history of the community in the 1970s when it became one of the first in the state to integrate its public schools. Seen by many at the time as a seamless example of how integration could work in a divided country, Morris isn’t afraid to get to the root of the truth not only through candid interviews with former students and administrators who were there during the groundbreaking period, but also with current teachers and residents to understand how the local district has re-segregated over the last half century. Through powerful words and images, Morris has created a documentary that is both timely and sincere. 7pm Wed, Aug. 2
(dir. Armando Luis Alvarez)
It’s obvious Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was a heavy influence on director/writer Luis Alvarez, but unlike filmmaker Michel Gondry’s 2004 masterpiece, Alvarez’s indie sci-fi lacks any fully formed ideas and is pieced together in an amateurish way. It feels like an aimless experimental project where flashbacks, awkward editing and nonlinear timelines actual become a burden on the already messy love story. Genuine emotion is absent as we watch a scientist, who finds a cure for depression by activating happy memories, globe-trot to find his missing girlfriend. Is there a method to Alvarez’s madness? Maybe, but after 100 long minutes, it’s hard to care one way or the other. 1:30pm Thu, Aug. 3
The Weight of Honor
(dir. Stephanie Seldin Howard)
The stories of the 1.1 million family caregivers of post-9/11 military veterans are given the respect and admiration they deserve in filmmaker Stephanie Seldin Howard’s touching documentary, which also reveals the harsh realities that come with their responsibilities. Wives and mothers open their hearts to Howard as she reminisces with them about how their lives changed when a loved one was critically injured in war and the impact it has taken on their relationships and their own identity. Howard is also courageous enough to point out some of the flaws in the VA system without becoming overtly political. Noon Fri, Aug. 4
It’s enough of a chore to get through the muddled, six-minute-long opening scene of this frustrating drama, but hold on tight. Writer/director/actor Matt Thornton has a whole lot more pointless dialogue and narrative to deliver post title card. The film follows a divorced, sexually inadequate aerospace engineer who agrees to be filmed for a documentary during sessions with his sex therapist/surrogate, who is trying to make him a better lover. The story splinters off to focus on the relationship the promiscuous doc filmmaker begins with the surrogate’s indifferent brother. Listening to people psychobabble about their sex lives when they’re as uninteresting as this group of characters is a tedious task to undertake. 9pm Fri, Aug. 4
Daughters of the Curved Moon
(dirs. Miranda Morton Yap + Sophie Dia Pegrum)
Frozen in time, the older generation of women of the small rural town of Jumla in Western Nepal spend their days doing what they have always done — cooking, cleaning, raising children, backbreaking labor. Their daughters, however, want more out of life and find a way to break from the traditional beliefs of their elders when they begin to attend a training program that will prepare them for an actual career. Documentarians Miranda Morton Yap and Sophie Dia Pegrum take audiences to the scenic Himalayas and embed themselves with these women and their families to gain personal and fascinating insight into the evolving nature of a woman’s place in society in this region. Look out Gal Gadot: documentary subject Nisha Budha is the new Wonder Woman. 3:30pm Sat, Aug. 5
(dir. Janet Harvey)
There have been a handful of films in recent years that have tried to tackle the dangers of social media and the internet when minors are involved, but none have really found a way to bring the elements together in an absorbing enough script — with the exception of 2011’s Trust. Unfortunately, Scene Queen — a comedy-less version of Mean Girls for the post-millennial generation — doesn’t offer audiences anything of significance in a story about a catty clique of high school girls who post videos online to demean each other. Director Janet Harvey might’ve had something profound to say about teenage disconnection, but without any emotional pull, it’s like everyone involved is stuck in an after-school special by way of reality-show gimmickry. 7pm Sat, Aug. 5
Waiting for the Storm
(dir. Rogelio Salinas III)
There are a couple of instances in this thriller where it might have been possible for filmmaker Rogelio Salinas to flip the genre on its head and go in a completely different direction from other home invasion movies of the past — almost darkly satirical, perhaps. It won’t take long, however, to realize Salinas isn’t shooting for anything special. Instead, the script hits all the typical beats before revealing some ineffective twists and a ridiculous third act that includes scenes where one criminal tries to rape a teenage girl and another makes a joke about a ham sandwich. Take cover. Storm is a Category 5 tonal disaster. 9pm Sat, Aug. 5
(dirs. Julia Butler + Daniel Mentz)
Directors/writers Julia Butler and Daniel Mentz might have something meaningful to say about the contentious topic of death with dignity, but their familiar and, at times, clichéd script prevents the narrative from diving deeper into the most thought-provoking aspect of the story. The dynamic between Fall, a lonely octogenarian, and Adam, a young, homeless musician, hits a few heartwarming moments, but the motivation behind their unlikely friendship isn’t fleshed out enough to get us completely on board. A secondary storyline about Adam’s shady past is an afterthought, and composer Tao Liu’s overdramatic score is, at best, ambitious. 2pm Sun, Aug. 6
Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana!
(dirs. Ryan Harvie + John Paul Horstmann
As far as amusing, stranger-than-fiction documentaries go, it might not be at the same level as 2007’s The King of Kong or 2015’s Finders Keepers, but Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana! is ripe with humor and, like the aforementioned docs, features a real-life antagonistic jerk that audiences will love to hate. In fact, the film should have focused even more on Paul Richards, a semi-pro wrestler from Seattle who attempts to sabotage his wrestling organization when he is asked to stop performing as his alter ego The Banana. Directors Ryan Harvie and John Paul Horstmann do a noteworthy job capturing the lives of these outcast wrestlers, we just wish they peeled back the layers of the title character a bit more. 4pm Sun, Aug. 6