After a few erratic years, CineFestival — the nation’s longest-running Latino film festival — celebrates its 33rd anniversary with more of what a low-budget festival can offer: a few strong films, a handful of historically important ones, a couple of forgettable ones, and a huge mixed bag showcasing the work of young, up-and-coming directors, many of them local.
The theme for this year’s edition, which runs from Thursday, February 3, through Sunday, February 6, is “Aztlan in Focus: Roots, Raza, and Revolution.” (For a more complete schedule, visit guadalupeculturalarts.org/cinefestival.)
“If you look at what’s happening with Latino filmmakers around the world, a lot of emphasis is put on what’s happening in Latin America,” said festival curator Manuel Solís, “and a lot of the stories Latino filmmakers in the States are telling are getting overlooked.”
With that in mind, Solís gave prominence to U.S.-based Latino directors: the young generation led by Pablo Véliz, veterans like Robert Rodríguez and Efraín Gutiérrez (the latter widely credited as being the first Chicano filmmaker), and student films like We March, a short directed by 17-year-old San Antonian Emileigh Potter (a SAY Sí student who won CineFestival’s Mesquite Emerging Artist award). But the Aztlán focus doesn’t mean Latin America will be overlooked: films from Cuba, Peru, Bolivia, and Venezuela will be represented as well and, judging by last year’s success, CineFestival seems to be bouncing back.
The festival’s growing audience “reflects the support of the Guadalupe organization, all the way from its executive director to the board and everyone involved,” said Solís, a frequent contributor to the Current. “We all see CineFestival as a viable showcase for Latino cinema in South Texas, and that support by the Guadalupe offered us stability in order to concentrate on programming on a year-round basis.”
Besides CineFestival and a variety of multi-disciplinary classes, the Guadalupe holds the monthly Cine en el Barrio series, which showcases all kinds of film (not only Latino), a stop-motion animation program, and this year it is launching a new “screenwriter’s spotlight” program.
“We’re hoping to do a stage reading of an original screenplay every year,” said Solís. “In addition to film entries, we’re looking forward to receive screenplays. We want CineFestival to be a destination for those who want to know what Latino-themed screenplays are out there.”
I don’t want to crucify CineFestival on its 33rd birthday, but the festival’s history deserves at least a medium-sized budget in order to secure more quality films and attract an even bigger audience. The festival has managed to survive with what it has, but it is time to move up to the next level.
While this year’s budget is “substantially more” than the $5,000 allocated in 2005, according to Solís, “it’s still lower than other Latino film festivals in the country.”
The following is a selection of some of this year’s key films. Some are highly recommended, some have historical value, some were directed by popular Hollywood stars (see Eva Longoria’s Latinos Living the American Dream), and most won their respective CineFestival categories this year. You be the judge.