In late June, six up-and-coming Texas filmmakers screened their short films in Los Angeles to a packed house of Hollywood types. For the first time since its inception in 1994, the Texas Filmmakers Showcase featured multiple directors hailing from San Antonio — three filmmakers had ties to the city. That’s a lot for this project of the Houston Film Commission, designed to promote the best Texas-born and -based filmmakers to major studio executives, producers, and agents via shorts of 40 minutes or less. Prior to 2010, only three filmmakers in the entire 16-year showcase history claimed any direct route from San Antonio.
This year, Eastside native Ya’Ke Smith went the whole distance and set his 15-minute short “Katrina’s Son” in the River City. “Being from San Antonio, I’ve just been itching to shoot a film there,” said Smith, now an assistant professor of film at UT-Arlington. His rumination on Katrina evacuees centers on one 11-year-old boy who tries to find his absentee mother in San Antonio after his grandmother dies, presumably as a result of a Katrina-related complication. As the young boy and his dog wander wordlessly through downtown, the camera lingers not on the Alamo, but on the Greyhound bus sign on St. Mary’s, and Murf’s Better Burger on San Pedro. “I wanted to showcase the city,” said Smith of consciously avoiding our tourist traps. “A lot of people think of San Antonio as River Walk and the Alamodome, but it’s a city just like any other city in the U.S. We have our good parts and our bad parts.” The latter half of Smith’s sad tale focuses on the Wheatley Courts housing development, on Mittman Road near the AT&T Center. Whether that’s one of the “bad parts” of town Smith referenced, the filmmaker won’t confirm, he only lets on that he grew up there. What happens at Wheatley in the film isn’t flattering, to say the least.
Nevertheless, rarely has the City been treated with such good-looking cinematic love. Smith, an accomplished director whose films have been included in two previous Texas Filmmakers Showcases as well as the Cannes Film Festival and on HBO and Showtime cable channels, shot over six days in December, using a borrowed HD camera. The resulting film is sharp, but not afraid to blur in and out of focus, creating a moody, dreamlike atmosphere.
The two other filmmakers with deep San Antonio connections also turn in crisp, professional productions that belie the often-meager finances behind short films. James T. Moore, a 24-year-old wunderkid from Alamo Heights who now calls LA home, filmed a Nazi mini-epic “Der Vater,” relying on all-Texas locales and cast. Scouting locations for his film, which details the moral crisis of an SS recruit late in World War II, Moore discovered Bastrop State Park’s lost pines are the same as those found in Germany and Eastern Europe. Bravely deciding to film in German with English subtitles, Moore had his script translated by the dean of the University of Texas’ German Department, who also tutored the English-language cast.
Miguel Alvarez, a San Antonio native based in Austin, created a spectacular set for his sci-fi “Mnemosyne Rising,” also shown at this year’s SXSW Film Festival and Cine Las Americas Film Festival. Putting his side job as an engineer to good use, Alvarez used wires and scrap metal to craft the spaceship setting for his title character’s disorienting voyage.
Smith, who will be present at the Showcase’s Q&A after the screening, has already scored a manager thanks to the LA event, all the better to help get his feature-length From Here To Nowhere, which builds on the concept of “Katrina’s Son,” into the mainstream. Alvarez and Moore are also developing feature films. Maybe they’ll even bring their talents back to their hometown. Smith, at least, is bullish at the prospect: “I never want to leave San Antonio; I want to base my films in San Antonio. Right now there is this feeling that you have to leave San Antonio to make your film, but it is getting there.” •
Texas Filmmakers Showcase
2pm Sat, Aug 28
Santikos Bijou Theater