CineFestival returns in grand form with exciting films and cash prizes
Klieg lights used to illuminate skies above the near West Side to herald CineFestival, once the most lustrous event on the cultural calendar. Edward James Olmos and Cheech Marin mingled with capacity crowds for a week-long banquet of new films and videos. You could usually count on panel discussions that examined and deplored how Latinos have been excluded from and stereotyped by Hollywood. But the success of Jennifer Lopez, Antonio Banderas, Cameron Diaz, Robert Rodriguez, and others challenges such panels — perhaps the very existence of an exclusively Latino festival. When Latino actors and characters are routinely seen at Sundance, South by Southwest, and local commercial theaters, has CineFestival lost its rationale?
|Viaje a Marte|
Sponsored by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, CineFestival is older than any other festival devoted to film and video by or about Latinos. But its 28 years have not been continuous, and it has suffered funding cuts, staff turnovers, and identity crises. CineFestival has now reinvented — and refinanced — itself, and the version that runs from November 11-19 looks to restore the event to its former glory.
This year’s edition boasts a record number of competing entries, 160, and, though opening night will consist of works solely from Texas, subsequent offerings come from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Spain, Uruguay, as well as the United States. Most screenings take place at the Guadalupe Theater and the newly opened Galería Guadalupe, but on weekdays CineFestival travels to Northwest Vista College, University of the Incarnate Word, Trinity University, UTSA Downtown, Instituto de México, and San Antonio College. For the first time, cash prizes — $1,000 — will be awarded to the winner in each of four categories: feature, short, experimental, and San Antonio film.
$5 per day
Heading up the rejuvenated CineFestival is Guillermina Zabala, an accomplished film editor who recently relocated from Los Angeles. Zabala edited a new Bolivian film, but she will not attend its North American premiere, at the AFI Fest in L.A., because it coincides with opening night of CineFestival. She has organized three workshops throughout her festival, but, rather than beat the dead caballo of ethnic stereotypes and industry exclusion, they will address: “TV Commercial Production in San Antonio,” “Beyond Slacker: Independent Filmmaking in Texas,” and “Funding for Documentary Filmmaking.”
Five finalists have been chosen for each of CineFestival’s prize categories, but winners will not be announced until closing night. Among the entries I have previewed are some strong contenders. Saturday evening brings Sábado, a Chilean feature that grabs you in its opening moment and never lets go. Shot in one continuous take, it begins when frantic, raving Antonia barges in on Blanca, who is already wearing the gown for her imminent wedding to Victor. Antonia, who has recruited a neighbor to videotape the encounter, announces that she is pregnant and Victor is the culprit. Appropriating the cameraman, Blanca rushes off to confront perfidious Victor. Director Matias Bizé has created a stunning inquest into love, sex, and trust, as well as the ethics of observation.
|Al Otro Lado|
In Favela Rising, Jeff Zimbalist and Matt Mochary bear witness to violence and hope in one of the 600 slum neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro. A man called Anderson defies drug lords and brutal police to create Grupo Afro Reggae, an organization that uses music to offer constructive alternatives for the favela’s endangered youth.
Two other nonfiction offerings approach the same critical problem — migration across the Mexican border — from different perspectives. Walking the Line examines armed vigilantes and human-rights activists who converge on southern Arizona. “This is an invasion with hostile intent,” declares Glenn Spencer, who leads a group called the American Border Patrol that was formed to do what the United States Border Patrol has not done, stanch the flow of desperate people northward. John Fife and his Samaritan Patrol provide sustenance and medicine to strangers who have slipped into the desert, while Chris Simcox, leader of the Tombstone Militia, intends “to eradicate these non-English-speaking thugs.”
Simcox, called a sociopath by a rival vigilante, shows up also in Al Otro Lado, which begins on the other side, in a fishing village of Sinaloa where the stock of shrimp has been depleted and selling drugs seems the only way to survive. The film focuses on a young musician, Magdiel, who composes corridos about his plight and hires a coyote to lead him to an uncertain fate across the border.
Buenos Aires 100 Km recounts how five boys come of age in an insular town located tauntingly far from the Argentine capital. Inspired by real events, Caribe is a drama of passion, principle, and betrayal in a seaside community in Costa Rica that falls prey to a rapacious oil company.
However, the entry that best addresses the purpose of CineFestival is a short by Austinite David Fabelo called Test Day. Given a standardized test, a third grader whose mother is Puerto Rican and father Cuban is stumped by the opening instruction to identify his ethnicity. Hispanic? Latino? White? African? Other? Dawdling in confusion, he finally checks off every category, too late to get to the test itself. Whatever the event’s definitions, it’s time just to plunge into CineFestival. •