| Documentarian Joseph Tocares, a native of San Antonio, produced, wrote, & directed American Experience, "Remember the Alamo," which airs on KLRN at 9pm on Feb. 2 and 1am on Feb. 4. (Photo by Eunice Laffey)
Dir. and writ. Joseph Tovares (Unrated)
Screens at 9pm on Feb. 2 and 1am on Feb. 4, on KLRN
Although the buzz seems to get quieter instead of louder as the film's debut approaches, most Texans know that Hollywood will soon revisit the Alamo. And those of us who rely on movie trailers for history lessons know what the Alamo was about: Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, and a bunch of other white men making a valiant last stand against a well-equipped army of Mexicans.
Talk of meticulous research notwithstanding, few prospective viewers expect Disney's account to meet the highest academic standard. But one hopes the movie itself won't perpetuate a myth the trailer does little to dispel: that Texas' most famous battle was a strictly white vs. brown affair.
A new documentary from San Antonio native Joseph Tovares does a good job of adding complexity to that simplistic picture. Tovares relies on interviews with numerous historians who explain that Mexican-Tejanos not only fought and died with Americans at the Alamo, but were a fundamental part of the movement for Texas' independence from Mexico.
Really, the documentary is less interested in the fight for one old mission than in a larger territorial dispute - one over the place of non-Anglos in our state's history. As Tovares' scholars tell the tale, "Tejanos initiated the independence movement," their dispute with the Mexican government dating back to the outlawing of the wild Mustang trade.
The partnership between American settlers and Tejanos is exemplified by the friendship of Stephen F. Austin and José Antonio Navarro, a wealthy San Antonian who went on to be the city's mayor. Navarro shared Austin's vision for Texas, and he is at the heart of Tovares' film; we hear of his escape from the roundup and slaughter of pre-Alamo Tejano rebels, of his return and his political career.
Tovares doesn't gloss over Navarro's circumvention of anti-slavery laws. By fighting for a bill allowing "indentured servants" in Texas, the lawmaker brought the region into line with the southern U.S., opening it up for plantations and hastening the transfer, legal or not, of land from Tejanos to American settlers.
The film shows how little the Tejanos' contributions mattered to Anglos who came to Texas after the Alamo slaughter; Mexicans were the enemy, as far as many were concerned, and whites soon took the region.
Tovares is an efficient storyteller, getting the most out of talking-head interviews and historical documents. He also uses staged recreations of some events to spice up his account: Avoiding wide angles that would reveal budgetary constraints, he focuses on details; Santa Ana is mostly seen as a uniformed waist with a saber hitched around it; battlefields are viewed through binoculars that show a few soldiers at a time.
But what the made-for-TV program lacks in cinematic value it more than compensates for with voices that are often drowned out in the eternal myth-making of Texas folklore. Its 54-minute running time may not tell the whole story (the battle itself gets short shrift here), but chances are it holds insights not to be found in Disney's upcoming epic. JD