SXSW X SA: A Quick Overview of the Austin Film Festival’s San Antonio Connections



The South by Southwest Film Festival takes place March 8-16 in Austin. Here are a few of the films screening directed by local filmmakers or featuring San Antonio subjects.


  • Fatbird Films
Competing in the Texas High School Shorts category, co-directors Miranda Potter and Jade Jess have created an experimental animated short film that explores the dark and harrowing world of human trafficking. Graduates of Saint Mary’s Hall last year when they submitted their film, Potter and Jess are now both freshmen in college. Potter attends Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where she majors in film. Jess attends the University of Utah and majors in business and minors in film.

According to SMH digital cinema instructor and BlueInk producer Will Underwood, this is the 11th consecutive year SMH has screened a film at SXSW. In developing BlueInk, Potter and Jess decided the film would feel more personal as an animated diary of sketches. They started by reading stories about teen trafficking and compiling them together for the film’s narration, which is presented as a first-person account.

“We wanted to compare the life of a normal teenager with that of a human-traffic survivor and do it in a subtle way,” Potter said. “I hope the audience can see the subject in a new light.”

BlueInk screens at SXSW on March 9 at 4:15pm (Rollins Theatre) and March 16 at 2:15pm (Alamo Drafthouse Lamar).

Building the American Dream

  • Chelsea Hernández
The idea for director Chelsea Hernández’s documentary came to her when she was a student at the University of Texas at Austin in 2009. That’s when she read about three undocumented construction workers building condos near the school who were killed when their scaffold collapsed.

When she started researching the men who died, Hernández, a filmmaker currently based in Austin but originally from San Antonio, also learned that undocumented workers were more susceptible to workplace abuse, including unsafe working conditions and unpaid wages.

According to Cristina Tzintzún, co-founder of the Workers Defense Project, one in five workers across the state of Texas is denied payment and every two and a half days, a construction worker dies on the job. In Building the American Dream, Hernández follows the stories of a few of these workers and their families.

“These families understand the risks they were taking by putting their stories out there,” Hernández said. “But they’re fighters. They want to help the community and want to encourage others to tell their stories. They know that doing this is something powerful for the movement.”

Building the American Dream screens at SXSW on March 10 at 11:10am (Zach Theatre), March 12 at 5:30pm (Rollins Theatre) and March 14 at 6pm (AFS Cinema).

Ernie & Joe

  • Jenifer McShane
During the making of her last documentary Mothers of Bedford, which tells the stories of incarcerated women with school-aged children, filmmaker Jenifer McShane realized how many people behind bars were battling mental illness.

Five years later, McShane read an article about the San Antonio Police Department’s mental health unit, a team of SAPD officers trained to respond to mentally ill people in crisis. While all SAPD officers are required to take crisis intervention training, the specialized mental-health unit is focused solely on this population.

In Ernie & Joe, McShane, who is based in Guilford, Connecticut, captures the interactions two of these mental-health unit officers, Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro, have with some of San Antonio’s most vulnerable citizens.

“San Antonio is doing this kind of work as well as it is because there is collaboration going on between the different agencies in a way you don’t see in other cities,” McShane said. “I’d like for communities to watch this film and draw from it and see what works for them.”

Ernie & Joe screens at SXSW on March 9 at 11:30am (Alamo Drafthouse Ritz), March 10 at 3pm (Alamo Drafthouse Lamar) and March 15 at 6pm (AFS Cinema).

The Infiltrators

  • Naked Edge Films
A hybrid documentary/narrative film, The Infiltrators tells the true story of a group of immigration activists who pose as undocumented immigrants and find a way to infiltrate a for-profit immigration center so they can provide the immigrants housed there with information on how to gain their freedom.

The heist feature is directed by Alex Rivera (Sleep Dealer) and Cristina Ibarra (Las Marthas), who called San Antonio her home for a few months in the mid-’90s when she was assisting with CineFestival at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.

“We were really interested in playing with the genre,” Ibarra said. “Sometimes we would call it the Ocean’s 11 of immigration. The goal was to tell a cohesive story that was entertaining.”

Other San Antonio connections to The Infiltrators includes former resident Mohammad Abdollahi, one of the young men featured in the film who helps break into the detention center; North East School of the Arts graduate Sarah Garrahan (co-producer, and also the editor of Building the American Dream); and local filmmaker Ray Santisteban (camera operator).

The Infiltrators screens at SXSW on March 8 at 6:15pm (Alamo Drafthouse Lamar), March 11 at 9:45pm (Alamo Drafthouse Ritz) and March 12 at 2:30pm (Alamo Drafthouse Lamar).

Red 11

  • Troublemaker Studios
“You can make a movie anywhere and anytime and by yourself if you have to,” director and San Antonio native Robert Rodriguez (Alita: Battle Angel) told the Current earlier this month.

Rodriguez proved his statement to be true at the start of his career when he made his first feature film, El Mariachi, for only $7,000 in 1992. Three years later, he broke into Hollywood with Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn and The Faculty.

Twenty-seven years after El Mariachi, Rodriguez shows aspiring filmmakers that low-budget moviemaking can still be done. In his new film Red 11, which also cost $7,000 to make, he tells a horror/thriller story very loosely based on his experience making money during his youth as a medical test study participant.

“Before we screen [Red 11], we’re going to show a documentary on the making of it,” Rodriguez said. “We’re showing you how to write, shoot, direct, edit, cut and score your own film in 14 days with no money and still come out with a kickass result. It’s going to open up a lot of people’s eyes to what is actually possible.”

Red 11 screens at SXSW on March 15 at 9pm (AFS Cinema).


  • Zachary Goodwin
Whenever approaching a new movie, filmmaker and Marshall High School senior Zachary Goodwin said he likes to tackle current issues. In his short film Trepidation, which is competing in the Texas High School Shorts category, Goodwin confronts the fear students have about school shootings.

“One of the conversations that gets brought up now and again at lunch or in class is school shootings and school violence,” Goodwin said. “It’s something we see and read about too much.”

During his short, Goodwin features an unnamed teen girl (Serenity Tapia) as she becomes distressed by the idea that a school shooting could happen any time during the school day. At one point, the ferrule of her pencil transforms into a bullet casing. In another scene, she imagines a fellow student bleeding from his chest while walking down the hall.

“Some people my age have the mindset that, ‘There is a possibility I’m not coming home today,’” Goodwin said. “I see the concern they have. I really wanted to showcase those emotions.”

Trepidation screens at SXSW on March 9 at 4:15pm (Rollins Theatre) and March 16 at 2:15pm (Alamo Drafthouse Lamar).

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