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Golden child

Adam Rocha's San Antonio Film Festival turns 15

Courtesy Photo
Rene Villarreal’s award-winning Cumbia Callera kicks off the 15th annual San Antonio Film Festival this Thursday.

 

Adam Rocha began the Golden Shower Video Festival in 1994. He screened gritty exploitation flicks and low-budget experimental films for seven years before the lack of local media coverage convinced him to change the name to something less pornographic.

Fest curator Rocha, who announced this year’s lineup at a recent news conference in a dapper suit and tie, says he’s grown up over the past 15 years, and the festival has, too. Originally rechristened the San Antonio Underground Film Festival, Rocha’s fest dropped the “Underground” three years ago when it moved to better digs at the Instituto Cultural de Mexico.

“What we might have shown a few years ago we definitely wouldn’t have shown now,” he said. “We used to fight the Man. Now we are the Man.”

Rocha said viewers can expect to see a collection of shorts and feature-length films that’s much less extreme than the guts and gore offered in years past.

“I guess I’m getting older myself,” he said. “My tastes have changed. It’s more people friendly now.”

The festival’s 100 films will be shown on two screens Thursday through Sunday night with musical performances by locals Buttercup, DJ JJ Lopez, Los Mescaleros, and Snowbyrd. Oscar-nominated documentarian Adrian Belic will host a free workshop on filmmaking at 11 a.m. on Saturday, and director Rodrigo Gonzalez will conduct a workshop on shooting movies in Mexico at 11 a.m. Friday.

Projects shot by San Antonio filmmakers or filmed in the area, including a pair from Harlandale and Northeast high schools, make up nearly a third of this year’s lineup. The Sunday-night schedule includes San Antonian Brian Ortiz’s Dr. “S” Battles the Sex Crazed Reefer Zombies, a quirky sci-fi flick that follows the title character as he battles a small town’s growing number of weed smokers, who join the ranks of the living dead after they toke up. Ortiz won a handful of awards at last year’s 48 Hour Film Festival for the short Four Minutes Till the End and earned first place at the NALIP San Antonio Film Slam for his 2007 short Goodbye Digital or The 5 Stages of Grief in Digital Dating.

The Boys of Ghost Town — the newest film from rising local star Pablo Veliz, whose La Tragedia de Macario was selected for the 2006 Sundance Film Festival — screens Sunday afternoon.

Mexican director Rene Villarreal is this year’s special guest. His feature-length drama, Cumbia Callera — which earned Villarreal an Emerging Filmmaker Award at last year’s Santa Cruz Film Festival and the Perspectives Award at the 2008 Moscow International Film Festival — opens the festival Thursday. The film follows three 20-somethings as they work through a love triangle on the poverty-stricken streets of Monterrey, Mexico. His career goes back 20 years, but Villarreal was most recently first assistant director for Sin Nombre, an immigration drama that earned two awards for cinematography and directing and a nomination for Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Mexico, and more specifically the country’s conflicted relationship with the United States, figures heavily in many of this year’s festival standouts. First-time Austin filmmaker Roy Germano’s documentary The Other Side of Immigration, which screens Friday afternoon, explores the reasons for continued illegal immigration despite the U.S. government’s efforts to deter it. The film, winner of a Politics on Film Founders’ Award, is the result of more than 700 interviews with residents in rural Mexico. It’s subjects address the crippling affects of NAFTA on poor farmers, the Mexican government’s notorious corruption, and the social pressure on young Mexicans to seek a better life in the United States.

“There’s a real catch 22,” Germano said. “People say they can’t survive without the money that their relatives send back. Other people look at it from a more political standpoint — the government has forgotten the countryside, and because of corruption, resources that are dedicated to the poor never get there. Farmers spend more on fertilizer and seed than they make back on crops.”

Two-time award-winning coming-of-age comedy Cruzando, written and directed by Mando Alvarado and Michael Ray Escamilla, screens Saturday night after the festival’s awards ceremony. Executive producer Rene Garza said the film, in which awkward 26-year-old Manny crosses the border to search for his estranged and soon-to-be-executed father in the United States, is often compared to Napoleon Dynamite.

“It’s more of a personal story,” Garza said. “The border crossing itself isn’t the crux of the film.”

The festival has added seven new awards in addition to Best San Antonio Filmmaker and the Grand Prize, including two audience-favorite categories for best narrative feature and best documentary feature. If this year’s record-breaking 200 submissions are any indication, competition should be fierce. Rocha said he’s hoping about 2,000 people attend.

“It puts San Antonio filmmakers on the same level as those in New York or Los Angeles,” Rocha said. “[The festival] has marketing people now. But we’re still so homegrown.”

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