The longest running Latinx-focused film festival in the United States opens its 41st annual event at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center on Thursday, featuring 42 films showcased through July 14.

While curating CineFestival 2019, programmer Manuel Solis noticed that filmmakers from all over the country were addressing how immigration affects families and individuals. So the festival took on this theme with 11 short films, feature-length films, and documentaries on the topic.

“To me, it was a very organized theme, and also really a reflection of what a lot of people in this country are going through right now,” Solis said. The topic also helped to inform the overall festival theme of “Fronteras in Focus.”

“In this particularly charged time for immigration in our country, we are happy to present a nuanced and fresh perspective on immigration by innovative and emerging filmmakers from Texas and beyond,” Cristina Ballí, Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center executive director, said in a news release.

The festival opens with the 2019 feature-length film The Infiltrators by directors Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera, which combines documentary and narrative techniques to tell the story of Marco Saavedra and Viridiana Martinez, activists and undocumented immigrants who self-deport in order to gain access to the Broward (Florida) Transitional Center (BTC) in 2012. Their witness testimony informs narrative sequences that describe conditions inside the facility and experiences its detainees endure, Ibarra said.

“For the first time, undocumented people were performing acts of civil disobedience,” Ibarra said. “They were so fed up with the way the system worked, they were willing to risk their ability to come home to their families to change the system.”

Opening the festival with this film is especially poignant in the shadow of the recent Congressional Hispanic Caucus visit to the Texas border and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro obtaining clandestine video from inside a detention center facility. Saavedra and Martinez were unable to film inside the BTC, thus their story is told using narrative techniques rather than straight documentary.

Ibarra said both she and Rivera, her filmmaking partner and husband, grew up in border crossing families, which spurred their interest in making The Infiltrators. “Our families have been crossing the border for generations. We see this as [a] human rights [issue],” she said. Undocumented detainees have fewer rights than a person in a regular jail, she said, and, in some cases, have no access to lawyers or family members.

“There’s so many ways of being in the dark,” she said of their situation, “so this film is a way of exposing some of that darkness.”

Directors Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera Credit: Courtesy / Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center

The directors will attend the screening, along with featured actor Chelsea Rendon, who also plays the role of Mari in the new Starz series Vida.

The festival then continues Friday at 10 a.m. with a Senior Cinema screening of Las Tesoros de San Antonio: A Westside Story, which tells the tale of the acclaimed local musical group, which also just received the honor of a 2019 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship. The film already had been programmed for the festival before the fellowship was announced, Solis said.

“We wanted to honor the legacy and the memory of Señorita Rita Vidauri,” who passed away earlier this year, he said.

After the film for seniors, a youth screening titled “The Future is Now,” features the short films of 13 San Antonio high school students.

Other films highlight aspects of the Chicano Labor Movement from its origins in the 1930s through the 1980s, including Singing Our Way to Freedom, a feature by San Diego director Paul Espinosa on Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez – the favorite singer of Cesar Chavez.

Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez (holding his daughter) with Cesar Chavez (center), Ricardo Sanchez (at left), Enrique Ramirez (right of Chavez) and unknown musician at far right, circa 1972. Credit: Courtesy / Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez and Paul Espinoza

The documentary is particularly important for Mexican-Americans, Espinosa said, who “essentially have a part of their soul that’s Mexican and a part that’s American, and this whole challenge of identity – where do I fit? Where do I belong?”

Among CineFestival’s many films are examples that can appeal to a range of audiences, Solis said. He highlighted animated movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, showing on Family Day Sunday at 1 p.m., for its appeal to children; the return of the Femme Frontera Filmmaker Showcase that debuted last year and the festival’s 29 female directors or co-directors; an independent film featuring a transgender immigrant in the leading role; and the inclusion of films from nine different countries, including Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, The Netherlands, Syria, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, and the U.S.

Solis also recognized the positive response CineFestival received from featuring Texas filmmakers last year. This year, 29 films shot in Texas or made by Texas filmmakers are on the schedule, including 16 films by San Antonio filmmakers or in the city. The Texas Filmmakers’ Showcase Saturday at 2 p.m. will show 12 films selected by the Houston Film Commission.

It seems no CineFestival would be complete without mainstay Jesse Borrego, San Antonio actor, and a local favorite. Borrego will be in attendance at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday for the Texas premiere of Phoenix, Oregon, in which he plays the lead role of Carlos, who convinces his friend Bobby to reopen a defunct small-town bowling alley.

The full festival schedule, including film details, still images and trailers, and information on tickets and festival badges is available here.

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...