A still from Summer 1993 directed by Carla Simón which closes CineFestival at 7 PM on Sunday July 8th.
A still from Summer 1993 directed by Carla Simón which closes CineFestival at 7 p.m. on Sunday, July 8. Credit: Courtesy / CineFestival

Texas and Latino culture are intimately intertwined, a point made clear by the theme of the 2018 CineFestival, “Hecho En Tejas.”

The 40th edition of the festival, July 5-8 at the Guadalupe Theater, will present 56 films in total, from locally-made shorts to feature-length blockbusters. Forty-one of the films were made either in Texas or by Texas directors, and San Antonio figures prominently, with 23 of the films made by directors originally from or living in San Antonio.

The festival could have been called “Hecha en Tejas,” considering the significant number of Latina filmmakers involved. Latina auteurs, directors and producers, and a program of short videos by high school students, which includes several Latina filmmakers, highlight the four days of film. Youth also play a significant role in the festival – on screen and behind the scenes.

“CineFestival showcases past, present and future Latino stories, many of which are widely underrepresented in mainstream filmmaking – making them even more important to be seen and heard,” said Krystal Jones, film and music commissioner for the Department of Arts and Culture, in an e-mail to the Rivard Report.

The festival opens Thursday, July 5 at 7 p.m., with We the Animals, a feature-length film starring Raúl Castillo, an actor and playwright from McAllen, Texas. Castillo will be on hand for the opening night event, fresh from roles on the Netflix series Seven Seconds and HBO’s Looking.

For the We the Animals coming-of-age story, director Jeremiah Zagar asked Castillo to work with young non-actors. Castillo, who already helps children write and act in plays with the nonprofit 52nd Street Project in New York, was quoted on his hometown news website saying that kids are “very honest and present as actors,” and that he feels “like a proud parent” watching the movie.

Friday, July 6 features The Future Is Now: Youth Videos from San Antonio, a 2 p.m. program of short videos by San Antonio high school students from North East School of the Arts, Cinema South San Antonio, Film School of San Antonio at Harlandale, John Marshall High School, Kenedy ISD, Saint Mary’s Hall Digital Cinema, and SAY Sí.

Several of the youth films, which were originally screened May 4 at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, won awards, including Best Documentary for La Cultura Perdida by Elias Flores III and Sarah Ramirez of SAY Sí, and VELA by Nathaniel De Los Santos, an imaginative, dystopian scenario involving governmental collapse and a young freedom fighter named Nura.

The 7 p.m. program on Friday is a Femme Frontera showcase, celebrating a collective of female filmmakers from the U.S.-Mexico border region, including Southern California, New Mexico, and West Texas.

San Antonio actor and director Jesse Borrego incorporates local youth in his film Closer to Bottom, released in 2017, which makes its local debut Saturday, July 7 at 6 p.m. In an interview with Austin’s YNN news, Borrego said he worked with local youth at his nonprofit organization, Cine Studio San Antonio, to help with the production.

Saturday, July 7 begins with a pair of San Antonio filmmakers and features two short film programs focused on Texas and Latino filmmakers.

Angela and Mark Walley premiered their portrait of artist Chuck Ramirez, Tia Chuck, at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts in May. The hour-long documentary plays at noon, followed by the Texas Filmmakers Showcase at 2 p.m., and Burnt Orange y Que! 2.0 at 4 p.m., a program by Latino and Latina filmmakers from the University of Texas at Austin.

One film plays twice – to two different but related audiences. The Friday “Senior Cinema” 10 a.m. feature is Coco, the 2017 Disney/Pixar animation focused on the Dia de los Muertos tradition and the wide influence of Mexican and Chicano music. A 3 p.m. encore presentation of Coco screens on “Family Day,” Sunday, July 8, following a 1 p.m. showing of Ferdinand, a Pixar update of a 1938 Disney film. Ferdinand was directed by Carlos Saldanha, who also made Pixar’s Ice Age.

Latina directors and producers feature prominently in the festival’s final day programs, with Puro Shorts at 5 p.m. including short films on the subjects of immigration, border issues, and the carrying over of traditions. The program’s first film is Segundo de Febrero by Laura Varela, which chronicles the West Side tradition of celebrating Chicano/Mexican-American Commemoration Day.

The festival closes with a 7 p.m. screening of Summer 1993, a Catalan-language feature by director Carla Símon. Innovative cinematography frames the movie’s world entirely from the perspective of its 6-year-old protagonist Frida, with adults “squeezed out of frame,” according to one review.

Even the films not made in Texas speak to the strength and vibrancy of Hispanic culture, not only in the Latino-majority city of San Antonio, but in the world.

Coco set box office records in Mexico – in part due to its attention to culturally-specific details – with ticket sales of more than 1 billion pesos, but also achieved popularity with a worldwide audience. Cultural website Remezcla identified the release of Coco as “a watershed moment” for highlighting the need for Latino voices in film culture and film criticism.

Blockbuster Latino directors Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Iñárritu, Guillermo del Toro, and Robert Rodriguez, who keeps a home in San Antonio, have made a difference in drawing attention to Latino film.

However, for 40 years, CineFestival has offered a spectrum of Latino filmmaking, with glimpses of its tremendous potential to deepen our understanding of its panoply of cultures.

The full schedule of programs is available here.

Tickets for CineFestival, including four-day VIP and festival badges ($80 and $40, respectively), and single-event tickets ($10 and $8), are available here. Tickets for special after-parties on July 5 and 7 also are available, and information on all after-parties, including free events, is available here.

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...