Screen shot of "La Jaula de Oro" from director Diego Quemada-Díez.
Screen shot of "La Jaula de Oro" from director Diego Quemada-Díez.

CineFestival, the nation’s oldest and longest-running Latino film festival, kicks off this Saturday, Feb. 22. The festival celebrates its 36th year with a week-long event packed with screenings, workshops and events at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center that will showcase both local and national talent.

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Yvonne Montoya, deputy director of programming for the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, says that CineFestival can help increase the film culture here in town.

“We are such a close knit community and the festival helps us keep in touch with the national film community,” Montoya said. “The Guadalupe Theater is just a mile west from downtown. The theater has always been a central gathering place for Mexican immigrants in the early 20th century and in the 60s/70s for the Civil Rights movement. It has always been a place to gather for the community.”

National Talent in San Antonio

The collection of films for CineFestival, curated by local filmmaker Jim Mendiola, opens Saturday night with”Cesar’s Last Fast.” This documentary, which recently premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, is about activist Cesar Chavez’s 36-day fast to shed light on the harmful effects of toxic pesticides on the environment and field workers. Director Richard Perez will be available after the screening to host a Q&A session with the audience.

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Another prominent film is “La Jaula de Oro” (“The Golden Dream”) from Mexican director Diego Quemada-Díez. This film was the winner of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious A Certain Regard Award.

A story on immigration, the film follows three young Guatemalan teens that have set off for the United States, picking up a Tzotzil indian boy their own age en route to America.

“(This is) a difficult movie to watch because it is incredibly accurate historically; it’s raw and telling,” Montoya said. “This is the perfect film to be shown at the Guadalupe because we need to know what is going on (with immigration) and we can see what is happening through art.”

Two Local Films Take Center Stage

On Sunday, the spotlight shines on two San Antonio filmmakers beginning with “Borderlands” by director Hector Bojorquez. “Borderlands looks at the life of the 74-year old matriarch Maria Lara who struggles to keep her dysfunctional family together while constantly being haunted by hallucinations.

“We rarely see Mexican American women who feel flesh and blood—they always feel highly idealized and never feel real. Maria Lara is deeply flawed but is also heroic. We wanted to create this character because it reflects the women that we grew up with,” Bojorquez says.

Borderlands is a bilingual film with subtitles, featuring a mix of both Spanish and English.

“I wanted to present the reality of South Texas where Mexican-Americans go back and forth between languages all the time,” Bojorquez says. “Not all characters are English speaking, and not all of them are Spanish speaking,”

Bojorquez has been making films in San Antonio since the late ’90s with his brother, Gerald Pettit. The duo even had a public access show at that time, but film aspirations took a hiatus when Bojorquez said that life simply got in the way. Then, seven years ago, Pettit asked him if he wanted to pick it up again. “We started writing a script called “Borderlands that deals with families along the border who live in a fictional county called Promesa. The script was built for a cable show,” Bojorquez says. The pair eventually decided to make their idea into a short film centering on Maria Lara to see if there was any industry interest

In 2008, Pettit was diagnosed with brain cancer. After under going surgery in 2009, it appeared that Pettit was getting better when he suddenly passed away that October. “I told him before he passed away that I would make sure the film got made,” Bojorquez says.

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The film continued to be a family affair with Sandra Bojorquez, the director’s mother, playing the lead role. A student of theater in Mexico City in the ’60s/’70s, and a local radio personality in the ’70s/’80s/’90s for KCOR in San Antonio, Mrs. Bojorquez got the role based on talent rather than connections. “I am not just saying this because she is mother—she did really, really well,” Bojorquez says.

The documentary entitled “The Artist Speaks: Exploring Who I Am is the other film from San Antonio in the festival. Created by Ellen Riojas Clark, UTSA professor emeritus of bicultural and bilingual studies, the film explores the life history and artistic process of Franco Mondini Ruiz, Joe Lopez, and Terry Ybañez—three local Latino artists.

Local artist Alex Rubio and  UTSA Professor Emeritus Ellen Riojas Clark. Courtesy.
Local artist Alex Rubio and UTSA Professor Emeritus Ellen Riojas Clark. Courtesy.

“I was born here and I am going to die here. This is my city so therefore I am quite involved in the civic life. My passion is cultural literacy and I promote all the arts within that,” Clark says.

The first of a series of four films, the documentary examines the aspect of identity and how artists form their world perspective and how it affects what they do visually.

Clark says that in attempting to answer the question: “Who am I?” one must undergo the process of self-discovery to be able to articulate, “Who I am.” The film showcases the process of growth and struggle that these three artists went through to answer that question.

“If you are a white male nobody ever asks where you are from—they automatically assume you are from the U.S. As a brown female I am always asked where I am from because I don’t seem to fit into this landscape. I am consciously aware that there is a question of who I am. The question of identity is more pronounced (for me),” Clark says.

Through the words of three prominent Latino artists, Clark hopes that others not only begin to answer the question of “Who am I?” but also applaud what they discover. 

Find Out More

To find out more about CineFestival you can visit the official website: www.guadalupeculturalarts.org/cinefestival and view the schedule where there are plenty of events occurring throughout the week, including local youth films Feb. 24 and a panel discussion with Sundance advisors on March 1.

The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Montoya said, works hard to bring in a director or actor from each film on each night along with community experts and panels to offer opinions and start discussions about the films themselves as well as the messages they express.

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Garrett Heath

Garrett Heath blogs for Rackspace and is the Average Joe that started SA Flavor. He loves San Antonio, especially eating at mom and...