“Bringing More Film Production to the Alamo City” was the theme of the 23rd Annual San Antonio Film Festival’s Awards held Saturday night at the Tobin Center’s Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater.

Master of ceremonies Jeffrey Arndt, President and CEO of VIA Metropolitan Transit, opened the evening with an update on the city’s progress in public transportation and how it is helping bring the arts and business communities together.

“Arts and culture are not the first thing people think of when they think of public transportation,” Arndt said. “Well, welcome to San Antonio. Expanding access to arts and culture and community celebrations is what VIA is all about. And isn’t that what filmmakers also do when they connect people with a common experience?”

Following Arndt’s speech, San Antonio Film Festival founder Adam Rocha provided a short history of the festival he created when he was just 22 years old.

San Antonio Film Festival Founder Adam Rocha introduces the awards ceremony at the San Antonio Film Festival.
San Antonio Film Festival Founder Adam Rocha speaks on the history of the San Antonio Film Festival. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Formerly known as the San Antonio Underground Film Festival, the inaugural event at the Cameo Theatre showcased a mere 13 entries. This year, more than 140 feature and short films from all over the world will have been screened at the Tobin Center by the time the festival closes Sunday evening.

“We’re definitely gaining traction here,” Rocha said.

“A breath of fresh air came with the appointment of Krystal Jones as the city’s film commissioner,” he said of the state of the industry in San Antonio. “Three days into her job, she brought in this huge 10-day television show [American Ninja Warrior]. We expect more great things from her.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg presented the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award to Harry J. Ufland, an agent, producer, and professor who figured prominently in the careers of such luminaries as Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, and Ridley Scott.

This was the first time a serving mayor participated in the festival.

“We do passion for the arts better than anyone else in Texas. Next year is our 300th anniversary and we’re going to blow this thing up,” Nirenberg said, assuring Rocha that it wouldn’t be the last.

“The arts enrich our lives and add significantly to our community,” the mayor added. “This festival is a major asset and we’re lucky to have it.”

Ufland praised the city and insisted that more filmmakers should take advantage of the locations and local culture.

“You have great stories here,” he said. “The movies should come from the people who live here. I want to see you reach out to Hollywood. Don’t just keep it here in San Antonio. Live here, work here, but let Hollywood know. You’re lucky to have a mayor who’s really passionate about this and wants to be involved.”

Last year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, San Antonio-born Marcia Nasatir, also attended the event Saturday night. Noted as the first female production executive employed at a major Hollywood studio, 91-year-old Nasatir was accompanied by her sister, Rose Spector, a groundbreaker in her own right, having served as the first woman justice on the Texas Supreme Court from 1993-1998.

Also by Nasatir’s side was Anne Goursaud, the director of A Classy Broad, a documentary about the producer that played on the festival’s opening night.

“It’s such a great festival, due to the energy and commitment of its founder,” Goursaud said. “It’s exciting to see that the festival is growing and drawing more attention. It’s a great thing for San Antonio, which is such a wonderful city.”

Earlier in the day, Nasatir and Ufland had participated in “Hollywood Insider” discussions, offering career guidance and telling colorful stories from their years in the film industry.

Actor Lou Diamond Phillips, at the festival promoting his latest film, Created Equal, was presented with the award for Lead Performance in a Feature Film. He, too, stressed the need for more production to take place in San Antonio.

The festival also serves as a valuable training ground for volunteer interns. “What I love about this internship is the great teamwork,”said SA Film fest intern Audrey Arredondo, 18, who will be attending UTSA next year. “Having the opportunity to meet filmmakers from all over the world has also been exciting, as well as working with local talent. Being able to work here over the summer has also given me newfound confidence.”

A group poses on the San Antonio Film Festival red carpet at the Tobin Center.
A group poses on the San Antonio Film Festival red carpet at the Tobin Center. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Below is a complete list of the films and filmmakers who received awards at the 23rd Annual San Antonio Film Festival ceremony:

Lifetime Achievement Award

Harry J. Ufland

Short Screenplay

The Minutiae

Writer: Dean Friske

Feature Screenplay

The Clever Girl

Writer: David Carren

Grand Prize

Silverfish (Austin, Texas)

Director: Matthew Thornton

Best Performance in a Leading Role 

Lou Diamond Phillips

Created Equal (Houston)

Jury Prize for Best Narrative Short ?

It was Nice to Meet You (South Korea)

Director: Kaicey Chae

Jury Prize for Best Documentary Short 

Refugee (Oakland, Calif.)

Directors: Joyce Chen and Emily Moore

Jury Prize for best Historical Feature Documentary ?

Daughters of the Curved Moon (Nepal)

Directors: Miranda Morton Yap and Sophie Dia Pegrum

Jury Prize for Best Historical Short

Seven Dates With Death (Chevy Chase, Maryland)

Director: Mike Holland

Jury Prize for Best Animated Short ?

Journey (Australia)

Director: Radheya Jegatheva

Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature

I Am Still Here (Los Angeles)

Director: Mischa Marcus

Jury Prize for Best College Filmmaker

Silke Engler

Mind Your Body (Germany)

Jury Prize for Best High School Filmmaker

Nishok Nishok

The Three Tales of a Coin (Singapore)

Jury Prize for Best San Antonio Filmmaker

Dave Sims


Jury Prize for Best Actress in a Leading Role ?

Elaine Partnow

Slipaway (Encino, Calif.)

Supporter of Cinema Arts Award

Ed Guerrero

Guerrero CPA

Kurt Gardner is a cultural critic and digital marketing professional. He reviews film, theater, and music for Blogcritics, ArtBeatLA and ArtSceneSA.