Garrett Heath

The San Antonio Film Festival kicks off Monday, June 17, with an ambitious schedule screening more than 170 films at several theaters. This local, week-long festival has something for everyone, whether you are a budding filmmaker, a cinephile who knows all the latest art house releases or someone who just loves going to the movies.

The free grand opening event at Hemisfair Park this Monday will premier the 90-minute film, “Texas Before The Alamoat 7:15 p.m. on a large outdoor screen near the Magik Theatre – bring a lawn chair or blanket.

Tuesday night, the Josephine Theatre will host a community screening of two full-length international features – “Made in China” and “Ivan’s Woman” – as well as a short film, “Lucy vs. The Limits of Voice“, starting at 7 p.m. Though free, this event does require registration (register here).

Origins of the Festival

Adam Rocha. Photo courtesy of SA Film Fest.
Adam Rocha. Photo courtesy of SA Film Festival.

While boasting an incredible list of films from many local, national and international filmmakers this year, the festival sprang forward from humble beginnings. After having a film showcased in the San Diego Latino Film Festival in the early 90s, Adam Rocha, festival director and cinema teacher at Jefferson High School, felt that he could bring the same energy to San Antonio.

“My screening was in front of students. It was about 300 seats and it was packed,” Rocha said. “I got the bug, it was so cool that they were clapping at my movie.”

Rocha collaborated with local artist Robert Tatum to launch the first San Antonio Film Festival in 1994.

“I lived down the street from Taco Land, everyone lived down there at the time,” Rocha said. “I saw that (Tatum) had some cool shows, that he has a following, he knows how to do this stuff.”

Robert Tatum. Photo by Al Rendon.
Robert Tatum. Photo by Al Rendon.

Collaborating with Tatum, Rocha began posting flyers around several local campuses. The San Antonio Film Festival was born.

Attendees could catch 13 films for $10 at the Cameo Theatre in San Antonio, but Rocha recalls that only a handful of people came for the movies, while 100 were there for the concert.

Almost two decades later, the festival has clearly matured. It’s now hosted by three different Santiko’s Theatres (EmbassyPalladium IMAX, and Northwest 14). About 600 moviegoers purchased tickets last year and more than 400 films were submitted for consideration this year.

The schedule includes feature-length documentary and narrative films as well as a host of short films, some of which are produced by local high school students.

San Antonio Filmmakers In The Spotlight

Several local filmmakers will be showcasing movies, but just because you are a local doesn’t mean that your film will automatically be accepted, Rocha said. “It has to be good. A general audience would have to watch the movie.”

Rocha advises those interested in filmmaking and festivals to make shorts before jumping straight into a feature film.

Adam Rocha with interns and volunteers from a previous SA Film Festival.
Adam Rocha with interns and volunteers from a previous SA Film Festival.

One trio’s work appearing in the festival is a film from Bryan Ramirez; director, Kerry Valderrama; writer/director/producer/creator and Bryan Ortiz; writer/director, of San Antonio-based Sanitarium Productions. Their movie, “Sanitarium,” has several notable actors, including Malcom McDowell (“A Clockwork Orange”) and Lou Diamond Phillips (“La Bamba”). Set in a mental institution, the film looks at three different patient tales set with elements from the Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Instead of being made in the modern gross-out horror style, Valderrama’s film is more of a psychological movie.

sanitarium poster

“’Sanitarium’ is for everybody. If you think back to old Twilight Zone episodes, that is what “Sanitartium is. It is not so much (like the movie series), ‘Saw,with blood and guts,” Valderamma said. “It keeps you on your toes and wondering what is going to happen next, but not with the gore and everything spewing out on screen.”

Sanitarium was shot in multiple locations throughout town, including the San Antonio State Hospital, Tower of Americas, St. Anthony Hotel pool and the Scottish Rite Theater and Grand Ballroom.

“We tried to showcase San Antonio as much as we could,” Valderrama says. “You can go to a section in San Antonio and you can find yourself with so much culture and history. There is a setting no matter what you are shooting.”

If you happen to miss the movie at the festival, don’t worry. Image Entertainment picked up the feature for a nationwide theatrical release and DVD distribution in the fall.

Valderrama also is in the process of finalizing a television series as a spinoff from “Sanitarium.” The show will feature a young investigator and will have many of the mystical and imaginary elements, taking the viewer through a story where they don’t know what is real or false. Inspired by “Tales from the Crypt,” Valderrama enjoys the 30-minute segment that has twists and turns.

Valderrama said that he “wanted to kind of bring back these types of stylized formats and not the shaky cam, ‘I’m-running-through-the woods-and-got-the-camera-pointed-at-me’ (movie), but going back to the old school, stylized format of the thriller horror genre.”

Champion movie poster

If you’re looking for a more light-hearted movie, you might check out Kevin and Robin Nations’s movie “Champion.” The film looks at the bond between an old depressed cattle dog and Madison, a teenager forced to stay with her grandparents on the ranch for the summer. Winner of a San Antonio Office of Cultural Affairs filmmakers grant, “Champion” was shot at the Land Heritage Institute.

There are other films by local talent showing at the film festival including the story of a teenager being bullied at school (see trailer below), a trip of four cousins that visit the valley for their grandmother’s funeral where they discover dark secrets from the past, and a story of love, lust and betrayal between a reporter and photographer of a local magazine.

The best part is that none of these features will be screened at the same time, allowing moviegoers to see all the local talent on the silver screen.

Many Alamo City filmmakers will be featured in the grouping of short films throughout the week as well, including eight local high school students.

Something For Everyone

“It’s not just one genre, or one ethnicity or one theme, we are trying to showcase as many films as possible,” Rocha says.

Movies centered on sports seemed to be popular at the festival this year, with the lineup at the Embassy on June 20th showcasing extreme sports pioneers (see trailer below), top freeride mountain bikers and a group of brothers looking to set the land speed record on a motorcycle.

Basketball fans can get their fix the morning of June 23rd at the Palladium with a movie about how basketball helped to unify Europe after WWI, followed by a film that follows how a high school team that turned their 44-game losing streak around gave hope to their downtrodden small town.

virgin alexander crop

Music fans can catch a feature on the life of Johnny Cash told through letters, phone calls and audio diary of his manager Saul Holiff, as well as a documentary of a man afflicted by polio as a youth who went on to write many top hits for The Drifters, Elvis and others.

While most film festivals seem to focus on the dramas, one comedy that looks interesting is about a virgin who opens a brothel to save his house from being foreclosed on (“Virgin Alexander”).

Opportunity To Learn

Many up and coming filmmakers have a great backdrop to set their stories in San Antonio with so many interesting places to film, especially in the downtown area.

Rocha believes that shooting downtown is beautiful because you have some parts that are contemporary, like the library, and some parts that are more historical.

“Compared to major metropolitan cities in Texas, San Antonio looks old world, old guard in some parts of it,” Rocha said. “South Flores, that is the most unique street in our city. Every single shot is so unique and it is all San Antonio, just drive down it. I love to drive down that street.”

Volunteers at the SA Film Fest.
Volunteers at the SA Film Fest.

One of the great services that the film festival offers is the ability for people to come and learn in workshops throughout the day. As opposed to SXSW and other festivals, the best part is that the workshops are open and free to the public. Be sure to check the festival website for days and time of the workshops, coming soon.

The goal of the festival is to support the local film scene and inspire others to explore the art form. “That’s what these things are, a convention of mojo. It gives you excitement. It reignites your passion for what you do,” Rocha said. “You just saw some cool films, that should inspire you to make some.

“That’s why we do the film fest. It’s so much work, but it is such a great experience to sit in the audience, with a filmmaker who is there. And then you see the filmmaker go up there and talk about his or her film and it is so exciting.”

The audience applauds filmmakers during a previous year's SA Film Festival screening.
The audience applauds filmmakers during a previous year’s SA Film Festival screening.

Individual tickets, ranging from $8 to $15, and a seven-day badge, about $150, can be purchased online, or at the theater on the day of the show. Note that the San Antonio Film Festival box office will be located inside the theater’s lobby and is different than the theater box office.

For more information, be sure to go to the official website at

Garrett Heath blogs for Rackspace and is the Average Joe that started SAFlavor. He loves San Antonio, especially eating at mom and pop Mexican food restaurants. Find him on TwitterFacebookPinterest and Google+.

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Iris Dimmick

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