With a new focus on U.S.-based Latino filmmakers, CineFestival, the nation’s longest-running Latino film festival, has changed its trajectory a bit over the years but hasn’t lost sight of finding compelling stories from a Latino perspective. The lineup for the 37th Annual CineFestival, which takes place February 21-28, at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, Texas, reflects the mission of the festival and what festival director Jim Mendiola says is just the start to make the event become even more nationally recognized over the next few years. Along with the screenings, CineFestival also works in conjunction with the Sundance Institute to bring the Latino Screenwriting Project to San Antonio so more Latino writers and filmmakers can develop their craft.
Here are five movie you should definitely not miss if you’re in San Antonio, Texas for the 8-day fest.
Struggling New York City Latino actor and video blogger Jesse Sanchez (John Leguizamo) doesn’t have many things going for him, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to make something out of his life. When he reunites with a lost love (Radha Mitchell), things start looking on the up and up. But with everyone breathing down his back, Jesse is pushed to his limits and feels there is only one thing he can do to get out. The best parts of the romantic comedy are when Leguizamo is allowed to use biting satire to say something meaningful about the challenges Latinos face in the entertainment industry.
A Place to Stand
A documentary on acclaimed Chicano poet Jimmy Santiago Baca, director Daniel Glick’s film is adapted from Baca’s own memoir of the same name. From his five-year prison sentence at Arizona State Prison, the narrative tells the story of how Baca changed his life during his incarceration through his passion for poetry and how an orphan from Santa Fe, New Mexico would later rise in the ranks of the literary world. Along with his collection of poetry he has written over the years, Baca is also known for penning the screenplay for the 1993 crime drama Blood In, Blood Out (Bound by Honor).
Brothers Tomás (Sebastián Aguirre) and Fede aka Sombra (Tenoch Huerta) are desperately seeking famed singer Epigmenio Cruz in this road movie/coming-of-age tale hybrid. The 1999 UNAM strike provides historical context and some drama, but this is mostly a story of a “lost generation”: Sombra and his friends consider joining the protests for lack of anything else to do, and Tomás clings to a cassette tape and his past. When they hit the road to track down the aforementioned music legend, hilarity and edification ensue. A seminal work of twenty-first century Mexican cinema, Alonso Ruizpalacios’ debut feature bristles with an electricity of the very youth it’s portraying, managing to create a colorful portrait even as its cinematography is in black and white.
Recommended by Enrique
The third film from the prolific director duo of Texas-born García and his Lebanese filmmaking partner Attieh, this dark, surreal comedy follows a young aspiring actress who heads to the border town of Del Rio to work on a low-budget horror film, The Return of the Phantom Guards about a satanic cult, and a Mexican cowboy ostensibly in town as a horticultural salesman but who may have a hidden agenda. Spliced with images from the film within a film, inspired by traditional Mexican folk tales, it jumps between US daytime television and late-night mariachi sessions to compelling effect, being part-celebrity satire and part-filmmaking homage. Both lead actors were awarded the Jury Prize at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
Children of Giant
This documentary by Texas-born filmmaker Hector Galán revisits the making of the 1956 Academy Award-winning film Giant, which was shot in Marfa, Texas and starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean (his last film before his death). With its themes of segregation and racism between whites and Mexican Americans, Giant became a much-talked-about film during its day, especially since many Latino non-actors were cast in the project. Sixty years after its release, Galán returns to Marfa and finds some of those children, now elderly men, who share memories of their time working on a Hollywood movie.