Places To Be

One of the great marvels of films like The Fugitive or The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is their incredible sense of place.  It’s a testament to the talent of the filmmakers involved that Chicago and New York become characters in their own rights; as I’d written of Pelham,

There’s a quality more felt than seen about the film, a sense that what happens in it could only happen in this city, at this time, with these people.  And the film’s so much stronger for it.

This is one of the things I love about the San Antonio Neighborhood Film Project (the brainchild of the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs).  It’s a chance for local filmmakers to bring one of their favorite characters to life onscreen.  And it’s a chance for local filmgoers to look at their hometown in whole new lights.  So I was looking forward to being a part of last night’s screenings.

Actually, this year I was a little more than a witness to the competition.  Three months ago I’d stepped in front of the camera for a role (alongside rising stars Taylor James Johnson and Jamye Cox) in one of the films submitted, Isaac Rodriguez’s sci-fi thriller Site 13.  The film was entered in one of the competition’s new categories, Parks and Greenspace, and while it didn’t reach the finals, it was a lot of fun to make, and will soon be out there (much like the truth) on the festival circuit.  So you’ll get to see my attempt to pay homage to Walter Skinner and Frank Black and all those great agents of yore.  (Once it’s on its way, I promise I’ll write that long-delayed blog about my experience.)

Our film was one of 68 submitted this year.  I say it again – 68.  From filmmakers like Darren Abate, Emanuel Bermudez, Chris Garza, Richard Jemal, Sam Lerma, Rogelio Salinas, Will Shipley, and Pablo Veliz.  With that many films, that many perspectives on the neighborhoods of downtown S.A., it’s clear that the Neighborhood Film Project has been a success.  And the screening (held once again at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center) lived up to that success.

It was a great turnout for a great lineup of films, and I was thrilled to see so many new names among the winners.  Among the students, Noland Arocha won two awards, for La Historia del Diez y Seis de Septiembre (winner in the new Viva Mi Cultura student category) and for Pride of the Eastside, a heartfelt reminder that everyone really does have a story.  Another Viva Mi Cultura winner, Jaime Sanchez’s Dia de los Muertos, brought one of San Antonio’s most important holidays to life.

En Aquellos Tiempos Fotohistorias Del Westside, from student winner Melissa Ruiz Esparza Rodriguez’s student film, shared the histories that history sometimes misses.  Nicco Vasquez represented the students of the Southside with Crumbs.  And Nicolas Wachter’s Developing, a Northside tale of loneliness and solace, impressed me both with its polish and with an appearance by the indispensable Michael Burger.  (This same weekend – indeed, that very night – also saw him playing both Dr. Frederick Treves and The Lightning Baron.  Seriously, the guy has range.)

Among the non-student winners, Patsy Whitfield and Cedric Smith returned to the Eastside for the documentary/jazz poem The Eastside: Rebirth of Change.  Ray Santisteban and J.J. Lopez danced through the Westside in Murals y Mas.  Michael Cunningham explored the Canvas of Culture in Brackenridge Park.  Rod Guajardo delivered his most romantic film to date with the Northside valentine Believe.  In Robert B. Gonzales’s animated winner, Ernie Takes the Long Way Through the Southside, and we got to enjoy the ride.

And then there was the night’s most stunning film, the first-place winner in Parks and Greenspace, and perhaps my favorite of the finalists.  In Robert Lopez‘s fairy tale Franchesca’s Dream, a sick and lonely girl finds escape, adventure, and delight through her imagination, with the encouragement of her grandfather (local stage icon Allan Ross).  Shot in Brackenridge Gardens and the Japanese Tea Gardens, the film is a wonder of cinematography, effects, and design, and its story, simple and heartfelt, is as beautiful as its visuals.  Like the best fantasy stories, Franchesca’s Dream both transports us to another world and transforms the way we look at our own.  In that spirit, it’s a perfect ambassador for the mission of the Neighborhood Film Project.

The night ended with an after-party hosted by Rod and producer Ralph Lopez, who had worked with Rod on his film, and with Sam on his (along with a talented cinematographer named Rod Guajardo).  When they called it the Neighborhood Film Project, they may not have realized how fitting that name would become.

I’m glad I was able to share in the celebration.  And the best thing I can say about the experience is that I learned a few new things about my beloved hometown.

And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

Thank you once again for following along.  Until the next turn on this road, “be seeing you…”

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