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Screens & Tech

Foreign film in San Antonio suffers for 'Ramboville' mindset

Photo: Photo illustration by Chuck Kerr, License: N/A

Photo illustration by Chuck Kerr

In San Antonio, it is easy to find an Audi, a glass of Chianti, and a slice of Camembert. But if you seek imported cinema, you are better off in smaller municipalities — Austin, Boulder, Portland — than the seventh largest city of the United States. Bexar County boasts 19 commercial movie theaters with more than 210 screens, but as I write this in late January not even one is showing a foreign-language feature. For a community that prides itself on being "multicultural," the monolingualism of its movies is an embarrassment and an impoverishment.

Though Terrell Hills is a long way from Beverly Hills, the Academy Awards lie close to the hearts of many in South Texas. During the presentations in March, local gatherings conduct contests to predict the Oscar winners. Though San Antonians are as capable as New Yorkers or Angelenos of judging the merits of contenders, they are handicapped in one crucial category. Anyone who has spent 2011 in San Antonio is as knowledgeable as a Trappist monk about the foreign language nominees. None of this year's five nominees have been shown on local screens. In fact, not one of the 63 films that were submitted by their respective countries for this year's Oscar was ever shown here.

Of course, not even all domestic features arrive in San Antonio during their year of release. Studios sometimes screen obvious contenders only in December and only in New York and Los Angeles. Then, benefiting from the buzz of an Oscar nomination, they release films elsewhere in the new year. Carnage, A Dangerous Method, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Iron Lady, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Shame are among Anglophonic titles that were screened in 2011 in the two big cities to qualify for an Oscar but did not make it to this neck of the mesquite until 2012. We can hope that foreign-language contenders will follow the same trajectory — not eternal absence but mere delay. The Oscar winner for 2010, Argentina's The Secret in Their Eyes, eventually came to San Antonio in late May of that year. Last year's Spanish nominee, Biutiful, arrived in San Antonio in late January, 2011 (almost a year after it opened elsewhere). Last year's Academy Award winner, Denmark's In a Better World, had a limited run in late May of 2011 (a month after its domestic release), but runners-up Dogtooth (Greece) and Outside the Law (Algeria) were never seen here (the 2009 winner, Japan's Departures, also has yet to surface). An Oscar imprimatur gives a foreign film a slim chance of making it to San Antonio; without it, except for the rare alien that slips through (The Skin I Live In, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Of Gods and Men), the borders of Bexar County are sealed.

Annual festivals like CineFestival, French Film Festival, and the Jewish Film Festival (for which I am a board member) are, nevertheless, rich in foreign fare, and local museums and universities provide occasional venues for cinematic imports. However, in SA it is easier to find a vegan restaurant than a movie theater in which characters speak Italian, Bengali, or Farsi.

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