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Screens & Culture

Unmasking CineFestival 35

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35th Annual CineFestival

February 23-March 2
$10-$75
Teatro Guadalupe
1301 Guadalupe
(210) 271-3151
guadalupeculturalarts.org

Filmmaker Jim Mendiola's decision to move back to San Antonio after years in Los Angeles is not only good for CineFestival, which he directs — it's good for our film community. Here's a man who understands making movies has very little to do with merely knowing how to use a camera: it is, first and foremost, about writing and acting. And even though I was pleased to see the great reception his Pretty Vacant classic had at Tex Pop last week, I still believe his best movie is yet to come. Just wait.

In the meantime, we can enjoy his good taste in helping other people show their films — all you have to do is take a quick look at this year's strong lineup for CineFestival, the nation's oldest and longest-running Latino film festival.

Here's some of the big treats for this week, but also a heads-up for the following week: The Latino Screenwriters Lab that will meet on February 27-March 2, a joint effort with the Sundance Institute. It is Sundance's first experiment of its kind. The only public event related to the lab will be a panel on Saturday, March 2, at 11 a.m. at the Guadalupe.

"Cinefestival and Sundance are helping to support Latino stories for the big screen," said Mendiola, "a necessity given the lack of Latino representation in film and TV."

Now, this week's picks. — E.L.

Mariachi High
1:30pm Sun, Feb 24 (60 min)
Mariachi High, first shown on PBS and directed by Ilana Trachtman and Kim Connell, is not your usual public television Latino hagiography. It is a fascinating documentary on the world of high-school-level mariachi and the key role San Antonio plays in it. As the first U.S. city where Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán (the world's most respected ranchera group) performed, San Antonio will forever be linked to the genre's history. But our city is also part of its present: every year, performing at SA's Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza is the goal of mariachi orchestras from elementary, middle school, high school, colleges, and universities throughout the nation. It is here that U.S.-based mariachis meet to let a jury (led by Mariachi Vargas) decide which is the best.

In 2009, Zapata-based Mariachi Halcón entered the race having won three years in a row. The Zapata High kids were considered heavyweights and the mariachi to beat. But after the seniors graduated, Mariachi Halcón had to regroup. Gorgeously shot, Mariachi High shows the grueling auditions and rehearsals as they are, with no embellishments.

"That was atrocious!" said Mariachi Halcón director and Zapata HS Fine Arts teacher Adrián Padilla, laughing with his team after a candidate badly failed his singing audition. In spite of the insensitive moment, Padilla is a demanding teacher who knows and loves the genre and knows when to stop a rehearsal.

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