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Screens & Culture

Unmasking CineFestival 35

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Mariachi High shows Mariachi Halcón's journey from Zapata to San Antonio, and, ultimately, Austin, were they performed at the State's Capitol. It is a story of love of music, heartbreak, and hope. But it also shows, without even trying, the ugly part of it all: these kids (even the lesser mariachis) are genuine artists spending their time on a good thing; yet, they're taught that winning is the only thing that matters.

"When they won, they felt they were doing something," said Padilla at one point. Wrong. Mariachi requires excellent instrumental and vocal skills, and the kids in every single one of these orchestras put on a great show and were always doing "something."

Mariachi High doesn't stress that fact. Instead, it lets the music speak for itself. — E.L.

The Reel Latina wonder
Women-directed films were less than 20 percent of the entries CineFestival received this season (17 out of 88). This is striking, given that Sundance made headlines this year with a record-breaking number of women filmmakers — the number of entries by women matched the number by men for the first time in Sundance history.

In the programming for CineFestival, nearly all of the woman-directed films are documentaries. They don't all focus squarely on women, but they all involve themes of community, labor, family, representation and legacy — themes that women of color instilled in the feminist movement.

Go to for a complete schedule of films, but here's my two picks for CineFestival's first week:

The Unique Ladies
3pm Sun, Feb 24 (30 min)
Gloria Morán's showcase on lady lowriders, The Unique Ladies, is brazen fun. It's sleek with flashy cars and a fly soundtrack. On display is old-school, shameless chauvinism so outrageous it's laughable. But the women, young grandmothers now, prevail. The short is tight and fresh, belying the span of time (over six years) it took to complete. Morán compares the making of her film to building a lowrider vehicle, made with patient persistence. "Just like the ladies in the club," she comments on her inspiration, "they knew the climate and attitude toward women lowriders, but they didn't care — they kept pursuing their endeavor."

Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines
3:30pm Sun, Feb 24 (60 min)

Kristy Guevara-Flanagan's entertaining film debuted at South by Southwest last year. Like an episode of VH1's Behind the Music, the program is a character study, a tale of evolution that engages an Amazon princess, a superhero, a sexual fantasy, and a reappropriated feminist icon. The film features a panel of professors and feminists, including stars like Gloria Steinem, Linda Carter, and Kathleen Hanna, as they map representations of super-power women in the context of women's liberation. Although the film veers didactic, bits of vintage-styled animation make it fun, and mini-portraits of fans like fourth grader Katie Pineda lend emotional texture.

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