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Screens & Tech

Why the CineFestival's 34th edition isn't just for Chicanos

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

Uruguay's A Useful Life screens Tuesday as part of the 34th annual CineFestival.

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"I think the best part of CineFestival is that we are not L.A. And we're not New York," said festival curator Jim Mendiola, who lives in Los Angeles but regularly comes back to San Antonio. "We may not be the biggest [festival], or the glitziest, but we are the oldest, and the only one that comes from a direct Chicano movement sensibility and history."

Yet, every year the festival has room for Latin American films (including Chile's Nostalgia for the Light and Uruguay's A Useful Life, screening at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 28) that, directly or indirectly, relate to the Chicano tradition of struggle and resistance the other side of chicanismo (the side that prefers the term Mexican American or, rather, American) ignores. CineFestival is the artistic equivalent of the Latino marches of the '60s and is well aware of the fact that many of the injustices of yesteryear are still present today. And today's struggle, just like yesterday's, affects people on both sides of the frontera.

"I like [late Brownsville author] Américo Paredes' terms for this area: Greater Mexico," Mendiola said. "We're on the border. We overlap. Culture is not cut and dried."

That's why showing Natalia Almada's El Velador (a documentary on the caretakers of Northern Mexico cemeteries where drug dealers rest, screening at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, February 29) or El Sicario, Room 164 (a first-person account on the life of a Mexican cartel hitman, screening at 7 p.m. on the same day) are so relevant to anyone living in San Antonio.

"We hear about the border violence every day on the news, facts and figures, but here with those two films we're offering a different way of exploring the issue of drug violence," said Mendiola. "And on a pop cultural level, look at a movie like Marimbas From Hell, which is a Guatemalan comedy about heavy metal. What is more San Antonio than that?"

The timing of CineFestival's movies are also getting better. The animated feature Chico and Rita is up for an Oscar this Sunday, and 2012 Best Narrative Film Mosquita and Mari comes to SA less than a month after it premiered at Sundance. Usually local audiences have to wait a year or more to see a well-received Sundance film, if the films come at all. All this is done with limited resources, which gives Mendiola hope: SA may not be able to have Sundance or Cannes, but perhaps there's another, more realistic alternative for CineFestival.

"I want it to be like [Colorado's] Telluride [Film Festival]," he said. "Again, not the biggest festival, but always one of the most interesting ones, one with a point of view."

Ultimately, the public doesn't care about budgets — all they want is good films, and there are enough of them at this year's CineFestival.

"We may not have millions of dollars, but what we do have is invaluable: a 34-year-long history of showing Latino movies and a public that appreciates the complex representations of themselves on the screen," Mendiola said. "[Those are] images they don't get in the mainstream media and at other film festivals." •

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