A very unproductive day. I'm waiting on pieces of info for two paid projects I'm currently working on. So mainly I did laundry and transfered a couple of video projects to DVD (the San Miguel de Allende documentary as well as the short experimental piece I did with some of the stray just-for-fun footage I shot in San Miguel — I need to send copies down to some of the film folks in San Miguel to set up a screening). But these are basically things one does that involve simply pushing buttons (making DVDs and doing laundry) … and waiting. So I read a few short stories from R.B. Cunninghame Graham's collection, “Progress.” He's one of those great authors that no one reads anymore.
It's been raining steadily these last two days. I've barely felt like venturing out. But as 6pm neared, I headed over to the Esperanza Center for day 5 of Cine Mujer. I'm constantly amazed how rarely I see local filmmakers at any of the film festivals and film events in this town. I mean, there must be two dozen organizations that put on film events in this city. (That came out sounding a bit of hyperbole — but I just now took pen to 3×5 card and, in two minutes, scribbled down 12 established annual film festivals in this city, and three new ones I know of that will premier this year; add to that SEP, IFMASA, the NALIP events, film programs at the Mexican Cultural Institute, monthly screenings on “the Slab,” and the miscellany at the dozen colleges and universities in Bexar County.) Those people who bemoan the paucity of art events in this city are clearly living in some fanciful damp place teeming with grubs and earwigs, awaiting that wondrous day when that large stone overhead is lifted up and away.
Tonight I finally saw some familiar faces from the local film scene at the Esperanza. Dora and Manuel Pena made it around eight o'clock.
For those San Antonians who don't venture far from the comfort of the grubs and earwigs, you might not be aware that Dora Pena promises to become one of the more important local filmmakers. Her short film “Crazy Life” is impressive stuff. She's currently working on a feature, and I predict it will easily kick all our asses. So, damn, people, get out their and don't miss out on all this stuff.
But I digress.
The evening opened with “100% Woman.” This is an hour-long documentary about Michelle Dumaresq, a Canadian professional downhill cyclist who was born Michael Dumaresq. It's more than just an “over-coming adversity” story. Sure, there's that, but we also are pulled along on a series of races where we see her trying to deal with a more prosaic adversity — she's trying to win. There's a fine-line this film walks between Dumaresq being a trailblazing transgender professional athlete, and the constant animosity many female racers — who are clearly feminists — have towards her. Like all great biographic documentaries, I left it with a sense that I had spend some quality time with an extraordinary individual.
“In the Tall Grass” is an hour-long documentary about reconciliation courts in Rwanda — one of the tools with which the country hopes to begin the process of recovering from the genocide of the mid-90s. This film concentrates on one case in a rural village where one woman confronts the man, a neighbor, she claims murdered her husband and children. It's powerful stuff.
We then moved to the third film of the night. If the genocide of Rwanda didn't get you pulling your hair, you were hit again with “Rosita.” This is another hour-long documentary. Rosita is a Nicaraguan girl who, when she was nine years old, traveled to Costa Rica with her parents who went to work on the coffee plantations. Rosita was raped and became pregnant. It's not so dreary a film as it sounds. The story is really about how the impoverished parents fought to get their daughter — a second-grader — an abortion, whilst the governments of two nations and the Catholic Church fought them every step of the way. The film somehow manages to remain upbeat throughout.
There followed two shorts. “Andaluz” is a 6 minute animated piece of colorful changing images and shapes. Very pretty. It was followed by “The Dangers of Smoking,” which was a student project which had a good idea (a humorous surreal interlude where a little girl falls into a creek while her mother has turned away to block the wind as she lights a cigarette). But the piece suffers flat lighting and poor photography.
The last film of the evening was a feature, “Cave of the Yellow Dog.” It's directed by Byambasuren Davaa, a Mongolian woman, who after working in her country's television industry, moved to Germany to study film. The credits of this movie give the impression of a Mongolian / German collaboration. The story is about a nomadic Mongolian family. Their oldest daughter, who can't be more than seven, finds an abandoned dog on the desolate and beautiful steppes while she's out gathering sheep dung for fuel. Her father wants her to get rid of the dog. It's a simple conflict. And that's all you need. It is one of the most beautiful movies I've seen in years. The countryside is breath-taking. As are the people, and their exquisitely-designed possessions. The mother, father, two daughters, and baby son, are, I believe, all truly related. And I'm wondering if they might actually be a nomadic, herding family. One of the things that makes this movie so wonderful, is the extraordinary performances by these children who are so young. It's currently my favorite G-rated film. If it's available for rental, check it out.
While “Cave of the Yellow Dog” was playing, I heard this fainting thrumming. “Wow,” I thought, “that's some killer foley work. It sounds like those rain drops are hitting the ground fat and heavy.” It was a scene of the husband preparing to head to the nearest town to sell some sheep skins. The camera switched to a close-up of the wife. But their clothes weren't wet and it wasn't raining. You see, it was raining in San Antonio. I was listening to a fresh thunderstorm hammering on the roof of the Esperanza. And then I realized why this sound was actually familiar. I used to live in a space with the same sort of roof. An 1920s era industrial warehouse with a wood beam and slat ceiling, with a roof of sheet tin covered with tar and gravel. It's actually a very peaceful, comforting sound. The rain drops fall with a muffled “puff” “puff”. There was a time in the film where it really did begin to rain. And when the movie rain finally ended, one of the characters said, “the rain has stopped.” At the moment the rain also stopped in San Antonio. Wonderful and freaky.
After the film, me and Alston stood up and walked toward the stairs. One of the Esperanza people picked up a microphone and alerted us to the fact that the building was built on a dip in San Pedro Street, and there was some flooding. She said that the Esperanza Center would be more than happy to drive us, a few at a time, to the flooded parking lot.
Me and Alston rolled our eyes. It's just water.
But when we stepped outside and looked toward San Pedro, we saw the flood waters. We had both parked on the other side of the building. Neither of us wanted to splash through two feet of water to get to our cars. The rain was just a mist. We decided to walk around the block. Graciela Sanchez, the director of Esperanza, asked the two of us if we wanted to cadge a ride to the parking-lot. We were feeling adventurous, so we smiled and said we'd walk.
A bit last minute, I know, but to those readers who are local, I'll be screening my “Dia de los Locos” documentary tomorrow night –that's Saturday night, March 31st — at the Blue Star Brewing Company, which is in the Blue Star Arts Complex on S. Alamo. Head to the back room. This is part of the NALIP spring video slam. It's free this time around. NALIP members get screened first. But please come on down and bring a DVD if you have one. We are all hoping to see something new, fresh, exciting.
Hope to see some of you there. Unless, you know, you're really happy hanging out with the grubs and the earwigs.