The Cucuy of the Extraordinary Snake Machine

Friday night I attended a poetry reading at the Bihl Haus.

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Deborah is the artistic advisor there and she curates most of the shows, so I try to attend as often as my schedule will allow. Friday was to celebrate the memory of poet Trinidad Sanchez, Jr. There were over 15 poets slated to read. For most, this would be a red flag. Beware — poetry! But some of the people slated were writers whose works I've enjoyed in the past. Unfortunately Naomi Shihab Nye was unable to make it. I like her work, but have never had the good fortune to hear her read. She and Sandra Cisneros are this town's literary rock stars (I guess I could mention John Phillip Santos, but I'm never sure if he still lives here …). Jesse Cardona continues to amaze me. Why he's not a household name, is beyond me. Oh, right. He's a poet. Ramon Vasquez read a poem I'd heard him deliver at his mother's retirement party a couple months back. It's very moving and was well received. Xavier Garza, whose playful and iconic Lucha Libre paintings are currently on the walls of the Bihl Haus, stepped up to the microphone. He, like most all of the participants, had known Trinidad. Xavier, besides being an artist, is also a story-teller and collector of folklore. He treated us to one of the Cucuys he had heard from his father while growing up in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. A Cucuy is like a Mexican boogyman, and, as a story-telling form, Cucuys are kind of like urban legends. He launched into a tale of a gigantic ghost owl with glowing red eyes who torments a hapless borracho, a poor old sot who is just trying to get home after the bars closed.

If all these folks who read are, to some degree at least, the creative off-spring of Trinidad Sanchez, Jr. (most were effusive naming him as their mentor), then he made quite an impact well beyond the body of his published works. I realized, during the intermission, that of all the group poetry readings I've attended (from invitation-only to open-mike), this was the first time I was quite happy I'd decided to sit on the front row. [For those not habituates of these sorts of events, you always sit in the back near the door so that when you have to make an exit — if only for your own mental well-being — your frantic egress will not be so disruptive.] But it was a great evening with no need to flee.

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Perhaps things went so well because Ramon Vasquez y Sanchez (the Man, the Myth, the Legend) suited up in his Coahuiltecan garb and blessed the event and the building Indian-style with the smoke from burning sage.

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Pete's spent the weekend at the Creative Capital workshop. It's purpose is to help artists navigate the choppy waters of business. A good idea, as arty people seem to lack that money gene. Hell, I failed to apply because when I heard about it I only had three days to meet the deadline. As I had several projects in the works, I knew I didn't have time to chase down all the paperwork and letters of recommendation and et al of which they were asking for. I found myself whining about this to TJ Gonzales. He just shrugged and told me I should always have that stuff on hand. He is, of course, correct.

So, I'll have to corner Pete in the days ahead and glean some of what he learned.

The other day he called to see if I had some project descriptions and budgets we'd generated some time back for a production. This is stuff he thought might help in his Creative Capital work. The stuff was on my old computer, and I printed it up for him. While he had me on the phone, he asked if I'd seen the latest issue of the Current (San Antonio's free weekly entertainment tabloid). Nope, I said. He suggested I check it out.

I didn't have any reason to head out and find one, so I checked online.

The cover story was film-related. I clicked on the photo. The title of the lead piece was: Inside the San Antonio Film District.

Jesus. Now I know why Dora Pena was asking me what I knew about the San Antonio Film District. She had been contacted by Current writer Ashley Lindstrom.

I read the article. For the most part, it's well-written. It shows that Mark Sullivan's operation, the San Antonio Film District, is currently a nonfunctional production facility. There are descriptions of crumbling infrastructure within the huge warehouse space, not to mention businesses which Sullivan claims to have working relationships with, yet they've never heard of him. All this should make one suspicious. So, why end the piece with a pie-in-the-sky quote from Sullivan: “…the San Antonio Film District is a movie-making machine”???

The San Antonio Film District is nothing of the sort.

And here is one of the problems in this city. If the film and video production people in San Antonio are disinclined to go on record without being so damn polite, this city will continue to fail in its struggle to bring in out-of-town productions. I wonder how many production companies have turned tail and fled after encountering the likes of Mark Sullivan and his San Antonio Film District, or Al Frakes and his San Antonio Film Council? These gentlemen might mean well (and I truly believe that they do); but, please, create the reality before sending out the press releases. Make no mistake, guys, we all share the shame you generate.

I've been to the San Antonio Film District space (AKA, Sake Studios). Not as a filmmaker, but as an audience member to see a film that the San Antonio Green Party was screening there. I tried to visit the studios over three years ago when I moved here. Me and Pete met Mark Sullivan and his (then) partner Robbie at a NALIP video slam at the Wiggle Room. They invited us to come and visit. We were given a phone number, which they never answered, nor did they returned our calls.

Over the years I have pieced together the manner in which the San Antonio Film District operates from talking to half a dozen local filmmakers who (like us all, it seems) are too circumspect to go on record with their perplexing experiences with Mr. Sullivan over there in that huge warehouse. I've created what I feel is a good model by reading between the lines. True, my opinions are based primarily on gossip, and I'm not going to share them here. But when I finally gained entrance to the facilities to see the Green Party's screening of Greenwald's Iraq for Sale, I was saddened by the waste of possibilities. It seems that Mark Sullivan is holding onto a dream which died half a decade ago. The warehouse is huge, true, but the reception area is unmanned, the sound stages are mostly outsourced as storage facilities, many breaker boxes seemed dead (Green Party volunteers used flashlights to help us find the screening room), and the screening room itself, though functional, was spare as a maquiladora dormitory.

What struck me the most is that the author of this article missed out on the real story. Over the years I have been fascinated by the snippets I've heard of the District, and it seemed to me to be a great story of high hucksterism and missed opportunities; but instead, Ashley Lindstrom gave us a near puff piece, when what we needed was to be entertained with a clever hatchet job. Where was the bit where our intrepid reported asks: “This facility is extraordinary — but where do you keep that machine?” “What?” “You know. That machine that squeezes the oil out of the snakes.”

Oh, I forgot. That machine is called the Press Release.

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One thought on “The Cucuy of the Extraordinary Snake Machine

  1. I too have been following the district, more loosely in recent years. We found it in a want ad in the Current looking for interns. When I was in contact with Sullivan, he was stressed out about how to pay the phone and electricity bill for that facility. He always did give me the run around as far as letting me help with the project. I too saw the missed opportunities.

    Mark does have a video on YouTube advertising the film district. The website redirects to a marketing firm / entreprenerial firm. Mark seems to have fallen off the map. It is too bad about this. When we spoke, he had mentioned how the building was occupied by Aaron Spelling back in the day, a claim I was not able to confirm.

    The problem with aspiring film makers and others (sometimes like myself), we outdream reality. We think bigger than what really exists and ultimately create a whole different world that we start to believe in.

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