After Josiah Wraps, Cultists Frolic

It's Monday, now, and I'm on the other side of the Josiah Youth Media Festival. All of last week I was busy running errands, making phone calls, moving chairs up from the basement to the performance area, and generally busting ass. I guess it all caught up to me Sunday morning when I woke up early for the final day of shooting on Christy Walsh's “Melancholy.” My lower back was all twisted and throbbing. I found myself whining like Dr. Zachary Smith, whose job it was to bedevil the “Space-Family Robinson” in 1960s version of the future. And, dammit, I'm still stove up, and shuffling around like Mickey Rourke in “Barfly.”

The festival was a success. Although, audiences were not what I'd hoped for. One of the problems (which we'll have to address for next year's festival) is that some of the local high-school teachers provided us with their students' submissions. This posed little to no problems for many of the schools. However, a couple of the schools didn't pass on to us the contact info for their students. For security reasons, no doubt. But when these teachers were contacted with a list of those students whose work we'd be screening, they seemed disinclined to notify the students. I'm convinced that at least a dozen local young filmmakers had their works screened to a paying audience and they STILL don't know about it. This is very sad. Not only have the kids lost out, but Urban-15 had much fewer audience members than were anticipated.

But on to the positive stuff.

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The new screen — a huge motorized contraption — gave a large picture. The 90-something seats all had a nice view of the screen. The sound system handled most all the works admirably … though some had audio issues that even the best speakers couldn't salvage. (I wasn't completely happy with the audio last year when Urban-15 screened the Manhattan Film Festival. There seemed to be some problems in the mid-levels. But now, the sound has a wonderful fullness.) George Cisneros transformed the sanctuary space of an old church into a screening room. Herman Lira worked the video switchers for three nights of smooth viewing. He had to deal with DVDs with different menus, various pre-role formats (if any), as well as the audio differences — he worked both the video switching as well as the soundboard.

Saturday we also had our Media Now student workshops.

The morning began with Victor Payan. Victor is an instructor for San Anto, a youth cultural center over on the westside. He is involved with San Anto TV, a sort of video oral history project. He showed up with two of his students, Sterling Abrigo and Julian Moreno. They were key crew members on the wonderful short documentary, “Reverend Perkins: Underground Artist.” The kids were fairly shy, but both were thoughtful and in possession a a playful sense of humor. They're well on their way to new projects. Victor Payan took control of the first hour of the workshop (allowing me to do other things) — and, from what I had an opportunity to see, the guy's a hell of a teacher.

Next we had Janet Vasquez from the San Antonio Film Commission. I wanted her to talk to the kids about locations. I'd noticed, during the judging process, that some of the pieces I wanted to see get higher marks, suffered because they were shot in the ugly classrooms around them (and, correct me if I'm wrong: all classrooms in this city are ugly), or, perhaps, the aesthetically bankrupt apartments of an older sibling. I took the stage with Janet, to facilitate her hour. But she could have done it well enough without my occasionally gabby asides.

We broke for lunch. George had bought a bunch of tacos from Farolitos across the street. And he and Catherine laid out a great spread, along with loads of fruit and a huge container of aguas frescas. Everyone loaded up their plates and took a seat to watch the 1929 Soviet masterpiece, “The Man with a Camera,” by Dziga Vertov. The DVD we watched was recently scored by the Alloy Orchestra. The Urban-15 sound system was put to effective use. The version we watched was 68 minutes. And even though I had to step out to answer my phone to keep tabs with workshop folks, I was able to see about 3/4 of the film. It's an amazing work of avant-garde movie-making. And with great chagrin I have to admit that not only had I never before seen the film, I hadn't even heard of it. I need to own this. It's extraordinary.

After lunch, Lisa McWilliams, of the Mobile Film School, walked to the front. She began by engaging the kids in a discussion of the film we had just watched. It's always a joy for me to watch brilliant teachers do their thing. Lisa, like Victor, had the kids thinking and talking. (I wonder if I would be so agog by teachers like Victor and Lisa had I not suffered through some of the worst teachers that the Dallas ISD had to offer back in the 1970s.) As Lisa segued from “The Man with a Camera” to her work with the Mobile Film School, I found myself out of the room, and on the phone. I had several Josiah-related calls going on back-to-back-to-back. This was really a shame. I'm very interested in the work that the Mobile Film School is doing. They are a new educational outreach program, headquartered in Austin. They provide their services to under-served schools. And eventually, they want to have all their equipment and editing suites housed in mobile vans. The film that won the Josiah Youth Media Fest's best documentary, “In a Place Like This,” was their very first project. It's a superb work by filmmakers of any age.

Next we had Nikki Young (of PrimaDonna Productions) and Michael Druck (who works for Calliope Talent). They tag-teamed their way through a very involved workshop on casting. George and Catherine were impressed in their professionalism, and that they never talked down to the kids. And, hey, they're both excellent actors, so they were very watchable, entertaining, and effective. As Catherine said: “They're very good together.” You bet. If anyone wants to do a San Antonio version of American Idol (Alamo City Aspirants, I'll call it), it's obvious that we only need two judges — Nikki and Druck.

Then we had Sergio and Manny from The Darkness. They are the past-masters of Central Texas special effects make-up. Do you need 17 zombies? A man whose head explodes? Perhaps a two-headed basset hound? The Darkness, my friend. The Darkness. As the guys began unpacking their stuff, I asked who in the audience might enjoy being transformed into, let's say, a zombie? I scanned a predictable stonewall of shy teens. As I'd hoped. I turned on Raul Flores. He's a student in George Ozuna's film program over at Harlandale. He is also a perennial volunteer at Urban-15. And, let us not forget his short film, “Attack of the Killer Burgers 3” that screened at the Josiah Fest on Friday night. Before he could think it through, we had the lad up in the chair. As Sergio gave us a talk about what he and his team does, Manny began Raul's transformation. We also watched a short video (Sam Lerma's promo piece for SAL — the San Antonio Local Film Festival — which featured grotty street people made-up by The Darkness), as well as a slide show of a wide range of what The Darkness does.

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And then we brought out Bryan Ortiz. He's just finished principal photography on his first feature film, what I'm calling he “zombie opus.” It's entitled “Doctor S Battles the Sex Crazed Reefer Zombies.” When I speak with him he seems rather shy and reserved. I was wondering if I should ask Michael or Nikki if they'd like to interview him. I didn't get around to doing that. But that was fine. If you took two dozen rabid pitbulls and put them through Green Beret training … and then if you were to boil down that frothing, intense madness into a 22-year-old five foot four film-fanatical young man, you'd be getting close to Bryan Ortiz. Slap on a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and a skinny tie, and, man, you're almost there. He fired up the kids with his Tarantino / Rodriguez “just get a camera and make your movie” screed. I wish we had a video camera on him. The guy needs a grant to visit every middle-school and high-school in this county.

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And all the while, Raul was getting zombied-up.

It was a wonderful series of workshops. And when I heard that Raul Flores had gone to Taco Haven (a somewhat up-market taqueria in this neighborhood) with his parents … while still in zombie make-up, well, let's just say I think I've found a new hero. Way to go, Raul!

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Saturday night ended with the grand prize (a $500 line of credit at B&H photo and video) awarded to the students from the Manor ISD who wrote, shot, and edited “In a Place Like This.” And, yep, it really is that good. One of the directors and the camera man were their to accept. Lisa McWilliams, their teacher, was there grinning. She leaned in to be the first person to give congratulatory hugs to the two kids.

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The other three winners received $200 apiece from B&H.

LaShae Brooks from Minnesota won best experimental film with her “The Spirit Within Us.”

The seven students from the advanced digital video class at St. Mary's Hall won best animation film with their “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.”

And the best narrative film was won by Remington Dewan for his “First Day at the Firm.” This amazing comedy was written, directed, shot, and edited by a precocious 14-year-old kid from Austin. He's well on his way to a successful career.


And then Sunday.

I met Russ, Christy, and Kristen out at Comal Park, on the shores of Canyon Lake.

It was the first time I had seen the costumes and the wig for the lighter side of “Melancholy.” Kristen plays the role of Joy, so it had better be lighter.

The day was hot and humid, but it was beautiful with puffy clouds and just enough of a breeze to flap the red drapery used as a prop. Kristen looked angelic in her white bob wig. And Christy, as always, was beautiful and graceful. The costumes (which I made some lame joke as looking like we were filming Heaven's Gate conscripts frolicking on the shoreline) actually came out powerfully in photos and in the video camera monitor. Christy and Kristen were wonderful together. I know they were suffering terribly under the heat. But even by the final shot, they moved smoothly and projected expressions of joyous play.

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When we got around to the bit where Christy (as Eve) emerges from the water, I couldn't help but think of Baptism. Especially that sublime scene in “Oh, Brother….” I'm sure the jackasses zooming about on their jet-skies thought we were some religious freaks purifying sacrificial babes in time for the next full moon. By the final take, poor Christy had choked on a good amount of lake water. But it's over.

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Just needs to be edited….

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