Atop O’Neil Ford’s Iconic Phallic Churro

I headed to HemisFair Park Monday afternoon for a Luminaria meeting. I crossed paths with Barbara Renaud Gonzalez–she was dropping off some support material for a Luminaria proposal. A day with Barbara in it is always a winner.

The Luminaria meeting seemed a bit rushed. Probably because we had decided to adjourn to the bar at the top of the Tower of the Americas for Happy Hour. Monday, December 13th, was an important date for this upcoming Luminaria 2011. It was the deadline for artist submissions. When we met, we knew that there would still be more submissions to come, because artists could add stuff online until midnight. But, still, we all seemed happy that the numbers were healthy. And I, for one, was happy with the quality of submissions within the media division. It will be hard for the media committee to make its decision. We’re going lean this year. Quality over quantity. This is fine by me. There are filmmakers I know and whose work I even like, but when I tell them that Luminaria is the time when they can experiment, stretch their wings. You know. Make art. And then I get something uninspired and safe…? What the hell? It’s Luminaria ARTS Night in San Antonio, folks. Art? Yeah! Check out Guy Madden. Maya Deren. Jodorowsky. Matthew Barney. Bill Viola. Sally Potter. Karl Krogstad. Barbara Hammer. There’s a shitload of stuff out there. Get outta the multiplexes, people, and soak up the weird and wonderful!

I will say, it was fun hanging out with cool artsy folks 550 feet above the historic HemisFair Park, atop O’Neil Ford’s iconic phallic churro.

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I enjoyed something of a windfall. Money came my way. I probably should have used it to pay bills. Get a medical check-up. Put something in savings. But I pissed it all away on movie-making equipment. I’ve been wrestling with some important life questions. Like, do I really want to make films? There has been no financial gain in the years I’ve claimed to be doing this sort of stuff. I get little scraps here and there. But mostly I have to scramble, looking to other sources. But, hell, I went and did it. I hopped online and asked, not Santa, but B&H and Amazon, for a new camera, computer, some pricey software, and the pesky miscellanies that this sort of work necessitates. I’m embarrassed and not a little bit ashamed to say how much I’ve spent on this stuff. However, it will all be legitimate business expenses. I just hope I can figure how to make money off this stuff….

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So, there I was, back on Saturday night, at the Hindu Temple way the fuck out past Helotes. I’d been asked to video-tape this amazing young dancer. She is not of Indian heritage, but she loves the form and presentation of classical Indian dance. She gave a solo dance recital which lasted over two hours to a packed house of more than 600 people. I’ve seen her perform before, so I knew she was serious and very focused on her work. But I didn’t know just how amazing she was.

It was a paid gig for me, but I felt so very privileged to see her dance, especially to such a large audience of amazed and supportive members of the San Antonio Indian community.

My problem was that I was expected to appear as the “Minute Man” at the Rudos y Tecnicos show south of downtown between 7:30 an 8:00. And I had thought the recital would go 90 minutes, tops. It lasted two and a half hours. I really couldn’t complain. The performances were flawless, breathtaking. But I was quietly freaking out thinking that the Rodos y Tecnicos event was waiting for me to show up.

As I rushed back to downtown, I tried to call both Victor and Pocha, but they weren’t answering their phones. No surprise. They were almost certainly on stage. When I was getting onto I-10, Melissa Marlowe called me. She wanted to know my ETA. This meant that she was able to join the festivities. That was good to hear. She’s an awesome performer. I told her I was 30 minutes away.

When I got to Joe Lopez’s Gallista Gallery, the place was packed. I lugged in my tripod, camera case, and some costume & prop items.

Unfortunately the Minute Man piece had come and gone. Some other guy took my place. And even though I’m far from a ham, I was rather interested in giving it a shot. I’d worked up a basic routine in my head on the drive down. But I still found myself pushed onto the stage. I went out with Melissa Marlowe. She was the fictional head of the DRT (Daughters of the Republic of Texas (one of this town’s — hell, this state’s — more high-profile cadres of stuck-up sticky butts)). She burst on stage and pronounced to a densely packed room of chiefly chicanos that she was here to claim the building as a shrine to John Wayne, and everyone had better vamos. My role was as Queen DRT’s husband. So, with my straw hat and red, white, and blue sequined jacket, I shouted invectives at the crowd and hurled American flags at them.

In retrospect, I feel quite honored to have shared stage with Melissa. It was a blast!

The event was a huge success. I’m so happy for Victor and Pocha. I know they worked their asses off for this show.

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Veronica’s multi-talented daughter, Mia, was there as an I.C.E. Elf. She made periodic forays into the audience with Migra Mouse (a guy wearing a huge Disney-esque papier mache head), in search of suspicious people to deport. Here’s a photo I took of her in the camouflage elf costume. You don’t want to mess with her.

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And here’s a bit of hasty video I shot with my little Lumix from the side of the stage / ring. The one in the mask is the brilliant Mari Barrera.

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Tuesday night was the San Antonio Film Commission’s Holiday Party. I think I missed it last year because I was out of town. But other then that, I have made it a point to go every year. The local production scene is pretty fragmented and cliquish, but this is the one time of the year when we all come together in a neutral space and truly enjoy one another’s company (or at least pretend to).

The winners of the San Antonio 48 Hour Film Experience were announced (this is our local film contest put on by our film commission, not to be confused with the national organization of a similar name). I was one of the judges. And I was happy to note that the first, second, and third place winners were all in accordance with my scores. And that great film helmed by Pete Barnstrom not only won first place, but also won the “audience favorite award.” Just as it should have. A strong piece, playful and well structured. Also, because all the audio was done in post, you could actually hear what the people were saying.

My new Canon 7D had arrived earlier in the day. I got it to shoot HD video, sure, but I also plan to shoot stills with it. I took it with me to the party with the idea to learn how to use it.

It’s a hell of a camera. And, true, the cheaper Rebel does almost everything that the 7D does, But I have to say I love the heft of the magnesium alloy body. (The following day I was showing the camera to Deborah. She picked it up. “Oh, a real camera,” she said, commenting, I have to assume, on the weight. And, really, this needs to be in the advertising. “And the girls just love the heavy and rugged magnesium alloy body!”) I still like my little Lumix GH1, but the 7D can be cranked up to insanely high ISO settings with no apparent visual noise. Add to that the 50mm lens I bought which, at f1.4, is pretty damn fast, and you can do so much in very low light conditions.

Here’s the thing, though. This fast lens with a very wide aperture is appealing for shooting still or moving images because you can push a shallow depth of focus. When you put your subject into sharp focus, but everything else is soft or even very muddy, you are able to manipulate the audience, in essence, visually tell them what they should be looking at, what’s important. Of course, you don’t want to go overboard, where all the cool shit the location scout or the art department has provided has fallen into gauzy diffusion. This shallow depth of focal field is really just another tool to convey visual story-telling. Though with it, I feel like I’m getting back to the basics. I learned to shoot (stills and cinema) where the DOF was a genuine consideration. The old style of shooting movies on film is, in a way, returning. When running film through a movie camera you have some serious inflexible parameters. Your film speed is locked to the film stock you are using. You can push your ASA (ISO) in post, but you can’t switch, willy nilly, like a still camera with all it’s ISO settings. And the shutter speed is an absolute–it’s locked into the frame rate. So, there is just the one mechanical camera setting to worry about. The aperture. The problem is, an aesthetic-minded cinematographer doesn’t dick around with the aperture just to make sure the film isn’t over- or under-exposed. Nope. He or she uses the aperture to control what objects, in the frame, are in focus or out of focus. This is why lights, reflectors, and ND (neutral density) filters are so important when shooting movies on film. And now, with the rise of these DSLRs that shoot HD video make use of large sensors and allow for faster optics, it’s back to relying on filters–especially if shooting daytime exteriors. You might be tempted to crank up the shutter speed, but that’s going to take away from the filmic look you probably want (you know, where the action is somewhat blurred). Bring in the ND filters. Back to the basics. The old is new again.

I digress.

For the Film Commission party I was just shooting stills. It’s a new camera, and I mainly wanted to learn where all the settings were.

Here are some photos of the night. I particularly like the first one. It is, of course, Jessica Atzìtli Torres.

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I shouldn’t have stayed up so lateTuesday night, and I definitely shouldn’t have been drinking. I’d been invited by the Office of Cultural Affairs to attend a sort of professional development seminar about small businesses which was sponsored by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Crack of dawn, Wednesday morning.

When I first received the invite, I noticed that it was sent to all the Creative Capital alumni. The registration costs would be covered for us CC folks, we were told. Like a scholarship. I felt so fucking special. But then I started seeing emails bouncing around, asking ANYONE to come and show up for this free event. Dammit! I want to be special!

The bottom line is that when OCA calls, I always respond. I like what it is they do. And, who knows, maybe if they see me often enough, one of my proposals will be taken up. I could happen. I also like the staff over at OCA. Good people.

But registration began at 7. In the morning. Fuck! Tuesday I’d called Deborah to see if she wanted to go with me. She thought she might be able to drag her way to my place even at such an unreasonably hour. I also was talking with Seme. She said she’d meet us as well. She was a bit taken aback by the early hour.

It was a weird foggy morning. Deborah rolled p to my house while I was sitting on my porch, playing around with my new camera. We got in my truck and drove the half mile to HemisFair Park. It took quite some time for us to find the section where the event was set–the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center is massive.

When Seme arrived, our little group moved to a balcony overlooking the plaza in front of the Tower of the Americas. Deborah, Seme, a textile artists (Lisa Kerpoe), and I chatted and enjoyed coffee and juice.

Much of the event was horribly dull. We suffered through a series of self-congratulatory speeches for breakfast (a sad “continental” affair of bagels and croissants), including a video speech by Gov. Rick Perry. Man, that guy’s sounding and looking more and more like Geo. W. Bush. (We, of course, are all doomed.)

The following breakout sessions allowed for three different tracks. Financial; marketing; media. Something like that. I chose media. I thought Seme was on the same page as me when she said that the media track seemed most likely to have crayons on the table. Maybe she was being facetious. She, Deborah, and many other artists went of to some other room. In the session I attended all we really got was a sort of Intro to Social Media 101. And then I remembered why I hate (HATE HATE HATE) when social media is used as a craven marketing tool. That’s when I defriend (unfriend?) people. In fact, that’s why I left Twitter. Too many people, shilling their shit.

After a quick break, we were given our next choice of sessions. I was drawn to another one on media. The title included the phrase “mobile media.” Sounded cool. I talked Seme into joining me. When we walked into the room, we saw Dora and Gisha in the back corner (this is where you should always sit in these environments, so as to make a quick exit if it’s too much bullshit), but the only seats were way up front. And so there we sat. The guy running this session was some sort of marketing director for a company which apparently owns the San Antonio Fox affiliate. Something like that. He was wearing this retro dark pinstripe sharkskin suit. It might have worked on someone hip. But he was more Herb Tarlek (of WKRP fame) than a guy from Mad Men. Actually, he reminded me of a cross between Rod Blagojevich and Rick Perry.

He started off asking what each of us did. Those of us who said “artist” seemed to confuse him. But he smiled affably and went on to the next.

When he really got into his talk, he said something like: “Television is still the central medium. And, local broadcast TV is the best place to get your name, your brand, out there.”

I turned to Seme. She was as confused as me. “How weird and exotic,” I whispered in her ear. “He’s straight out of the 20th century.” And when he began using, as an example of successful local TV advertising, the Ronco Pocket Fisherman, I knew the man was a time traveler from the 1980s.

One of the other people who had self-identified as an artist (and I had been watching his horrified expression as this Herb Tarlek fellow had been praising anachronistic marketing schemes while using Borsch-belt attempts at humor), made good his escape when Herb’s PowerPoint stalled. I envied him. And when I was trying to figure out how to also escape, Seme poked me in the ribs. “Let’s go!” she hissed. There was no longer any handy distraction. But she was adamant. I stood and we quickly walked to the door…so far away. Herb made some comment–“Oh, it looks like the artists are all leaving.” I wanted to turn and say loudly, “Is it any wonder?” But I just wanted out.

We ended up in another room where the panel was being led by Lionel Sosa. He’s a big time local Latino success story. But, really, I have a hard time not seeing him as another millionaire Republican who works in the fucking advertising / PR world. Oh well. He may well be the devil, but at least he’s a smart and charming speaker, and not trapped in the past.

The next (and final) segment was an endless series of more self-congratulatory wankery during the lunch session. But, hey, the lunch rocked. Some damn fine tamales!

Here’s a picture of Gisha. She was at one of the OCA tables, where we artists were hanging out.

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The very end of the lunch session was devoted to the creative community. Chuck Ramirez’s sister gave a short but very moving speech about her brother. I think it was the only time during the whole event where someone spoke with depth and honesty. I do know that her words connected with me.

Because I was sitting up front and hadn’t turned around, I had no idea what the size of the crowd behind me was. Well, I knew it was huge when the luncheon began. But I was pretty sure that everyone who’d finished their lunch had hurried away. I mean, the event was advertised in the program to close with this praising of the San Antonio creative economy. I was pretty sure that the pro-business drones connected with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (and I direct the same ire at all Chambers of Commerce, and their bottom-dollar diplomacy) had already slipped out, now well-fed. And when Felix Padron, of the Office of Cultural Affairs, was asked to take the stage, I actually saw some of the VIPs who were sitting at the tables in front get up and walk out. Felix gave us a great speech. But when he ended it I finally got up the nerve to turn around and look at the now almost empty ballroom. Shit! He’d just been preaching to the choir, us artsy types.

Those bastards! I sat through so much of their circle-jerk business bullshit. But can they stay to the end, where the topic shifts, for just 20 minutes, to the arts? Hell no!

Oh, well. The tamales were pretty damn good.

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