Another Film Contest to Exhaust Me

(Wednesday.)

I’d like to credit Kellen, of Bihl Haus Arts fame, for succeeding in driving me from my house today. I had been in a horrendously useless mode. How I even managed to drag my ass to Eddie’s Taco House to pick up a chilaquiles plate for breakfast at their drive-thru is beyond me. But sometime around 2:30 Kellen called to ask if I could help her burn a DVD which would loop for the Bihl Haus event Thursday night. No problem. I grabbed my laptop, a spindle of DVDs, and assorted devices (as I didn’t think to ask what sort of media I would be working with). I headed over to C4.

She showed up with a DVD, what I refer to as a “playable DVD,” meaning one which is encoded for a DVD player. I would have preferred a file, but ever since I’ve learned the ropes on HandBrake (a wonderful and free piece of software for ripping files from DVDs) I am no longer daunted by these sorts of procedures. After a couple of false starts, I had a disk formated the way she wanted. And finally I was able to see the video. This was the Bihl Haus offering for Luminaria. It’s about 6 minutes. The narrator is Barbara Renaud Gonzalez reading her own words. I’d never given much thought to how much strength of character her voice carries. Wow. Also, there was an appearance of Marisela Barrera’s adorable little girl.

Coincidently, I’m finishing up a quickie edit of a video clip of Marisela where she took her bilingual story-telling talents to a classroom of very young and very excited kids. (When I shot the performance one of the boys asked if I was Superman. Kids these days must be used to setting their bar very low. I tried my best to let him know that, on a good day, I might aspire to be Clark Kent, but that was about it.)

The one thing I planned on doing today was to attend a free film workshop at the El Tropicano Hotel (pardon my redundancy, but I think the sentence flows better with the double-barrel bilingual article, “the El” — also I don’t want people thinking I’m trying to write Tropicana, ’cause this super cool retro hotel is all male, baby, decorated in high Rat Pack machismo: I mean, fuck, the ballrooms are named after famous brands of cigars!). Workshop? No. I knew it wasn’t so much a workshop as an out-reach seminar. The idea was to let people know about the upcoming Texas Monthly short film contest, “Where I’m From.” But still, it sounded like the place to be on a Wednesday night.

First, I decided to get some grocery shopping out of the way. As I was getting out of my truck at the La Fiesta on S. Flores, my cell phone rang. It was Deborah. She wanted to know if I was going to this “workshop.” I said I was. And if she wanted to go, I’d pick her up after I shopped and put away my groceries.

Later I learned that she’d heard that the event started at six. I’d read the information on the Texas Monthly website which said seven o’clock. We arrived a few short minutes after six, and discovered that there was a free reception / mixer from 6 to 7, followed by the presentation. The local host for this event was the San Antonio FIlm Festival (AKA, SAFilm), which is headed by Adam Rocha. As Deborah and I were walking up to the entrance of the El Tropicano Hotel, we saw a couple of Adam’s film students walking up: the uber-talented Jessica Torres and her mom, Sandra. They were accompanied by Jessica’s boyfriend, whose name I’m embarrassed to say I forgot.

Inside we saw Adam in the lobby. Good thing, too. I was thinking the event was going to be held in one of the ballrooms or meeting rooms on the ground floor. Nope. Third floor. Adam let the way.

One of the first people I saw when entering the meeting room was Joy-Marie Scott. Her presence at an event is always a good indicator. There were somewhere between thirty and forty people there. And I only knew about half of them. This is good. This means new people are coming out who are interested in making movies.

Here we have Adam introducing the event.

Texas Monthly magazine is gearing up to promote the second year of their regionalism-embracing short film contest, “Where I’m From.” The panelists were John Phillip Santos (filmmaker, writer, and San Antonio native son), Miguel Alvarez (San Antonio-raised Austin filmmaker), and David Gil (representative of the Austin Film Festival, who are a major partner for this contest). John Phillip talked about his experience making his first film here in San Antonio years ago. And he talked about the “Where I’m From” essay he wrote for Texas Monthly. Miguel talked about his life as a filmmaker. We also had an opportunity to watch his short film, “Kid.” Well-crafted and powerful stuff. David Gil talked about, as he said, the “boring stuff,” like the contest rules. Be he also gave a bit of insight into how film festivals program their screenings.

Two additional films were shown. I hope neither won best film for last year. Both were rather weak. However, because both were created by nonprofessional filmmakers, they probably appealed to the curious amateurs still sitting on the fence as to whether they wanted to do this or not.

One was from Beaumont. It was rough and raw, but it made me smile. A lot. It was basically a slide show of decently composed photographs with a quirky voice-over narration. Oh, and the occasional animation was also pretty cool. And then we were shown a piece submitted last year from San Antonio. Another voice-over narration. The writing was promising. But I assume that the filmmaker was reading his own copy. He should have hired an actor. It would have sounded less pretentious. And even though I think the narrative arc to his video essay was smart and well-thought-out, it was emotionally flat.

I’m wondering, are we supposed to see these ephemeral works of hobbyists as something to emulate, or something to exceed?

I guess it really doesn’t matter. If I decide to submit something to this contest, I’ll simply do my best, and hope it doesn’t suck too much.

My hope is that San Antonio will be well-represented. I want loads of San Antonio filmmakers to submit. And for each of these semi-pros I want there to be at least one matching film made by an absolute amateur. I’m fine with some quasi-literate sewer worker to win with her flip camera documentary of her father’s westside taco truck. You bet!

So, let’s all roll up our sleeves and make some movies.

@@@@@

(Thursday.)

As I was getting ready to burn a DVD for a fellow artsy type who needs some support material for a grant, I discovered that my fancy new MacBook Pro suffered some catastrophic ailment. It began the process of booting up, but it couldn’t progress beyond the corny Beatles chord, and then that pale blue screen would just star at me, with mute disinterest. I say mute, but I could just barely hear a soft clicking sound which I’ve always associated with dead and dying hard drives.

Remembering that one can’t just tuck that laptop under one’s arm and saunter into an Apple Store, I went to the nearest Apple Store’s web page (thankfully I have another computer hanging about). I could find no link to make an appointment, so I of course called the store. After ten minutes of listening to Beatles music, Brent answered with a sort of chirpy disdain. I explained my problem, succinctly and calmly, and closed with, “so, could I go ahead and make an appointment?” He told me that there were three ways I could set up an appointment with one of their um geniuses. “Your iPhone, on the web, or by calling the Apple Care line …. would you like me to connect you?” I said sure.

I was at that point, of course, talking to a robot. I was instructed, by a prerecorded voice, to name the particular Apple product I was having trouble with. “MacBook Pro,” I said slow and firm. “I’m sorry, but could you repeat that, please?” I did. “You’ve said iPod Nano.” And then I was shouting into my phone, “MacBook Pro, MacBook Pro, you miserable fucking robot.” I rather think that my neighbor Debby, who usually returns around this time of the afternoon, must have been a bit concerned. I hung up. And after ten minutes of poking around on the Apple Store’s webpage, I finally found the labyrinth to make my appointment. 7pm.

This left me an hour to try and find away to get Mari’s DVD burned. Even though the Final Cut project file was trapped on my dead computer, I still have the media file on an external hard drive. So I fired up my old rickety version of Final Cut Pro, and began processing the video the way I wanted it. I started the DVD burn, gathered up my dead laptop, power cord, original disks which came with the machine, and even a couple of external drives just in case they were able to coax it back from the brink long enough for me to tease away a couple of crucial files.

When I walked into the Apple Store, Jared pushed his glasses up his nose and asked how he could help me. I explained I had an appointment, and– He held up a hand with a wisp of a smile. I should, he explained, check in with Marcus. He hooked his thumb over his shoulder and resumed his conversation with girl in dreadlocks. I walked towards the back of the store. I stopped in front of a young man whose tender years were telegraphed by the sad showing of an attempted mustache. “Marcus?” I asked. He nodded energetically. “Yep. And you?” I gave him my name. “I have a seven o’clock appointment.” He looked down at the iPad which he cradled like a clipboard. There was my name on a spread sheet. He tapped his finger on my name. A new screen appeared. “Consider yourself checked in! Jason will be with you momentarily.”

A couple of minutes later, Jason tracked me down. I followed him to a counter. I explained the problem and produced my computer. He nodded. Hooked it up to an ethernet cable. After a few minutes. “Yep, hard drive. Though it could just be the hard drive cable. And then you’d be fine. We’ll check it out.” He printed out some paperwork (which shocked me as a sort of throwback to the 20th century), and I signed … with ink … on paper. What a world. When he gave me that paper receipt I felt like snapping, “What, you want me to lug THAT around? Can’t you email it to me?” But I held my tongue, least Jason or one of his tribe spit into the exposed underbelly of my beloved laptop as it lays exposed under the harsh fluorescent lights of the back warehouse.

Here’s hoping it’s just a bum wire, because if I have to recut that Jump-Start Fish Tale performance again, I’ll open a vein (not because the [performance was bad — quite the contrary — but I fucked up on a couple of places whilst shooting, and it took me AGES to fix my messes). I did luck out because even though the Fish Tale files were on my sick (dead?) computer, I still have all the original files on my spare CF card.

@@@@@

I drove home, pulled the burned DVD from my lesser laptop, and I headed out to Bihl Haus Arts. This disk was going to find it’s way into Mari’s hands no matter what. I know she’s insanely busy because she running so many events. And I wanted to make sure she got her work sample in hand on time to deliver for the grant deadline.

The Bihl Haus was putting on a multi-media performance, “I Was Born Here.” The piece was directed by Virginia Grise. The text which served as the foundation was a poem by Barbara Renaud Gonzalez, one of this city’s literary stars, a woman of playful wisdom and unyielding conviction. Of the four actresses who performed in various stations in the space, I was familiar with Marisela Barrera and Natalie Goodnow. Mari and Natalie were brilliant, as I knew they’d be. But everyone shined. While the performance was happening, a film component of the work screen on wall off to side. The video had been shot by my good friend Pocha Pena. Also, the video included a performance by Mari’s adorable little girl, Inez. The whole space was wonderfully decorated by Deborah Vasquez; it was a chaotically cozy installation … a sort of familiar organic psychedelia. Kellen Kee McIntyre, Executive Director of Bihl Haus Arts should be incredibly proud of all the creative individuals and forces she brought together to make this special night.

Here’s one of the performers who I don’t know. She kicked some serious ass!

And then I headed home. I too have a grant thingy I need to work on. The problem isn’t just that the media I want to use as support material is on an absent computer, but that now as I look at the proposal form, I’m beginning to wonder if my planned proposal actually fits the criteria….

Probably I should just go to bed and work on it in the morning. Too bad I never made it to the store to replenish my coffee.

Now THAT’S upsetting!

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