click to enlarge screens-esperanza-thorn_330jpg
The Esperanza's Out, Other, & Beyond festival will screen D. Robin Hammer's eight-minute film short based on the life and death of 16-year-old Fred C. Martinez Jr., a transgendered, "two-sprited" Native American youth who was killed in a hate crime in 2001 in Cortez, Colorado. Courtesy photo
The Esperanza Peace & Justice Center debuts its newest film festival, Out, Other, & Beyond

Graciela Sánchez wants to change the way we think about films.

In the '80s, Sánchez, executive director of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, traveled to Nicaragua and made a short film about the post-revolutionary society. In part, her film was a response to the culturally negligent slide shows and videos by white liberals - both tourists and participants in the international brigades involved in rebuilding the country - that were making the rounds. Their representation forced her to ask, "Where are my people?" - the Chicana and Chicano volunteers, as well as the people of Nicaragua.

She followed this with a look at gays in Cuba in a 15-minute short that influenced the development of the award-winning film Fresa y Chocolate in addressing issues of homophobia and sexuality on the island. "How do we engage our local communities' involvement in global issues, when they may not have time to read - or have the resources to purchase a book or magazine?" she asks. "We learn in so many ways, not only the classroom, but through art, performance, and the moving visual image. The power of film allows people to dream, to learn, to explore subjects."

For Sánchez, filmmaking is a way to translate these complex issues to a broader community. Film festivals, she reasons, provide the means to reach them. Cultural worker and artist Michael Marínez agrees. "There was an amazing burst of work in the late '80s and early '90s by people of color and women" - films that would never get shown here.

In response to this need came the Esperanza's Other Americas film festival. At the inaugural festival in 1992, John Sayles, director of the South Texas parable Lone Star, discussed his Brother From Another Planet after it screened on the walls of public housing. "We were excited," says Marínez. "Other Americas took the films to the people, whether in coffeehouses or housing projects."

Friday, August 22 through
Sunday, August 24
$7 each night (sliding scale offered)
The Esperanza Peace & Justice Center
922 San Pedro
At the same time, Marínez and several others helped develop the Lesbian Gay Media Project. The Project established a hotline where, in Marínez' words, "people would learn about outrageous things that happened and act on it." The Out at the Movies film festival, spearheaded by Dennis Poplin, came from the work of the Media Project. The conservative backlash that culminated in 1997's defunding of the Esperanza Center specifically targeted the gay-and-lesbian-themed Out at the Movies. (Incidentally, Marínez points out, MujerArtes - the West Side pottery collective umbrellaed by the Esperanza - became the first program to feel the funding cuts.) These cuts eventually impacted the Esperanza's other programs, including its youth media project, art openings, and film festivals. Having heard similar stories of funding cuts from cultural arts organizations around the country, the Esperanza, in a bold and precedent-setting move, took the City of San Antonio to court - and won.

Out at the Movies differed from other gay and lesbian film festivals in that it promoted consciousness. "Just because we're gay it isn't the only thing that matters," Marínez points out. "As queers of color, do we leave our culture at the door?" Along the same lines, the Other Americas - its title an allusion to Michael Harringtons '70s-era critical expose of social problems - showed how things really are throughout the continent. Out at the Movies has been on hiatus since 2001; Other Americas since 1999. While the Esperanza has continued to screen movies since then - including the documentaries jenin, jenin, Navajo Boy, and Lourdes Portillo's Señorita Extraviada - it has not been part of a larger, concerted effort around film and video programming. All this changes with Other, Out, & Beyond.

Mirasol Riojas, festival coordinator, sees the three-day event as a way to generate interest around alternative media in San Antonio. Other, Out, & Beyond is a celebration and entrée into what the Esperanza has planned for the future, cinematically speaking. "In Other, Out, & Beyond, we are showcasing more of the films that share the Esperanza vision," Sánchez says. As part and parcel to this, Other Americas' scope is no longer hemispheric but worldwide, with films from Africa, Iran, and England. In contrast to the rapid-fire editing of music videos and action movies, Sánchez asks viewers to understand that different cultures make films in different ways. The pacing is different because it's a part of their culture.

The festival challenges the notion of film as a passive medium. Marínez' favorite way to see movies is with friends and talk about it afterwards. "We have a chance to have a discourse," he says. Dialogue is an integral part of the festival's structure; discussions following screenings allow the audience to talk about the films and connect it with issues and experiences. And, Riojas says, "if there's enough interest we'll bring it back and put a platica on."

"Seeing these films gives you a deeper and more complex way of looking at the world," Sánchez says. "It's important for people to look at film and see themselves - or the human conditions of other people and see it reverberate with who they are," Marínez agrees.

"Film and video are back at the Esperanza," proclaims Riojas. •


Friday 8|22

7pm opening reception

8-10pm screenings

Gertrudis Blues (dir. Patricia Carrillo Carrera, 10 min.) A contemporary reminder of the African presence in a Mexican community framed through the storytelling of Gertrudis Vásquez, an 80-year-old Afro-Mestizo, this short documentary "leaves you wanting more," Sánchez says.

Thorn Grass (dir. D. Robin Hammer, 8 min.) A work of creative fiction that is based on the life and death of 16-year-old Fred C. Martinez Jr., a transgendered, "two-spirited" Native American youth who was killed in a hate crime in 2001 in Cortez, Colorado.

In the Life: Anatomy of a Colorado Murder (documentary, 11 min.) Documentary covering the brutal murder of Fred C. Martinez Jr.

A Time for Drunken Horses (dir. Bahman Ghobadi, 80 min.) This Iranian film follows a group of orphaned Kurdish children - a little girl mothers her sickly brother, pausing as they cross between Iran and Iraq to give him the medicine he needs to survive - forced to grow up in order to survive in the midst of war. Sánchez calls it an "amazing, just amazing" film that shows audiences who is on the other side of the gun.

Saturday 8|23

6-10:30pm screenings

The Trials of Henry Kissinger (dir. Alex Gibney & Eugene Jarecki, 80 min.) Is Henry Kissinger a war criminal? Featuring newly declassified U.S. government documents and interviews with key insiders from Kissinger's White House years, the film sheds light on a career shrouded in secrecy.

Lumumba (dir. Raoul Peck, 115 min.) The first prime minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, had a vision of a united Africa that gained him powerful enemies such as the Belgian authorities and the CIA. With several conspiracies occurring at once, Lumumba met a brutal death in 1961.

Juchitán de las locas/Juchitán, Queer Paradise (dir. Patricio Henriquez, 65 min.) "What if the world understood you are queer and the world accepts you?" Marínez asks while thinking of this hour-long documentary which looks at a Mexican community where a wide range of sexualities exist and are celebrated.

Sunday 8|24

2pm brunch and live music

2:30-7pm screenings

Waiting for Happiness (dir. Abderrahmane Sissako, 95 min.) Riojas calls this an "amazing and visually captivating story" about tradition and home - why one might stay or leave - an example of the merging of art and politics. Set in a West African community, Happiness is, on its surface, a film about how people exchange and pass information from one generation to another as they undergo transitions resulting from cultural imperialism - although both Riojas and Marínez found it relevant to their own experiences as San Antonio Raza who have left, and returned, home.

The Edge of Each Other's Battles: The Vision of Audre Lorde (dir. Jennifer Abod, 60 min.) Riojas praises the way Audre Lorde connected multiple issues, calling her "the epitome of what we do at the Esperanza." This video, filmed two years prior to Lorde's death from cancer, addresses the complexity of who she was and how we can accomplish the difficult - but not impossible - work of bringing diverse communities across race, class, gender and sexuality to work together.

La Gloria: La Buena Gente de Esperanza (4 min.) This video explores issues of cultural genocide through the use of poetry and archival footage of the 73-year-old historic San Antonio building, La Gloria.

Division and Western (dir. Rachel Rinaldo, 28 min.) Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood welcomes visitors with two gigantic steel Puerto Rican flags, a symbolic affirmation of the community's cultural composition, as well as a visual reminder of their sense of pride. Is it enough to combat the gentrification of their community? Coupled with this experimental documentary are two shorts about La Gloria, the West Side dancehall that was demolished last year.

Blue Vinyl (dir. Judith Helfand & Daniel B. Gold, 96 min.) A quirky documentary which faintly echoes Roger & Me in the filmmakers' search for answers, this is a very personal account on how PVC plastic affects the director, her family and her community. San Antonio audiences should recognize the connections between this and the environmental justice work around the Kelly Air Force Base clean-up and Southeast Side power plants. •