Students of Cinema: San Antonio high schoolers screening shorts at 2022 SXSW Film Festival

click to enlarge A still from Bella Muñoz's Waiting for Divine Intervention. - Courtesy Photo / Bella Muñoz
Courtesy Photo / Bella Muñoz
A still from Bella Muñoz's Waiting for Divine Intervention.

The South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival, taking place March 11-19, is being held in person for the first time in two years. During this iteration, the fest has selected short films by five students from San Antonio-area campuses to screen as part of its Texas High School Shorts program. Here's a look at those young directors who make up the next generation of Alamo City filmmakers.

William Herff

Saint Mary's Hall senior William Herff thought he'd be thrilled if one of his short films was selected to screen at SXSW. Imagine his excitement when the festival accepted two.

His first, a thriller called Soles, is a home invasion story in which characters are only seen from their legs down. Think of Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left but as a Tom & Jerry cartoon.

"I wanted to do something experimental and test some of the limits of storytelling," Herff said. "I wanted to see if I could create tension and build suspense without showing faces."

In the comedy Football, Herff follows a young outcast tasked with shooting a hype reel for his high school gridiron team. Instead of a conventional highlight video, the student gets creative and takes an art-house approach. It's an idea Herff and his friends joked about when they, too, recorded their school's varsity high school football games so the team could analyze its plays.

"We always wondered what would happen if we made this really artsy, convoluted video for the team," Herff said. "In Texas, football is a big high school experience, but we were always on the outside looking in. So, we wanted to make a film from that perspective."

Bella Muñoz

In filmmaker Bella Muñoz's dark comedy Waiting for Divine Intervention, a demon named Carmilla takes human form and travels from Hell to New York City, where she cons her way into a young woman's life. Lacking the self-confidence needed to land a big promotion at her job, Mary makes a deal with the entity to learn how to be more assertive.

Muñoz, a senior at Saint Mary's Hall, was brainstorming ideas for a movie with a friend and thought the concept of a demonic diva could be fun. After pitching the story to her class, the group voted to work on Muñoz's film and submit it to festivals. The class traveled to NYC to make the movie.

"It was very stressful, but we were all very happy with the film," Muñoz said.

Angel Ruiz

In the experimental, stop-motion animated short Vegetable, filmmaker Angel Ruiz explores the psychological effects of medication relapse through the perspective of an oddly shaped clay creature shopping at the grocery store.

A senior at East Central High School, Ruiz describes herself as "creative or something." While not one to boast about herself, Ruiz's A/V production teacher David McGinnis is more than willing to brag about his student's work, which he describes as "wholly unique."

"I've been blown away by Angel's facility with mixed media, stop-motion and post-production effects to create work that is genuinely challenging and not just weird for its own sake," McGinnis said. "If I knew where her creativity came from, I would bottle it because Angel is absolutely relentless."

Kyle Ward

A junior at Marshall High School, Kyle Ward has always enjoyed watching documentaries because they're "real and emotional stories." In his doc Gone, the student took a trip to Pflugerville, Texas, to learn how the community has been affected by brisk development, including Tesla's new manufacturing facility scheduled to open next month. His family owns land near the factory.

"[Gone] was a passion project," Ward said. "It hit me at the heart because it was personal to my family. I wanted to explore nature versus industry. What happens when all this farmland is gone?"

Ward remembers how different his family's farmland looked when he was a child. He hopes his film reaches viewers who might be quick to accept a payout for their land from corporate interests.

"This is the same land where I would go out and play as a kid," Ward said. "Now, there's a Costco on it."

Makayla Esparza

Warren High School senior Makayla Esparza's animated short In Person Learning explores the feeling of isolation when a student goes back to school after staying home for a year because of the pandemic. Can she calm her nerves after she meets a new friend?

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