Saint Mary’s Hall senior and filmmaker Wilson Jones, 18, learned via a Friday afternoon group chat that the South by Southwest Film Festival was canceled. His short film Alex was selected to compete in the annual film, music and tech fest’s Texas High School Shorts Program.
Alex tells the story of a transgender teen who finds the strength to talk openly to his father about his sexual identity.
“I was sent a screenshot of a tweet from NBC News saying the festival was canceled,” Jones told the Current Friday evening. “It was heartbreaking.”
The City of Austin held a press conference earlier that day and officially announced SXSW was canceled over concerns about the novel coronavirus. As the World Health Organization revealed the number of cases would soon hit 100,000 around the globe, Austin decided to pull the plug, knowing that the event would attract thousands of visitors from around the world.
Although Jones understands why the city canceled the festival, that didn’t make it hurt any less, especially since screening a film at SXSW had been a dream of his since he started taking film classes as a freshman.
At least one student filmmaker from Saint Mary’s Hall has been accepted to SXSW every year —even before digital cinema instructor Will Underwood started teaching there in 2009. With that rate of success, Jones had seen a handful of schoolmates screen their films at the festival over the last four years, including Alexia Salingaros, Miranda Potter and Jade Jess.
“Watching other students from my school go to SXSW every year was very inspirational to me,” Jones said. “When I found out I got accepted, it was life changing.”
Jones got his first film set experience back in 8th grade, when Underwood asked him to star in one of his high school students’ short films. At the time, Jones didn’t know whether he wanted to continue attending the private school or jump to a public campus. When he saw what the cinema courses could offer, his decision became clear.
“I stayed at Saint Mary’s Hall because of cinema,” he said. “It’s that powerful to me. It has set me free in a way that no other artform could.”
As his cinema teacher for the last four years, Underwood knows just how much Jones is dedicated to his craft. In Jones, he sees a filmmaker who not only wants to make great movies, but also make ones that are reflective of what is happening in society.
“He would never make a film that he didn’t feel was important,” Underwood said. “He wants to make something that is going to start a conversation. His passion for using film to open up a dialogue is really what drives him.”
After graduation, Jones plans to attend Chapman University in Orange, California, and major in film production. Hopefully, by the start of school this fall, the sadness he’s feeling about SXSW will have subsided.
“As a filmmaker, I just wish I could have seen my work on the big screen,” he said. “But it’s just one festival. I’m sure there will be many more.”