Lights, Camera, Inaction: What Has Happened to SA’s Once Burgeoning Film Scene?

The lack of SA Filmmakers at 2016 SXSW

A still from local filmmaker Buddy Calvo’s upcoming feature Stage V, a perfect metaphor for the current filmmaking industry in SA.
A still from local filmmaker Buddy Calvo’s upcoming feature Stage V, a perfect metaphor for the current filmmaking industry in SA. Machina Cinema

It was around this time last year that the San Antonio film community was riding on cloud nine after MovieMaker Magazine named SA one of the 10 best big cities to live and work as a filmmaker. In 2011, San Antonio was listed as a “city on the rise.” In 2013, it had reached honorable mention status. So, last year, when the city finally broke into the Top 10, local filmmakers rejoiced.

The ranking, unfortunately, hasn’t translated into much significant film production in San Antonio over the last 12 months. The 2016 list by MovieMaker released in January no longer includes San Antonio (not even as an “on the cusp” city). 

The fact is, San Antonio is still far behind real up-and-coming moviemaking cities, including Albuquerque, New Orleans, and Atlanta, all of which are attracting Hollywood studios and major projects. Sadly, local filmmakers are not leading by example when it comes to making features with serious staying power or much substance.

So, where are all the San Antonio filmmakers? One place you won’t find them this year is at the South by Southwest Film Festival. With the exception of short films by local high school students Geoffrey Glenn and Alexia Salingaros (this is her third consecutive year at SXSW!), there are no feature or non-student shorts directed by San Antonio natives, this according to the SXSW press office. 

It’s not like SXSW was brimming with local films in the past, but at least there have been sporadic occasions. Last year, the feature Petting Zoo by Clark High School graduate Micah Magee screened at SXSW, as did the short Darknet Delivery by Lacey Dorn, a former high school student at Alamo Heights and Saint Mary’s Hall. In 2012, homegrown Ya’Ke Smith, a Sam Houston High School grad, made the SXSW lineup with his first feature, Wolf.

Sure, getting a film accepted into SXSW isn’t an end-all-be-all level filmmakers have to reach to find success, but it’s rather disappointing that a film festival as popular and well-regarded as SXSW (and only 80 miles away) is without San Antonio representation. It’s especially discouraging since the city is backing the launch of Choose San Antonio, a new nonprofit organization that is sending representatives to SXSW this year to promote San Antonio as a world-class city – a world-class city with an underachieving film community.

“It sucks that professional filmmakers didn’t get in and that we can’t make a mark this year,” said local filmmaker Buddy Calvo, who submitted a rough cut of his upcoming feature Stage V to SXSW, but did not get accepted.

To make that mark, however, it would take local filmmakers to make movies on a more consistent basis. The odds are not in their favor when SXSW receives 1,442 narrative feature submissions, as they did for this year’s festival, and San Antonio is a mere blip on their radar. At this point, the local filmmaking pool is more of a stagnant puddle.

“I can only hope the reason there were so few film made last year in San Antonio is because [local filmmakers] are trying to concentrate on making better films,” Calvo said. “But I don’t think that’s the case. I just think it was an off year.”

Local filmmaker Kerry Valderrama (Sanitarium) says one of the reasons for the lack of film production last year was because he and fellow San Antonio directors have made two other issues a priority: developing the San Antonio Film Society to put pressure on city officials to pass more competitive film incentives and opening the doors to Alamo City Studios, a new space for film production.

“With infrastructure and incentives, I believe we can really start getting back on track and start making movies,” Valderrama said before the Current broke the news to him that Felix Padrón, executive director of the City of San Antonio’s Department for Culture and Creative Development, which oversees the San Antonio Film Commission, had just retired the day before.

“I just met with him last week. It took forever for him to give his full attention to the incentives and to the studio – an entire year, actually. All that time it took to cultivate that relationship and now it might take another year.”

Making movies is a tough business, yes, but no matter how long it takes, it’s up to San Antonio filmmakers to decide if they want to spend that time creating something substantial or if they’ve become accustomed to simply watching the clock.

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