Over the past 25 years, the San Antonio Film Festival has grown, transformed and matured into a premiere event for movie lovers across the city. And founder Adam Rocha has been leading the charge for the entire time.
In addition to starting and running the festival, commonly known as SAFILM, Rocha is also a cinema teacher at John Marshall High School. Once school lets out for the summer, the festival elevates him.
“It’s like a changing of the seasons,” Rocha said. “Celebrating our 25th year, our silver anniversary, means that I still get to do something that I really love to do. I get to work with seasoned vets and students on our team, big stars and notable and up-and-coming filmmakers.”
One of those up-and-comers is San Antonio native Danny Ramos. After working as an assistant to Oscar-winning director John G. Avildsen (Rocky) on the set of the 1994 rodeo drama 8 Seconds, he knew he wanted to make his own movies. In his debut feature, The Margarita Man, Ramos tells the story of Miguel Martinez (Anthony Guajardo), an irresponsible college student who’s forced to take a job as the guy who sets up the margarita machine at parties after his father (Jesse Borrego) financially cuts him off. The movie, which screens at SAFILM on July 31 at 9 p.m., was shot in San Antonio and also stars Danny Trejo (Machete), Pepe Serna (Scarface) and Barry Corbin (No Country for Old Men).
“It was really exciting for me to give back to San Antonio,” said Ramos, who now calls Los Angeles home. “A festival like SAFILM means a great deal for all filmmakers that live and work in the film industry. I knew that one day I was going to direct a movie and, now, my time has come.”
Director Aaron Lee Lopez, who co-wrote and produced The Margarita Man, is also premiering a new romantic comedy Teenage Girl: Valerie’s Holiday. The film, which screens August 2 at 10 p.m., stars San Antonio native Valeria Jauregui as the title character, a nerdy high school girl who pretends to be her cool albeit fake twin sister so she can become popular.
Lopez said he’s excited to be part of SAFILM’s celebration of arts in the Alamo City.
“SAFILM is a great festival for independent film, because it showcases such great independent talent from San Antonio,” he said. “The fact that the festival is in its 25th year and includes such diverse films is a testament to the power of the film festival and the local film community.” But SAFILM’s focus covers more than narrative filmmaking.
Ernie & Joe — a documentary that won a Special Jury award at the SXSW Film Festival in March — is screening August 4 at 6 p.m. The film follows Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro, a pair of San Antonio Police Department officers who are part of a special unit that responds to emergency calls involving mentally ill citizens. Ernie & Joe was recently purchased by HBO.
“I am delighted for a San Antonio audience to have the opportunity to see Ernie & Joe,” director Jenifer McShane said. “Who better than a local audience to see what is happening in their own backyard? My hope is that the work of the SAPD Mental Health Unit will continue to expand and that people realize its potential. Community awareness and support is needed.”
McShane, who’s based in Connecticut, said she enjoys screening her documentary at festivals because filmmakers can engage in meaningful ways with audiences.
“Film festivals are a terrific local resource, and I applaud all communities who can put in the extraordinary effort to organize one,” she said. “SAFILM is particularly special because the subjects of the film will be in attendance.”
This year, SAFILM will honor three Hollywood veterans, all of whom are scheduled to be on hand — actor and comedian Cheech Marin (Up in Smoke), San Antonio resident and Oscar-nominee Jackie Earl Haley (Little Children) and actress Cybill Shepherd (The Last Picture Show).
“What these three honorees all have in common is a massive catalog of amazing work that I grew up watching, appreciating and relating to,” Rocha said.
The Cheech, a short documentary on Marin’s lifelong advocacy of Chicano arts, Haley’s 2006 drama Little Children and Shepherd’s 2017 drama Being Rose are all scheduled to screen at the festival. Other stars confirmed for this year include actor Alex Wolff (Hereditary) for his directorial debut The Cat and the Moon; director Adrian Buitenhuis for her documentary I Am Patrick Swayze, about her late husband; and San Antonio native, studio executive and producer Marcia Nasatir (Rocky, Apocalypse Now).
A full schedule of SAFILM show times is available at safilm.com.
25th Annual San Antonio Film Festival
$59 (1-day pass); $99 (weekend badge); $169 (VIP badge)
July 30-August 4
Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, 100 Auditorium Circle, (210) 223-8624, tobincenter.org