Former San Antonio filmmaker Jim Mendiola has always been preoccupied with punk rock and South Texas culture, and he puts both of those obsessions to use on the pilot episode of Jammin, a planned music-documentary series on Sí TV, an English-language, Latino-oriented cable network.
Mendiola, who now lives in Los Angeles, devotes the pilot to San Antonio trio Girl in a Coma, and he does a masterful job of finding the compelling personal dramas that inform the band's work. The documentary tells the story of Phanie Diaz and Jenn Avala, junior-high classmates who bonded over their love of Nirvana and became determined to form a band. After a few years of struggling, both were stunned when Phanie's younger sister Nina, only 12 at the time, played them one of her original compositions and revealed herself to have a gorgeous voice and a distinctive writing style.
Mendiola's film explores the deep but tempestuous bond between Phanie (drums) and Jenn (bass). They seem to get on each other's nerves constantly, but remain resolute in their shared goal and loyalty to each other. Nina emerges as the group's detached, introspective visionary, the center of the band's creativity, but the most elusive personality. The Jammin pilot also features some hilarious moments with Ricky Valdez, the band members' roommate, who demonstrates some of his esoteric fighting techniques.
Determined to justify Nina's decision to quit high school, the band grapples with label rejection and a recording project in Austin that falls through. At one point, they recall a 2003 interview in which they expressed their eagerness to get a record deal, and realize that three years later, they're still in the same position. Nina provides the best line (and the best sense of the pressure facing the band) when, on the eve of a make-or-break trip to New York, she reveals that her mother asked for a signed record contract as a gift. Nina's response: "Mom, I'll get you a keychain."
Girl in a Coma ultimately performs at New York's Knitting Factory and meets Joan Jett and her producer, Kenny Laguna. As Mendiola's documentary reveals, the group impresses both Jett and Laguna, and the band is now on the verge of recording its debut album for Jett's label, Blackheart Records, with a release planned for 2007.
Mendiola's pilot episode of Jammin airs on Sunday, December 10 on Sí TV.
- Gilbert Garcia