SAN ANTONIO — Southtown this weekend will play host to San Antonio’s newest film festival, an all-animals-all-the-time showcase that proves even our furry, scaly or feathered friends can anchor stories being shared with their human counterparts.
Animalis Fabula (or AniFab, for short) seeks to create new channels of understanding between man and critter. Community is at the festival’s core, and though AniFab will call San Antonio its new home after arriving here from Austin, its roots stretch further—to a place of historic devastation.
In 2005, Tom McPhee was a Michigander working in tech when Hurricane Katrina beared down on New Orleans. Like many others across the country, he made the trip south to help out how he could, his background as an amateur filmmaker encouraging him to bring his camera along.
The instinct would serve him well. When someone asked for a volunteer with a camera to help document the animals being rescued, the seeds were planted for a new life purpose.
“I saw my entire life immediately change in like a micro-moment,” McPhee says now, 17 years later. “They needed to have some sort of record that those animals came in, and so I started to film all of that. All of a sudden I was a fly on the wall for four days as more animals kept coming in. It was just an enormous task.”
Within three years that footage would eventually become “An American Opera,” McPhee’s first directorial effort. Another two years later, McPhee founded the World Animal Awareness Society (WA2S), an Austin-based nonprofit that fosters creative projects focused on animal welfare.
It’s also the channel through which McPhee organizes AniFab, an event that started out largely internal before he ramped up preparations for a more widely-available festival. The pandemic’s arrival put some of those plans on hold, but after taking AniFab to bigger audiences last year in Austin, McPhee hopes it will only grow in San Antonio—it's new permanent home.
“There’s this sense of like, ‘Hey man, if we just have community, we can make this go,” McPhee says. “That’s pretty unique for a space this big.”
McPhee has already been busy creating local partnerships to get AniFab’s San Antonio era off to a strong start. He’s teaming up with the husband-and-wife duo behind Arthouse at Blue Star to screen AniFab films at the Southtown complex starting Friday, hoping to attract crowds with a lineup of nearly 50 movies. Screenings will also be held at Blue Star Brewery.
Among the slate’s highlights are “All That Breathes,” a Cannes award-winning documentary making its Texas premiere; “Deep in the Heart,” the Matthew McConaughey-narrated appreciation of Lone Star State wildlife; and “Gigi and Nate,” a tale about a quadriplegic's burgeoning bond with a capuchin monkey. Cat-lovers should make sure to stop Friday afternoon for feline-centric minifestivals, while short-film aficionados will have ample opportunity to view blocks of bite-size cinema.
McPhee may be relatively new to the film festival scene, but one need only notice what he was wearing when speaking to KENS 5 over Zoom – a combination of a GoalKitty hat and Texas Theatre T-shirt – to know he means business with AniFab.
“We have the most powerful ability, when we tell a visual story, to be able to share it with lots of different people,” he said about the role film can play in creating new connections between humans and animals. “You and I can have a conversation and I can convey something to you. But if I actually share something with you that you can pass on or that lots of people can share in at the same time, it’s massively powerful.”
Between screenings, AniFab will also feature director Q&As, panels and filmmaking workshops. And, true to WA2S’s philanthropic roots, 25% of every ticket or pass sold at AniFab will go back to charity.
Animalis Fabula Film Festival runs Friday through Sunday in Southtown. Tickets are $20 for individual film blocks and the Sunday awards ceremony, with day passes and all-access passes available for $50 and $100, respectively. Buy here.
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