SAN ANTONIO — If the 2022 San Antonio Film Festival had an official theme, it might be that you need only look around you to find a compelling story. Even that internet-famous bird by one’s side could become the subject of a hit documentary.
At least it could if you’re Dallas native Cheryl Allison, whose viral bond with a goose named Honk is captured in her movie appropriately named after the animal. The 47-minute documentary "Honk" will screen Friday afternoon at the Radius Center downtown, having already won awards at festivals in Maryland and San Francisco.
“Once I started posting on social media and people became very engaged in his story, I knew that this was something I should document in film,” said Allison, adding she was motivated to spotlight the issue of geese being illegally and dangerously dumped at local parks.
“I hope that through Honk’s story, people will realize that animals have so much to teach us if we just stop to listen. Can you imagine if I wouldn’t have stopped when he came running up to me? If I wouldn’t have gone back the next day?”
“Honk” is one of 220 movies – including 44 features – slated to screen as part of the San Antonio Film Festival, which runs Tuesday through Sunday. Also in the mix are four free-to-attend panels discussing animation, editing and the business side of making movies, along with an awards ceremony set for 5 p.m. Sunday.
'Back to normal'
Approaching 30 years at the helm as executive director, SAFF Founder Adam Rocha is picking right up where he left in 2021.
It might be more accurate, however, to say he’s picking up where he left off in 2019. For the first time since that last pre-pandemic festival, SAFF’s typically robust lineup will be screened entirely in person and feature fresh festival selections. Last year’s festival played mostly as a rerun of 2020’s offerings, a way to give those filmmakers the chance to interact with physical crowds after 2020’s all-virtual event.
“Back to normal,” Rocha said about this year’s in-person festival. “I mean, that's what films are in a movie theater. You can look to your left or right and say, 'Did you see what I just saw?'”
As with previous years, SAFF offers a variety of short-film blocks built around certain themes or genres to appease any movie-lover. Among them, a collection of comedy shorts; a selection for horror enthusiasts; a block of Latino stories; and a group of family-centric short films. Tickets for individual shorts blocks range from about $7 to about $12, depending on the volume of each collection.
Single-day passes are also available for about $61 each, while the most enthusiastic of San Antonio movie-watchers can snag a festival pass for $155. Those ticket-buyers will be treated to more than just stories from Texas artists; if the potential for compelling stories surrounds us, that means stories can come from anywhere.
That includes Brazil, China, Italy and Thailand—countries represented in this year’s festival, among others.
“We've been doing this 28 years, and the word's gotten around of what we do,” Rocha said about the international presence. “When you come to our show as a filmmaker, you're not a number. You really are recognized.”
James Hughes is one of those international filmmakers who’s learned about the festival’s identity nearly 5,000 miles away.
The London-based writer-director said that while he would’ve liked to make his first Texas visit for his short drama “When the Rain Sets In,” about a young couple at a crossroads, news of its SAFF selection validated his desire to eventually turn it into a feature-length film.
“I could not stop smiling all day,” Hughes said. “To be selected for such a competitive and incredible festival is a real buzz and honor for me.”
For “When the Rain Sets In,” screening Friday evening, Hughes partnered with major-league editor Patrick J. Don Vito, Oscar-nominated for his work on the 2018 Best Picture winner “Green Book.” His mere presence, Hughes said, made the four-day shoot even more efficient.
“Editors teach you how to be better filmmakers,” he said. “The famous directors always speak how they are constantly learning from their editors, and it is so true.”
Stories with San Antonio connections
At SAFF there are examples of stories improved by their editing, and there are stories that evolved from smaller origins to reach their full potential.
In the latter group is “Backstreet to the American Dream," LA journalist Patricia Nazario’s filmmaking debut. A full-fledged documentary that examines the modern food truck boom through the lens of the immigrant experience, it grew from humble beginnings as a radio assignment on the conflict between food truck operators and real estate developers.
“I knew right away that there was a bigger story than my station wanted to cover, so I started hiring freelancer photographers/videographers immediately,” said Nazario, who went on to spend the next decade capturing the story of the food truck revolution from the industry’s southern California hub. “It felt like a slow-moving freight train at times.”
Having assembled a team of consultants, animators, editors and sound remixers while relying on “side hustles” to make sure they get paid for their work, Nazario’s decade-long journey to make the bilingual “Backstreet to the American Dream” a reality is the kind of passionate effort Rocha seeks to showcase.
And while the documentary focuses on the LA food truck scene with the occasional sojourn to Mexico, Nazario acknowledged there’s a natural resonance to its SAFF selection.
“The documentary is about food, which is central to the culture in San Antonio,” she said. “Beyond all that, the inspirational story is also about so much more: pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps, community and family values.”
Also screening this week is a cultural celebration of a different kind, and with a more explicit San Antonio connection. “You’ve Succeeded: The Life & Times of Dimas Garza” saw local DJ Chuco Garcia put on his filmmaking cap to pay homage to the eponymous west-side native and Chicano crooner.
The movie, which tells the late Garza’s story through close acquaintances, music historians and archival footage of his performances, closes out SAFF Sunday evening.
“People from San Antonio think, 'There's no musicians that did real good here in San Antonio,' pero we have a lot of history here,” Garcia said. “That's my goal, is to try to document these artists like Sunny Ozuna and Rudy Tee and all these old bands from back in the day and try to give them their shine.”
Those looking to support homegrown filmmakers will have several opportunities to do so this week. In addition to “The Life & Times of Dimas Garza,” P.G. Marlar’s coming-of-age drama “Grow Up” and Brian Allen’s tribute to the creative process “Two Dozen Songs From Now” round out the selected features from San Antonio directors. The work of creatives from other Texas cities like Austin, El Paso, Universal City and Harlingen are among the offerings as well.
Meanwhile, other bite-sized, Alamo City-produced movies are being showcased in various short-film blocks, many of them grouped with international fare. Rocha said that’s intentional, and the reason goes beyond providing audiences with a wide-ranging experience.
"When we put them side by side with international films or films that have bigger budgets, it gives life to these local filmmakers and lets them understand what film festivals do,” he said. “Hopefully they get the bug, so to speak, and enter their films into bigger festivals.”