Beeville — Being a filmmaker in South Texas has its drawbacks.
For one, there aren’t any festivals in the area.
Sure, we have the South by Southwest film festival, which now seems to be flooded with celebrities. And now, most big studios have a tendency to premier their latest Hollywood features there, too.
But that’s still a bit too north to be considered South Texas.
There’s the Rockport Film Festival, but they didn’t accept “SCUM” as one of their submissions, so there may be some bias against them.
But for Corpus Christi, the largest city in South Texas, a film festival has been largely absent.
The closest thing we have is the Corpus Christi 7 Day Film Project, which lets people create teams and shoot a 5- to 7-minute short film, which then screens a few weeks later, followed by an awards ceremony.
And up until a few years ago, Corpus Christi was the largest city in Texas that didn’t have a film commission.
So, hearing about the South Texas Underground Film Festival – or the S.T.U.F. Festival as it’s affectionately known – was a surprise and a near shock.
Having 185 films playing the length of the festival was hard to grasp, too.
Anthony Pedone is the creator of the Victoria Texas Independent Film Festival, which occurred earlier this year for the first time, also.
We had met there and again this past weekend in Corpus Christi, where he’s the director of the Film Exchange program and brought films from all over the world to play in our back yard.
“We have six festivals,” Pedone said. “One in Brooklyn, one in New Orleans, one in Hamburg, Germany, one in Austin and Victoria, and we most recently added Corpus Christi.
“So, what we do is we program films in all six of those festivals, and then each of these festivals selects three of their best films; then they send them out to RxSM (Self-Medicated Film Expo), then we choose three of those films to come to Victoria to screen and compete for the crossroads award.”
One of the films he brought was “This Way of Life,” which starts out as a documentary about a wild horse trainer in New Zealand but turns into a tale of a family’s struggle to survive after the main character’s father burns down their house and steals all of their horses, leaving the family of six to fend for themselves against the elements.
One of the most beautiful documentaries this filmmaker has seen (and he’s seen a lot), it’s also very touching and sincere and was short listed for Oscar competition last year.
This is one of the many reasons filmmakers attend film festivals: For the chance to talk to the filmmakers about their movies and see what other people are making and doing.
It’s always exciting to find a hidden gem in all the commotion and networking of festivals.
But not all the films are of this quality.
All the films coming from the film exchange are very well made and professional, but it’s the other films that leave much more to be desired.
Which, in turn, can also be a learning experience for up-and-coming movie makers.
While only able to catch a handful of films while attending the festival, the ones watched weren’t too impressive.
The 18-minute short film “Freak” was amateurish at best.
Bad audio and editing kept the main actor, a gay performer in drag trying to get a part in some movie or play as his world crumbles around him, from letting the audience focus on his talent.
“Freak” was filmed in California and, by that merit alone, one expects more than what they actually got.
“Polly, Jennifer and Melissa,” from Australia, is another amateurish mess.
It’s wannabe avant-garde style is commended, but with a cheap prog-synth soundtrack, it becomes annoying very quickly. And it’s only five minutes long.
Being a comic book fan, “I Need a Hero” seemed a pretty safe bet.
The short documentary, clocking in at 15 minutes, was about breaking the gay barrier in the comic book industry – be it comic book characters in mainstream books or the independent creators – telling their life stories to try and help other gay readers find comfort in their lifestyle.
While the material was good and the interviews solid, it was the cheap graphics between subjects and bad audio that really drug the film down and made it less appealing and not so interesting.
What is constantly clear throughout many festivals is that anyone can make films.
And, at its essence, that’s what film festivals are all about.
They’re a showcase for people to show their work and hopefully learn from the audience’s reactions as well as interactions.
As opposed to the VTXFF, which had no local films playing at that festival, Corpus Christi hasn’t forgotten its residents, with a few film showcases displaying local talent.
Over the years, numerous people have walked up and asked how they can make films. How do they know if they’re good?
The simple answer is just do it and show it.
Film whatever you want and learn as you go. Film school can be as cheap as walking in your back yard with a cell phone and shooting something you think is interesting.
And, when festivals pop up near your hometown, head on down and see what’s happening.
Talk to other local filmmakers, because there’s a really good chance they were once in your shoes.
If all the film festivals attended over the years prove anything, it’s that the worst filmmaker is the one that doesn’t make films at all.
The S.T.U.F. Festival runs through Thursday, Sept. 27. To get a schedule of events and ticket information visit www.southtexasundergroundfilm.com
Paul Gonzales is the entertainment writer at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 116, or at thescene@mySouTex.com.