Dave Rios of KONO 101.1 interviews San Antonio Native Gil Birmingham, star of Hell or High Water, which premiered the San Antonio Film Festival, and whom you may know from Twilight, The Lone Ranger… even Rango!
The 22nd annual San Antonio Film Festival may have wrapped up over 145 screenings last week; however, there was one film that stood out from the rest with a little help from a local actor.
Gil Birmingham, whom many know him as Billy Black from the Twilight Saga and Daniel Lanagin from “House of Cards,” transformed himself into the Texas Ranger for the film “Hell or High Water.” Birmingham could not be happier that the film premiered in Texas, especially at a festival that gives locals interested in film the opportunity to show their finished product.
“I think it’s wonderful that we have these film festivals, in particular this one, because there are so many great films that have limited resources to get distribution,” Birmingham told La Prensa. “Perhaps the only time people get to see these films are when directors and actors come together, so it’s great that the public comes out to support it.”
The film is on a mission with Texas Rangers Alberto Parker (Birmingham) and Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) to capture bank robbers Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine), who are also brothers, in a race to justice or away from it. However, there is a double edge sword in the movie when taking sides between the heroes and villains.
There is a balance in the film that will shock and give tears to many throughout the movie, especially when the cause behind the crimes is revealed.
It is one that makes you question that if the cops catch them, then the brothers will no longer bring humor, seriousness and a relatable tone to the story. However, if the cops do not catch them, they will allow more banks to lose money and put people’s lives on the line.
Birmingham explained that when he first got the script, he was up to the challenge of being a part of the storyline dilemma knowing that he will be on the front of it all.
“It always starts with the script. You always want to find the structure and that the writing that really relates and resonates for you as well as the characters,” continued Birmingham. “You are asked to portray and interact with other characters, which I think is the strongest strength of this movie. It is a character driven piece that everyone can relate to when viewing the relationship with the two partners and the two brothers.”
After going into one of the best films of the year, Birmingham is unsure about what direction to steer towards for his next films. Nevertheless, he did encourage those interested in being a part of the film industry to follow their dreams without any fear.
His words and wisdom may even encourage many to be a part of next year’s San Antonio Film Festival.
“I think it is always a matter of following your passion. If it is something you have in your heart and you feel destined to do this work, then it is the matter of perseverance and discipline – just stay with it,” concluded Birmingham.
“Hell or High Water” will be in theatres later this year.
Last week’s San Antonio Film Festival, held at the Tobin Center, brought a wealth of fine films and talented filmmakers to town. Among the many impressive works unspooling at the fest was San Antonio native Robert L. Camina’s powerful documentary, Upstairs Inferno.
Upstairs Inferno chronicles an all-but-forgotten arson fire that occurred at a gay bar in New Orleans in 1973. Until the recent Orlando atrocity, it was the worst gay mass murder in U.S. history, and Camina’s film vividly recalls the events of that terrible night by way of vintage photos and footage (some appropriately shocking) as well as new interviews with survivors, family and friends. It documents an appalling time in American history when the LGBT community was reviled and ignored by government officials and the public at large.
Mr. Camina was kind enough to talk with me about the film from his home in Dallas.
What motivated you to take on this project?
My previous film was called Raid of the Rainbow Lounge, about a controversial raid that happened in 2009 in a gay bar in Fort Worth, Texas. It happened on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and the parallels were haunting. I had friends who were at the bar that night, so I followed the story from the very beginning.
After the raid, Fort Worth eventually became a leader in LGBT equality, and my documentary showed that evolution — how building a coalition between communities and law enforcement and city officials — it’s better to be proactive than reactive.
We screened that film in multiple festivals, and at every screening I invited police chiefs, mayors, city council members and the public at large to be part of a roundtable or a forum to reassure people in these cities that such an occurrence couldn’t happen in their town. So we were using the film to educate and enlighten; it was a bit of an activist movie. We told the story fairly and responsibly from both sides.
Someone who had seen the film and heard what we’d been doing (and eventually became an associate producer on Upstairs Inferno) approached me and thought our team would be right to tell the story of the UpStairs Lounge fire. He asked me if I’d heard about the incident, and I hadn’t. I thought I knew my gay history!
I was appalled. I was 41 at the time, and when I quizzed my friends, it became clear that people my age and younger simply didn’t know about the tragedy. Once informed, I considered it to be on par with Stonewall and Harvey Milk and other benchmark moments in LGBT history, so I thought it was important to tell the story in order to preserve its memory and have it told by the people who experienced it.
How did you manage to locate the survivors and witnesses who participated in the film?
It was quite a process to find the interviewees. It was vital that the story be told by the people who were there, not just third parties. There’s something about seeing and hearing the people who actually lived through it that resonates with an audience. Otherwise, you can just read about it in a newspaper or a book or a blog.
Thank goodness for Facebook and social networking. I just hammered a lot of search terms out online. Sometimes it led me to what I was looking for; sometimes it led me to a dead end, but I was eventually able to network and contact people.
When I did locate the survivors, I wanted to build a relationship with them first and let them know who I was, that I was reputable and I wasn’t looking to exploit them or their families and friends. Above all, I was looking to honor those who were lost in the fire and those that were left behind. It was a long process, finding those people and building those relationships.
Like the Reverend Perry, who spoke so passionately and whose bright, tear-rimmed eyes just stick in the memory when you watch the film.
His interview was our first, believe it or not. Reverend Perry is of a certain age, and his health is questionable, so I wanted to make sure that we got him on camera. I didn’t want to wait and regret not getting the interview.
He was a way to break the ice with my crew. They knew the story, but as I said, there’s something about hearing from someone who was actually there that really resonates, and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room when he spoke. That pain, even though it was 40 years old, is still right there and raw. You can just feel it.
Well, there’s still no justice, really.
No. If you define justice as a suspect being identified with certainty and charged and put on trial and convicted, there is no justice. There’s no closure. There was a primary suspect identified, but it was never confirmed whether he started the fire. A lot of people ask me why the story has been forgotten, and I think that’s why. There was no justice, there was no silver lining like Stonewall, which was the launch of a civil rights movement. So that pain has just remained.
The government reaction at the time — nothing — was certainly a part of what was unjust. How do you compare the reaction to the Upstairs fire with the recent atrocity in Orlando?
Back in 1973, you didn’t have the mayor or the governor or the president getting on television and saying anything about the UpStairs Lounge victims. In the wake of Pulse, you have the president of the United States going on TV and saying the words “LGBTQ” and “prayers for the victims.” You have so many politicians and leaders now supporting the community. You have citizens lining up to give blood and an outpouring of support.
A month ago, the GoFundMe for the Orlando victims had raised $7.2 million. In 1973, they raised $17,900. To adjust that for inflation, that’s about $97,000. That’s a stark contrast. In the wake of Pulse, there was an immediate outpouring of compassion. In 1973, there was no such compassion.
How long did the project take, from concept to completion?
About three years. We debuted it on the 40th anniversary of the Upstairs Lounge fire — June 24, 2015, in New Orleans. We debuted it with survivors, witnesses, victims’ families, all flying in from around the country to attend the screening. Many of these people hadn’t seen each other in 40-plus years, and never before had people touched by this single event been in the same room, so the screening in and of itself was somewhat historic.
Speaking of screenings, what are the most memorable responses you’ve gotten from audiences?
I would say one of my favorite and most touching moments happened at the Austin Film Festival last fall. It was our first mainstream festival and our Texas premiere. I wanted to have something to remember it by, so I put an Austin Film Festival poster outside the screening room and asked people to sign it on their way out. Someone wrote, “Thank you for making this film. You changed the way I view the LGBT community.”
That really touched my heart, because that’s what we’re looking to do — to change hearts and minds with this film. It’s easier for people to hate and fear what they don’t understand. I want to show them that the community is just like everybody else — they hurt, they love, they grieve — they have the same human emotions everyone feels. So the person who wrote that really put a lump in my throat. It made my proud that we’re helping out with that dialogue about the state of LGBT equality.
Are you still in touch with people who participated in the film?
Oh, yeah. They’re all family. I got close to them. You can’t help but get close to them. And the 32 people who were lost in the UpStairs Lounge fire — they’ve become my family. I grieve for them as if I’d known them, because I did get to know them.
Regina Adams, from the film, lost Reggie Adams, the love of her life, in the fire. She had not talked publicly about it before. She just doesn’t like to do it because it’s so painful. She was the last person to agree to be a part of the film because every time she talks about the fire, it takes her forever to get over it, but she did it.
At a fundraising event I attended two weeks prior to the New Orleans premiere, she got onstage and said that I was like her son. I started to cry, of course, because I wasn’t expecting anything like that. And when other people got up and said I was their hero for helping to keep the memory of their friends and loved ones alive, well..
I’ve never taken that for granted, and I’m honored for them to be part of my family.
When you went to the site and saw the commemorative plaque, how did you feel?
It is touching when you see people stop and read the plaque, because it is on a side street and not a place you’d expect to see such a memorial. But when the 40th anniversary hit and more people started to learn about the fire, it gained traction. So, as people walk by the memorial now, they understand the significance of the plaque, that it’s not just some marker. It is indeed a memorial.
More touching for me is the inside of the building. The floor that once was occupied the Upstairs Lounge is now the storage space for the bar that’s downstairs, the Jimani. It’s the same bar that was there in 1973, but instead of the dad owning the place, now it’s the son. The son witnessed the fire; he was there at the site when the building was burning.
Later, when he took over ownership, he said that he wasn’t going to clean the walls, the char around the windowsills, the staircase and its burnt wood that’s falling apart. He wanted to leave it there as a memorial, as a reminder of what had happened there. That is even more moving, in that you’re actuallytouching history there.
How can people see the film? Are you getting close to more substantial distribution?
We’re working toward that. Our ultimate goal is to obtain wider distribution on DVD, VOD — every avenue of distribution we can possibly get. It’s a film everyone should see because the themes are universal. They cross ethnicity, they cross religion, they cross sexual identity. These are stories of family, of friends, of faith and forgiveness.
What I’ve asked people to do is to go to our Facebook page and “like” the film and ask their friends to like it as well, because distributors are looking to social media more than ever to acquire product. Of course, they want to acquire popular films, so the more likes a movie gets, the more appealing it is to them.
So that’s one way folks can help us to get Upstairs Inferno to be seen all over the world.
The 2016 SAFilm Fest reeled in a full week of good, bad and questionable movies from all around Texas, the United States and Europe.
Although over 100 films were screening at the Tobin Center and the Pearl Stable, there were three memorable films that La Prensa would like for you to keep in mind.
The questionable: “29 Light Years”
Rating: 3/5 stars
Director Erik Mauck drives into the story of Adam (Brett Tribe) who is about to turn 30 and still works as a pizza delivery man. The job has kept him on his feet since high school; however, he’s never really thought outside the pizza box to study, travel or even consider a serious relationship. As his stagnant status gets a hold of him, he must decide what the next step is.
The quality of the film may have been low-budget, but the story successfully delivers the message to keep going through life without reservations. Tribe painted a picture that being an adult is not easy, but that it was time to get his act together and decide if he should take affirmative action or stay in the same place he has been in for more than 10 years.
The bad: “Short Wave”
Rating: 2/5 stars
The sci-fi/horror film takes you on a psychological journey after Isabel (Juanita Ringeling) and Josh Harris (Cristobal Tapia Montt) lose their child. Two years later, the couple relocates to a secluded research facility where Josh and his research partner, Thomas, are on a mission to find a cryptic shortwave radio signal.
However, the first person to catch the wave is Isabel, who is caught dangerously hallucinating of past memories and staring at a dangerous creature. Once both men find out, they must decide whether they should pursue the sinister wave before Isabel goes static.
Although it was classified as a horror movie, all one will find is too much emotion and friction between the couple. Going back into the past for half of the movie, and using indie rock to describe the love story between Isabel and Josh keeps the movie at a static rate.
The good: “Hell or High Water”
After their mother died, brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) come together to become bank robbers to save their family land before it goes through foreclosure. Vengeance seems to be theirs until they run into foul-mouthed Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges), who is looking for one last triumph on the eve of his retirement.
As the brothers plot a final bank heist to complete their plan, a showdown looms at the crossroads where the last honest law man and a pair of brothers, with nothing to live for except family, collide.
There are always two sides of the story, leaving many audience members torn about which side to take. Foster’s character was the one to look out for as he robbed banks without any reservations or even talking to a dangerous Comanche Indian.
He was not only the enemy, but he was also the life of the party that you were rooting for to permanently escape from the police. Ultimately, “Hell or High Water” was the eye-catching movie of the festival that kept you on your toes waiting for what was going to happen next.
The San Antonio Film Festival presented Marcia Nasatir with a Lifetime Achievement Award on July 31st during their brunch ceremony at O’liva Restaurant. While this meant the world to Marcia, being a native of San Antonio, Executive Director Adam Rocha revealed his petition to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to honor our CLASSY BROAD with a very special honorary award (a.k.a OSCAR)!!
Please join us and… SIGN THE PETITION HERE!
Once again, the CLASSY BROAD team was overwhelmed by the generosity and support from our friends in San Antonio. We’d love to especially thank Adam & Susan from the SA Film Festival, Dana Ward from the Thomas Jefferson High School Historical Preservation Society, and Anna Catalani & Wes Hughes for making sure we had transportation in San Antonio — we are truly grateful for your continued friendship!
n the space of three years, singer/actor Sebastien De La Cruz has gone from being San Antonio’s beloved “Little Mariachi” on “America’s Got Talent” to a killer in a new movie.
His dark role in “Birth of a Killer,” a short film co-starring Ricardo Chavira of “Scandal” and “Desperate Housewives” fame, will screen Saturday at the San Antonio Film Festival. It is certainly a far cry from the charming mariachi performances that wowed the judges on “Talent.”
He was only 10 then yet made it all the way to the NBC show’s semifinals.
A year later, the tiny but big-voiced singer donned full mariachi garb once again for national TV, belting the national anthem at an NBA finals game between the Spurs and Miami.
When some ugly bigotry erupted on Twitter, he handled it with courage and class, prompting an outpouring of support from around the country and another invitation by the Spurs.
At age 12, he was the subject of Eva Longoria’s ESPN documentary about that fiery flap, once again drawing kudos from impressed viewers.
Now a teenager, and looking less like a kid and more like a thoughtful young man, De La Cruz can be seen in his first lead role in a movie.
In the 35-minute “Birth of a Killer,” he plays a tortured teen from a fractured home that’s marked by drugs and abuse. After befriending a professional killer (Chavira) during a night full of violence, he seems fast on his way to becoming a hitman himself.
De La Cruz delivers a sensitive tour-de-force in “Killer” that more than pleased writer and director Daniel Maldonado.
After meeting the teen and his family, the filmmaker, who was writing the script at the time, was so impressed that he wrote the role of the kid with De La Cruz in mind.
“I started making the decision in my head that I may write (the movie) around him,” Maldonado said in a phone chat. “Sebastien is very charismatic and genuine, a really bright kid who takes direction really well.
“At the same time, I knew it would be challenging because it’s his first major acting role,” Maldonado said. “It was really great working with him. Sebastien loved the script. He really likes these types of action films, Robert Rodriguez style. So it was easy for him to say yes.”
Maldonado got the idea for the film from a news story.
“It was about an 11-year- old who was apprehended by authorities in Mexico,” he said. “It was discovered he was a hitman who started at 9 or 10. So, I got to thinking: How do you go from being a child to this world of crime? How can you be so young and yet be already embedded in such a dark world?
“But I knew I wanted to do something set in San Antonio. And I got to thinking about the boy’s character and wanted to make him someone local.”
He shot all around San Antonio, downtown and on the city’s East Side.
“I wanted to find a unique way to incorporate the city in shots,” Maldonado said, “feature the darker underside of San Antonio.”
One of the scarier scenes takes place in a cemetery — located off New Braunfels Avenue and Commerce Street) — where the boy visits the grave of his dad and is threatened by some weird characters.
Also memorable is a shootout between Chavira’s character and violent patrons in a bar while the boy looks on.
“We filmed that at the South Side Bar, which is right down the street from my grandma’s house,” Maldonado said. “It was easy to write that scene, incorporating the boy, because my grandma used to take me to the bar after school.”
The director said he was thrilled to get an actor of Chavira’s caliber for the film. In fact, Chavira liked the script so much, he said, that he also is an executive producer on “Birth of a Killer.”
Does he feel young De La Cruz, who starts at Karen Wagner High School soon, has a future in motion pictures?
“Definitely. Sebastien picks up on things quickly, both in front of the camera and behind it. He also has shown interest in writing and doing his own films.”
From: March Magazine
SA Film Fest has another one in the books and if this is any indication of next year, the Alamo City has much to boast about.
Not only were 145 films screened, but 29 of them were by local filmmakers. The headliner, “Hell or High Water,” even starred San Antonio native Gil Birmingham. The musician and veteran of film and television served as a reminder that star power is not reserved for the traditional cradles of the film industry.
“This is a neo-western and being able to screen it in my hometown is very thrilling for me,” said Birmingham. “It great that we have this because we have so many great films that have limited resources to get distribution and this may be the only time people can come out and see them. So it’s great that people support them.”
“Hell or High Water” follows Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), a pair of Texas Rangers as they hunt down two bank robbers, Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) and his brother Toby (Chris Pine), in a race to justice or away from it. With a film that strikes such a delicate and effective balance between humor and tragedy, the ambiguity of whether all crimes are done for malicious intent forces the audience to question their sense of morality.
“Hell or High Water” marked the peak of the annual event that turned 22 this year. It also made it possible for the audience to ask Birmingham some questions after the screening to get some insight about his role and his longevity in such a competitive industry.
“I play a Texas Ranger and being from this state helps [a great deal]. Also my father was a career police officer so I had that to draw on as well including a really good technical advisor in Joaquin Jackson. So all of that was very helpful,” Birmingham continued.
Amid an expansive Lone Star setting, the production of the film centered around the dusty little hamlets that dot the state. Even the rustic confines of traditional Texas ranches served as a beautiful backdrop for the uncertainty and violence of robbing banks for a living.
For Birmingham, there is no hard and fast rule for what project to choose next. For that matter, he quickly pointed out that aspiring filmmakers and actors would follow a similar journey as him in terms of following one’s passion.
“It’s always a matter of people following the passion in your heart. If you feel you’re destined to do this work, then it’s a matter of the perseverance and the discipline to stay with it and follow through,” Birmingham said.
The selection process for the star of over 40 films returns to the writing. Scripts must resonate with him as they must for any actor. Among the many reason he chose to act alongside Bridges was relationship dynamics between his character and his law enforcement partner and that between Foster and Pine’s characters.
The CBS Films release opens in limited cities across the country later this year.
If you’re looking for something fun to do this weekend, head on over to the Tobin Center for the 22nd Annual San Antonio Film Festival. Adam Rocha is the executive director of the event.
“If you’re interested in learning about Hollywood. If you’ve always had that hankering to get involved in the movie business this is the place to do it. You can hang out with celebrities, you can hang out with executives and learn how they do it in Hollywood and we’re doing it here in San Antonio,” said Rocha.
This weekend is the final two days of the event, featuring 145 films from around the world.
“We’ve been around for 22 years, this is the largest film festival in south Texas, we’re very proud of that. And it’s happening this weekend at the Tobin Center. And it’s a very beautiful facility. We have three screenings going on simultaneously,” explained Rocha.
Saturday night meet Gil Birmingham, a San Antonio native and actor featured in Hell or High Water with Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine. Then watch the San Antonio premiere of the film. On Sunday, 90-year-old San Antonio native Maricia Nasatir will be given a lifetime achievement award for her work in the film industry. She was the first executive at a major Hollywood studio; United Artists back in the 70’s.
“She green-lit Rocky, Apocalypse Now, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and she was also the producer of the Big Chill,” Rocha explained.
There are also free workshops going on. This is definitely an event you don’t want to miss!
By Thea Setterbo, Public Engagement Officer of The City of San Antonio
Date Night: Highest Heaven
It’s Date Night at the San Antonio Museum of Art, which means two-for-one admission plus live music, a cash bar and art scavenger hunts. Along with tours of Highest Heaven: Spanish and Portuguese Colonial Art, the evening also will include an outdoor screening of The Motorcycle Diaries and the chance to make your own art. Mr. Meximum will be on-site selling and outside picnics also are permitted. Friday, 7-11 p.m. San Antonio Museum of Art, 200 W. Jones Ave., 210-978-8100, samuseum.org
San Antonio Film Festival
Whether an aspiring film industry pro, or simply an avid moviegoer, there’s something for everyone during the last few days of the San Antonio Film Festival. On Friday and Saturday morning, kids are invited to the Children’s Film Festival at Pearl and there are also panels scheduled covering everything from young indie filmmakers to the basics of the movie industry. Evenings feature screenings of shorts and full-length features, including some created by or written about San Antonians. Thursday-Sunday, various times. Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, 100 Auditorium Circle, safilm.com
Happy hour is getting a fair-themed twist on Friday during this fundraiser for SA Youth. Try a Cotton Candy Martini, Fried Tequila or boozy ice cream plus appetizers that will include everything from fried pickles and mini corn dogs to caramel apples and beignets. All proceeds benefit SA Youth, which provides after school programs to at-risk students. Friday, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Frost Bank Tower Plaza Club, 100 W. Houston, St., 210-227-4191, sanantonioyouth.org
The Magician’s Agency
This stage show starring illusionist Scott Pepper is only on stage for a few more weeks. Watch as he leads the Magician’s Agency in taking on harrowing missions meant to make the world safer through stunts that include magic, illusion, daring escapes, comedy and even a little audience participation. Saturday, 7 p.m., Sunday, 2 p.m. Magik Theatre, 420 S. Alamo St., 210-227-2751, magiktheatre.org
Mindful Morning at Maverick Plaza
Start the morning with a free all-level Vinyasa yoga class from Mobile Om. After class, there are live tunes from Odie Wallace Music plus coffee, juice, food trucks and the chance to browse goods by local artisans. Saturday, 9-11 a.m. Maverick Plaza, 418 Villita St., mobileomtx.com