Film and Loathing in San Antonio

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Sketch poster.

Sketch poster.

I. I Hoped Death’s Carriage Had Comfortable Seating

The white tiled floor offered no sympathy, no escape this day and death seemed delayed by mere hours while I waited and waited for the doctor to come in and offer some shrug of professional indifference. The fever forever ticked upward and yet the body shivering and teeth clattering continued in this chill, sterile room. Who designed these things?

Doctor's office. Photo by Jacob Coltrane Burris.

Doctor’s office. Photo by Jacob Coltrane Burris.

If I was going to die I wanted it to be someplace warm, next to a fire, in a darkened room, preferably with whiskey in my hand and a woman on my arm, not in these bone-white surroundings full of brochures about back pain. The plastic chair I sat in was giving me the very pain they illustrate. I tried to swallow, but the razors in my throat reminded me otherwise.

The doctor arrived. Was she with another patient or on her lunch break? I searched for telltale mustard stains on her fingers, ketchup drops like blood splatter on her collar, or perhaps breadcrumbs littered across her shirt. The great irony was to call us patients when we’re anything but.

“So what’s wrong?” she asked.

An hour earlier I had filled out forms checking off everything that was wrong with me, then more forms. Duplicate. Repeat.

Symptom form.

Symptom form. Honesty. Photo by Jacob Coltrane Burris.

“Sick,” I said. “Sore throat, chills, aches, slight cough if I lean forward, upset stomach. Maybe strep throat. I had a friend with strep throat, once.” Or maybe it was the bird flu, the plague, cancer, or the first sign of the zombie apocalypse.

She checked me out, having me take deep breaths, inspecting my ears, etc. “It’s not strep. It’s most likely the flu.”

“So what good stuff can you give me? Medical cocaine? Marijuana? Adderall? Horse tranquilizers?”

“I’ll write you a prescription for antibiotics, just in case it’s strep. Cheaper for you to just take the pills then for me to test you for it.” She wrote something down. “What’s your occupation?”

“Bartender.”

“Well, you can’t do that for at least a week.”

“I’m also…uh…a…freelance writer.” Here come the better drugs.

“At least you can work from home.”

No luck. I hoped, at least, Death’s carriage had a fully stocked bar.

II. SAL6, Bum Coats, and Jefrey With One F

We needed something to move and fill up the space
We needed something, this always is just the case
Jefrey with one F, Jefrey took up his place
Sat on a carpet and with tablas in hand, took up the chase

The Pixies, “Space (I Believe In)”

I knocked three times on the crumbling wood paneling inside my truck, Jefrey with one F. “Not today, damn you!” He stuttered to start. Drove delicately across town, careful to avoid cops with night vision searching for expired tags. There was a new shake, some strange vibration in the truck.

“Hold it together, Jefrey.”

I turned up the music, using the poor person’s credo: better to ignore than to worry. We arrived at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, mostly in one piece, fifteen minutes before show time and circled the block to find parking. There seemed a safe spot under a bright street lamp.

Five bums lounging on a park bench perked up at my rattling arrival and slowly shuffled toward the truck. I wouldn’t have minded, but for some mysterious reason I had four nice jackets in the backseat. We didn’t need a broken window, one angry bum and his four warm, happy friends gallivanting around on this night of all nights, the Sixth Annual San Antonio Local Film Festival (SAL6). I found parking next to a dumpster. From my notes: “Is someone burning plastic?”

Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center theater lobby.

Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center theater lobby. Photo by Jacob Coltrane Burris.

Ushered inside the theater, wonderfully wrought in gold and red, but still very empty, I was greeted by Will Bermudez. He reminded me of a circus lion, well-trained in front of a crowd, but ready to pounce in an instant, tearing the flesh from the hapless, too trusting, tamer before him.

Will was here to show a trailer for a film his brother, Emanuel, directed, “Sketch: Collections of a Madman,” about a rape victim taken in by a sketch artist and then manipulated to kill. It was based on a short Emanuel had done in college. The short film had lingered for a few years on the web then suddenly went viral, reaching over 4 million views (watch the short film here). I asked Will about this sudden jump in popularity.

Q: Why do you think the short film had over 4 million views? Was it because of the subject matter of rape?

Will: Yes, we think it had to do with rape and how people overseas seemed to react to the topic.

Q: They fetishized it?

Will: Yes. It’s something we address in the feature, the fetishizing of rape and murder.

Q: What countries in particular? I find this a strange curiosity.

Will: India, Japan, and Pakistan.

The festival began. Some shorts were well done, others adorably amateur, with topics spanning everything from the traumatic to the irreverent. From my notes: “There seems to be an unhealthy obsession with Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker?” A film dealing with gay bullying, “Symphony of Silence won the grand prize. People had filed in sporadically throughout the night. The trailer for “Sketch: Collections of a Madman” played.

I had spoken with Emanuel earlier in the week about his filmmaking process.

“With this movie the process was especially more difficult because not only was I the writer/director, I was also one of the lead actors,” he said. “There were times when either I or my brother, depending if I was in the shot or not, had to work sound, set up lights and work the camera all at once.”

Gloria Bueno, Chip Tamez and Andrew Tamez filming at Nightrocker. Photo courtesy of Will Bermudez.

Gloria Bueno, Chip Tamez and Andrew Tamez filming at Nightrocker. Photo courtesy of Will Bermudez.

Showcasing the trailer at SAL6 was just one part of the promotion the Bermudez brothers were working on.

“We’ve primarily been using Facebook to promote the movie,” Emanuel said. “Giving little tease pics after every shoot and tagging each actor on set allowed for a following among friends and friends’ friends. It also allowed us to show everyone our progress and give everyone a taste of what to expect when we premiere the film at the Palladium.”

Sketch poster.

Sketch poster.

I asked him about their choice of venue. Why the Palladium over the Bijou or Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas?

“Santikos has shown a great deal of support to us, in fact most theaters around town were very open to allowing us to show our film,” he said. “In the end, the decision to premiere at Santikos Palladium came down to the amount of seats and price. They’ve been very open to communicate with us on any concerns we might have leading up to our premiere and even allowed us to organize our own red carpet event for that evening.”

Some technical difficulties put a temporary halt to the showings so I used the lull to step out into the lobby. Will introduced me to Kerry Valderrama and actress Leslie Augustine. Valderrama is one of three directors (the others being Bryan Ramirez and Bryan Ortiz) for the film Sanitarium, a three-story horror anthology. Stars include Malcolm McDowell, Lou Diamond Philips, Robert Englund, Chris Mulkey, John Glover and Lacey Chabert. Valderrama has big plans for the film scene in San Antonio.

We discussed how theaters rent out their screens to filmmakers usually at a discounted rate. I asked if they could do more to support local film.

“I don’t know of any theater that doesn’t charge filmmakers to rent their screens,” Valderrama said. “Could they do more? Certainly. But I’m not sure how they would discern between the kid with his 90 minute home video and the more serious filmmaker.”

Emanuel Bermudez, Gloria Bueno and Eddie Felan at Altered Studios playing with props.

From left: Emanuel Bermudez, Eddie Felan and Gloria Bueno at Altered Studios posing with props. Photo courtesy of Will Burmudez.

The technical difficulties continued. The music video category was still to come and the crowd was growing unruly. Would there be a riot? Would theatergoers rip their seats from the ground and begin hurling them toward the stage, or even worse, back toward the protectionist? A precarious situation was developing. The curtains looked highly flammable. Just in case, I edged closer to an exit, slowly, not to arise suspicion. These hordes were nothing to be trifled with.

Will had run upstairs to the projectionist’s booth. I wasn’t sure if he was making a barricade or just trying to help sort out the Window’s hard drive problems. Was it all in my head? Was it the fever? Were those clanging bells the calling of Death’s Carriage? Or was it someone’s cellphone? I had begun to sweat. I needed fresh air. I looked down at my notes: “Is someone burning plastic?”

Then, just before complete chaos erupted, the music videos began to play. Cheers erupted but it was too late for me. I wandered outside and back to my truck. No windows were broken, no jackets taken, and no dancing bums gyrated irrationally in my direction. I considered the night mostly a success and drove home before the delirium set in.

Sketch: Collections of a Madman 

Santikos Palladium IMAX

December 18, 2012

Showtime: 8 pm. Seating: 7:30pm.

17703 W IH-10, San Antonio, TX

(210) 496-2221

To preorder tickets, visit: http://www.willpoweredstudios.com/preorder/

Facebook event page: http://www.facebook.com/events/452514078146309/

Jacob Coltrane Burris comes from a line of Texas rebels and bootleggers. Attempts to settle a restless spirit included stints traveled along the westernmost states, from the Pacific fogs of the Bay Area to the frozen mountains of Montana. Somehow San Antonio always pulls him back. On occasion, he’ll write for Mondo Nation, an online music magazine.

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