San Antonio Area Foundation Director of Grants and Programs Gavin Nichols (left) gives the Editing Award to East Central High School.
San Antonio Area Foundation Director of Grants and Programs Gavin Nichols (left) gives the Editing Award to East Central High School, who created a film about San Antonio Sound Garden. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

BexarFest, formerly known as the Bexar County High School Film Festival, is the culmination of an annual competition pairing enterprising high school students with experienced mentors to produce three-minute videos highlighting the work of area nonprofit organizations.

A festive evening-long awards ceremony is held annually at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts to recognize the hard work of the student teams, and to draw attention to the project. Monday night’s Best Picture award went to first-time competitor Champion High School in the Boerne ISD, for its 8-student team’s video on the Cibolo Nature Center & Farm, one of 14 awards given out to a total of 11 schools, students, and organizations.

The purpose of BexarFest is twofold: to pair teams of students interested in media production with nonprofit organizations in the region who can use help getting their messages out to potential supporters.

What started as a video festival for high schoolers has blossomed into an annual competition that now includes junior high school students. Students compete in several different categories, including still photography, original music, best portfolio, a special newcomer’s award, and an award to create the printed program’s cover design. The film competition also has expanded beyond Bexar County, encompassing 400 students from schools in Atascosa, Bandera, Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe, Kendall, Medina, and Wilson counties.

In its third year, the festival has received a new name and a new bear paw-print logo, signaling that it has grown beyond its original footprint.

Posters for each documentary film line the lobby of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
Posters for each documentary film line the lobby of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

In a few years, BexarFest might even require another name change. “Why can’t we do this in Austin? Why can’t do this in Corpus [Christi]?” asked Randy Lankford, executive director of TRL productions, a video-production nonprofit that organizes the festival, looking toward further expansion.

“That’s my fondest wish, is to have to change the name again,” he said, but joked that he’d like to keep the new bear paw-print logo for a while.

Champion’s name was fitting for its night at Bexar Fest, as it not only won Best Picture, but also the new Jesus Ramirez Newcomer of the Year award, presented to the best of first-time contest entrants. Natalya Abrahamian, a Champion student, also won the new Superstar Scholarship award, which is meant for a high school senior “who has dedicated themselves to supporting their team, serving their community, and furthering their studies.”

Abrahamian credited her colleagues for the award and will apply the $1,000 scholarship to film school at the University of Texas in Austin (UT).

Trophies line the stage to give to award recipients.
Trophies line the stage to give to award recipients. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The Ramirez award was named for the recently deceased Jesus Ramirez, a media arts teacher at Antonian College Preparatory High School, who had worked with teams in the first two Bexar County High School Film Festivals.

His wife and family of eight children were onstage to represent their father, and the award was announced by daughter Feliz Ramirez, an actress who will play a regular role in the new Eva Longoria telenovela-based series Grand Hotel, which she said will debut on the ABC network on June 17.

Ramirez honored her father for encouraging young artists throughout his life, and said the most valuable lesson he imparted on his family “was that if you have a dream, and you want to see that dream become a reality, you just need to start right now.”

Reagan High School won the Best Portfolio award, which is the production of a complete media package including graphic design elements, still photography, and a three-minute video detailing each nonprofit organization’s work and purpose, with a video and media package on Upward Transitions Therapeutic Horsemanship, which offers individuals with disabilities the opportunity to learn equestrian skills and develop empathetic relationships with horses.

Last year, Reagan won awards for Best Storytelling and Most Entertaining for their video on the Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio.

In announcing the award for Best Portfolio, the final award of the night, MC Samantha Najera, founder and co-host of the web-based Bean & Chisme show, said of often cash-strapped nonprofit organizations, “they cannot get their message and their stories out without teams like you,” in part due to the costs of video production, which she called “the No. 1 way to market right now.”

She also told the assembled students that one major benefit of the festival competition is their hands-on exposure to the latest in media technology. “Once you get out into the work industry, you’re going to be ahead of the game,” she said in mentioning a professional development workshop also part of the festival for the first time this year.

If the narrator of Brackenridge High School’s video on Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas serves as a predictor, BexarFest will be in good stead: “History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children.”

Students from SAY Sí receive the award for Best Cinematography.
Students from SAY Sí receive the award for Best Cinematography. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The complete list of winners in all categories follows:

One award remains to be given out: the People’s Choice Award, which can be voted on here until voting closes Monday, April 22.

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...