Filmmaker Jim Mendiola is a part of the “returning class” to San Antonio – people who come home and contribute to the emerging (or “bubbling”) cultural/artistic scene. He moved back to San Antonio in December after spending 10 years in Los Angeles – though he's been traveling back to work locally during that time as well. He’s worked on small, independent projects; larger, commissioned pieces for the City (see his work, “SA Stories” for the Department for Culture and Creative Development, here); documentaries, music videos and short films.
His most recent work, a mini-documentary about Joe Barajas, a.k.a. “Joe Barber,” a local hip-hop barber, is a part of a series called “Small Market Big Heart,” profiling die-hard Spurs fans in San Antonio.
Rivard Report: Where does the phrase "Small Market Big Heart" come from? How does it relate to Joe's story and his homage to the Spurs?
Jim Mendiola: We are the third smallest TV market among the NBA cities. Yet our support of the team rivals that of any other city, big or small. To me, Joe embodies all these smart, well-informed, die-hard Spurs fans who are not uncommon in San Antonio. We may get no love from the national press regarding the Spurs, but our fans don't care. They know good basketball when they see it.
RR: How did you meet/find about about Joe the Barber's work?
JM: I heard about Joe Barajas during last year's Matt Bonner controversy, when a San Antonio middle school kid got suspended from school because of a portrait Joe had done of the "Red Rocket" on the student's head. My producing partner Faith Radle knew Joe from her days teaching math at Healy Murphy. I thought Joe was a great character and would be a great subject for my ongoing project of documenting not only Spurs fans but the kind of San Antonio people that make this city truly unique.
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RR: Joe reveals a lot of his personal/family history and struggles in this video. Is that a product of his natural honesty and openness or of interviewing techniques?
JM: Casting is key to a successful documentary. If you have a great subject who can articulate their ideas well, then more than half the battle is done. Joe was a great interview because he speaks honestly and directly. Plus he has a perspective, which makes for a compelling story.
RR: What, in your opinion, is that "thing" about the Spurs that inspires such fanaticism? Why am I not the least bit surprised that men would get Duncan effigies shaved into their hair?
JM: Part of the reason is that the Spurs are the only game in town. Literally. But more than that, I think the Spurs and their no-nonsense approach to their game resonates with their fans. Who cares if ESPN isn't paying attention. We got Gregg Simmons. Plus as the team goes deeper into the playoffs, and coverage intensifies, and you see more and more "Go, Spurs, Go" signs in people's yards, and T-shirts for sale at H-E-B's from Military Drive to 1604, you are reminded of this great and diverse community in which we live. It's gratifying to share that with like-minded folks.
RR: What was the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back" that made you move back to San Antonio from LA?
JM: All of my film work is about San Antonio, so even though I was based in LA I was traveling back home frequently, sometimes for months at a time. There was no one event. More of a slow recognition of things happening here and wanting to be part of the cultural growth. Plus I've been directing CineFestival at the Gudalupe Cultural Arts Center for a few years and wanted to help make that grow.
RR: What are some of the main differences between the filmmaking cultures of LA and SA?
JM: SA is not LA, it never will be, but that's ok. There is, frankly, no comparison. LA is the center of the industry. The studios are all there. Business happens there. Art house cinemas exist as well as two or three world-class film festivals. Not to mention film schools like AFI, UCLA, and USC. But again, that's OK. What I think is a more relevant question is how San Antonio compares to other U.S. cities that have similar ambitions to develop a local film culture. In that regard I think SA has a lot of potential. The landscape and history here is amazing. We have a unique culture here that's just ripe for storytelling.
"La Cucaracha" - Official Music Video - Piñata Protest from Piñata Protest on Vimeo (by Jim Mendiola).
RR: The 2013 San Antonio Film Festival started this week. As a returning local filmmaker, how do you view the festival? Is it matured or still maturing?
I think Adam Rocha is doing a great job. He's one of the key figures in the local film scene and the festival is getting bigger and bigger. Living in LA, the one thing I did not miss about San Antonio was the hot weather. So I was rarely here in the summer, the time of the SA Film Festival so I haven't been able to experience it first-hand. I'm really looking forward to attending some of the screenings this year. Especially some of the locally produced features like "Sanitarium" on Friday.
RR: Do you have a wishlist of things you'd like to see change/start in the San Antonio filmmaking community? Or in San Antonio's creative community as a whole?
There's great talent here and a lot of creativity that's distinctly San Antonio. We should embrace that. But I do wish we were more critical of each other's work.
Local filmmaking will not improve unless we are constructive in not only pointing out what works and is not working in individual films, but also question the very structure of independent filmmaking in 2013. This is not the old days/model of: "make a low-budget movie, got to Sundance, and get a three picture deal."
Distribution models have changed. The Internet is wide open. We will never be LA or even Austin. We have to figure out how San Antonio filmmakers can slip into the cracks of the new paradigm of indie filmmaking and assert ourselves.
For more information about the San Antonio Film Festival (June 17-23), be sure to go to the official website at www.safilm.com.