Southside. Northside. Westside. Eastside. These cardinal directions are not just used to describe locations in San Antonio—they also help define our sense of self. Each one of us identifies with the neighborhood that we live in. We know the best spots to grab take out, the back roads to get us home when it floods, and the things that an outsider to the neighborhood may overlook. San Antonio is a city that is composed of many pockets, each with a unique culture, vibe and feel. Transitioning from one neighborhood to another sometimes feels as though you’ve entered a completely separate city rather than traversing a couple of miles.
The San Antonio Neighborhood Film Project is a contest where filmmakers showcase the intricacies of their particular community. Started in 2009 as a way to help provide content for the San Antonio Neighborhood Tours website, the competition has morphed to include narratives and experimental films. On thursday, 11 short films highlighting different San Antonio neighborhoods and cultures will be screened at the 7 p.m. in the Woodlawn Theatre.
If you are expecting to see an amateur effort, think again.
“The films that we’ve seen this year have come in and look like things that you’d see on television today,” said Drew Mayer-Oakes, director of the San Antonio Film Commission. “It’s fascinating how the quality has improved in the five years we’ve been running it—not only technically but the storytelling. If the quality is not of a certain level, the message can be lost. You have to have a certain level of technical proficiency to make the message get across. This year all 11 have done it superbly. It’s going to be good show.”
The screening will feature a range of genres. There are fictional narratives, with the neighborhood providing an influence on the story as much as it provides a location. Other films are more experimental, designed to give the viewer a strong feeling of what it would be like to live in or visit the neighborhood. Additionally, there’s a category of 30-second commercials called “My Favorite Spot” designed to feature different destinations in the city. Finally, there are documentaries that highlight the history of a particular neighborhood.
“Some of the entries are very powerful because they were made by filmmakers whose families have been there for generations, whose culture was shaped by neighborhood,” Mayer-Oakes says. “The stories we’ve seen this year have been moving, with many good interviews and stories from generations about what the neighborhood was, what it is and what it’s becoming. A lot of neighborhoods are holding up because of the young people’s interest and tenacity in keeping them alive.”
Mayer-Oakes says the variety of neighborhoods is due to San Antonio being what he calls a “cross-roads center.” There has been a history of strong passages North and South as well as East and West, dividing the city into quadrants. The history and culture of the people who initially settled each of the quadrants is what gives such diversity to each location.
While the films predominately focus on neighborhoods inside of Loop 410, Mayer-Oakes hopes to expand the competition to neighborhoods further out in the upcoming year. He hopes that the Neighborhood Film Project can continue to grow, calling attention to all the different areas of San Antonio through filmmakers’ eyes, young and old alike.
The films will begin at 7:00 p.m. with open seating, so prepare to get to the theater early to get a good seat. Entry to the screening is free and there will also be a cash bar along with sodas and popcorn available for purchase. Following the screening, there will be a short awards presentation that recognizes the best films in each region along with the best film of the festival.
Below are two 2013 entries for the festival: