Friday, June 6, 2008

San Quilmas comes to Kingsville with new movie

The mood at Jones Auditorium May 30 on the campus of Texas A&M University-Kingsville was relaxed. Alumnus Domingo Chavez was busy greeting people who were flocking to the Kingsville debut of his latest movie - Barrio Tales/Historias del Barrio: Tops, Kites and Marbles - produced and directed by legendary Chicano filmmaker
and TAMUK-San Antonio alumnus Efrain Gutierrez. Chavez (l) and Gutierrez are featured in the photo above while working on the film. The posters of two of Gutierrrez's films are featured above that photo.

Most did not realize the magnitude of the event at aged Jones Auditorium. Gutierrez is recognized by scholars as the first Chicano filmmaker. His latest film was to be a touching tale of barrio life in San Antonio (affectionally known as San Quilmas by SA dudes, better known as vatos back in the day). The film premiered at CineFestival in San Antonio April 12. Following its Kingsville showing, it will run in the Cine Cuauhtemoc Pan American Film Festival at the University of Houston-Downtown June 16.

Chavez is an alumnus of then-Texas A&I University, graduating in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in communications and theatre arts. His photo is still depicted in the halls of the Speech Building on the TAMUK campus as one of the almuni who has gone on to greater things - a.k.a he made it to Hollywood - along with the likes of Eva Longoria and others in the display. He is the "star" of Barrio Tales and winds up portraying a super hero as an Aztec Warrior.

Barrio Tales is the fifth film Gutierrez has produced and directed during his illustrious and trailblazing career, which started back in 1976 with the revolutionary Please Don’t Bury Me Alive! or ¡Por Favor No Me Entierren Vivo! That film was the first feature directed by a Chicano, and its successful independent production and distribution served as a model for future Chicano filmmakers working outside of traditional Hollywood.

Barrio Tales is different and not as controversial. It tells the story of a grandfather suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, who is able to remember the days of his youth while teaching his granddaughter the classic childhood games of tops, kites and marbles. Comic relief comes from the characters Baby Marin, played by Chavez, and Primo. Both characters were featured in Gutierrez’s last movie Lowrider Spring Break en San Qilmas, released in 2001.

Gutierrez,who made an appearance after the Jones Auditorium showing and spoke to the audience of about 200 people, said Barrio Tales is the first in a series of films that wil feature other barrio activities such as the Skateboarding Barrio Olympics and games such as jacks. Chavez will continue to play his Baby Marin role and appear as an Aztec Warrior urging the children and all to read.

Gutierrez is simply a legend. That he took time to visit in Kingsville was quite an honor. Gutierrez founded the Chicano Arts Theatre in 1971, followed by his own film company in 1974, which he used to produce his first film. Please Don’t Bury Me Alive! and Gutierrez’s next two films have since been restored and preserved by the UCLA television and film archives, as part of their Chicano Cinema Recovery Project. In addition, Stanford University collected production papers from Gutierrez for their Green Library Archives.

Chavez moved to Kingsville two years ago to care for a sick relative, and has become known by young people around town through his work as a substitute teacher with the school district. Chavez wants that audience in particular to see the other side of him, which has been acting extensively in film, television and the voiceover arena for some 20 years. Acting credits for Chavez include parts in the films Robocop II and Selena, local and regional television roles, and voice work for Japanese anime.

But, now, Chavez is home and his Barrio Tales' role will more than likely endear him to thousands of new fans. Chavez's career has been revived and not a moment too soon. Gutierrez is a legend and a genius and his film - which will probably be released in DVD form by the end of the year - will certainly make its way into thousands of homes.

We wish Javelina alumni Domingo Chavez luck and hope for the best for Gutierrez. It would be wonderful if the two could return to the university during Hispanic Heritage Month and perhaps help us do a film festival on Chicano films - films that truly matter to South Texans and talk about our history and not films that depict the history of other Latin or Hispanic areas of the United States. These - Gutierrez's films - are the films which our students should be made aware of and be familiar with. It makes no sense to know about films from throughout the world and not know what is going on in our own backyards. We should all make an effort to make these films available.