Starting March 12, four San Antonio-area high school students will screen their submitted works in the Texas High School Shorts Program at the South by Southwest Conference & Festivals film festival in Austin.
Saint Mary’s Hall student William Herff is screening two films. One film is “Soles,” a horror/thriller about a businessman who turns the tables on his pursuer.
The other film, “Football,” Herff stars as himself portraying a drama student who is asked by the school football team to create a promotional hype reel.
Herff said watching Alfred Hitchcock films with his father as a child inspired him to become a filmmaker.
“I think [Hitchcock] made me realize that film was truly an art form. It could be unique and personal to the director. Film didn’t just happen. It was carefully composed,” Herff said.
Herff said he was prompted to make the short film “Football” because of Texans’ love of the sport, particularly high school football.
“High school football is really quite a phenomenon in Texas. Communities come together over it. Me and my friends Nicholas Campos and Peyton Randolph wanted to create a mockumentary that revolved around a kid on the margins of the craze,” Herff said.
Warren High School senior Makayla Esparza submitted the short film “In Person Learning.” Emmis, the animated movie’s protagonist, leaves behind middle school for spring break, expecting a smooth return to the classroom afterwards.
But Emmis and her classmates find themselves forced to undergo virtual lessons following the COVID-19 outbreak. When it is safe to return to class, Emmis, now a high schooler, gets nervous and overwhelmed, and must be comforted by a peer.
Esparza said she has always been interested in animation, but it was not until COVID-19’s arrival when she found more free time and developed her skills at home.
Esparza said when the pandemic hit, she felt bad for students who were unable to have a normal freshman year.
“Wanting to let other kids know that they aren't alone in these weird times is what inspired me,” she said.
Marshall High School junior Kyle Ward is screening “Gone,” a short film movie about how development in Pflugerville, Texas, prompts local farmers to imagine how much longer their way of life will last.
Ward said his family owns farmland in Pflugerville and feels like so much heritage and land have been lost in years of fast growth in and around Austin.
“‘Gone’ is a film about nature vs. industry,” Ward said. “This documentary allows the audience to be let into the point of view of the farmers who are actively feeling the effects of the development and trying to inform the community about the consequences that come from overdevelopment.”
“Once the farmland is destroyed it is gone forever, so unless we start combatting the issue, we are going to start having issues with the future of food production that occurs on farmland,” Ward added.
East Central High School senior Angel Ruiz created the four-minute film “Vegetable” about an unnamed protagonist who finds themself in psychological turmoil after they stop taking their medication.
All four local aspiring moviemakers say this year will be their first time participating at SXSW and that they look forward to unveiling their creative works for live audiences that are allowed to gather at SXSW for the first time in two years.
Herff said he never thought he would be screening a film at SXSW, much less two of them.
“I’m looking forward to having the films I have worked so hard on this year screen in front of a real theater audience,” Herff said, adding that he plans to pursue liberal arts at Duke University.
Esparza said she plans to study animation at Northwest Vista College and work toward a bachelor’s degree in that field of work.
“It is my first time [at SXSW]. It feels surreal that something my team and I made is going to be seen by people who are also interested in doing things we do,” she said.
Ward said his appearance at SXSW is a big accomplishment, noting that the annual conference is one of the nation’s biggest film festivals. According to SXSW, the film festival portion attracted 73,000 attendees and accepted nearly 8,500 submitted films in 2019.
Ward also said he looks forward to meeting other student filmmakers in person.
“It will bring in a large audience of industry professionals and the press. SXSW has given Texas high school kids a great opportunity to be introduced to film festivals,” said Ward, who said he plans to study film and business in college.
“This allows us, students, an opportunity to show off our work that might often be overlooked because of ‘lack of experience’ when in reality a lot of times our films tell amazingly emotional stories,” Ward added.
The local student filmmakers all said participating in SXSW is also their opportunity to represent San Antonio and its creative community.
“Knowing that there are locals that can achieve what you want to achieve can be very inspiring in a sense that it could be you next time,” Esparza said.
Ward said it is vital for San Antonio to have representation in festivals worldwide.
“I believe we have many creatives in our community that have not had their name get into the world which leaves many creatives unnoticed,” Ward said.
Herff said San Antonians have a unique lens on society.
“We live in a very diverse city, and our experiences and traditions are widely different from other cities. I think it’s important that more artists from San Antonio share their voices whenever they can,” Herff said.
Bella Muñoz, a fellow Saint Mary's Hall cinema student, directed "Waiting for Divine Intervention," a 5-minute short about Mary, who works hard in a thankless job when she meets a demon who gives Mary a new perspective on how to get things done.
Muñoz is an award-winning illustrator, animator, and filmmaker who has built a following on Instagram for her original works from fan art.
More film festival information can be found at www.sxsw.com.