The 24th Annual San Antonio Film Festival kicked off at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts at 100 Auditorium Circle, San Antonio, Texas, on August 1st, 2018.
Longtime director Adam Rocha, who has led the group for 24 years, did not greet us as we drifted in to get our credentials, and my badge, listing me as a Screenplay Finalist for THE COLOR OF EVIL, was MIA. (I was given a VIP badge, instead.)
Most of us waiting for the 6 p.m. kick-off films were directed to a small café across the street called Pharm Market that was heavily in to health food(s). There were literally no soft drinks (like Coca Cola or 7-Up) but there was a table serving free alcoholic beverages (beer and wine) and many strange delicacies that I did not have the time nor inclination to sample. “Ocho” nearby turned out to be a better recommendation from an usher and yielded a tasty menu, while overlooking part of San Antonio’s famous Riverwalk.
We headed over to the opening film(s) at 6 p.m. selecting between “Tecumseh, the Last Warrior” directed by Alvarez Studio and Larry Elikann or “They Call Me King Tiger,” directed by Angel Estrada Soto.
My husband chose the latter film, which had this synopsis:“In June, 1967, the court of Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico, was assaulted by armed men under the command of Chicano leader Reies Lopez Tijerina. The outcome of such bold action was the largest manhunt in the recent history of the United States. Tijerina managed to survive prison, a psychiatric hospital, and several assassination attempts. The Chicano movement faded away, and everyone thought the same of Tijerina. People spoke of him as a saint, a man illuminated, a man that used violence looking for a fair cause. They called him King Tiger. King Tiger is alive and he wants to tell his story.”
Some of this was misleading, as King Tiger recently died at age 88 (and insisted that he be dressed in his coffin as a Muslim to illustrate his conviction that he was a prophet; people had to be flown in from Chicago to accomplish this).
The story as told by Director Larry Elikann had a meandering documentary quality that did not serve the extraordinary story well. There definitely was feature film potential in the story of King Tiger, but this treatment, witnessed by only 9 people sitting on hard-backed chairs, was probably not it.
For one thing, this was the Premiere of the film and the Director was not present.
For another, as we moved into the main substance of the story, it was still unclear what injustice, exactly, King Tiger was trying to rectify. It purports to be the story of New Mexico’s Hispanic peoples losing their land to “the gringos,” much like the Indians lost their land to European settlers. Quote: “These lands were robbed, and we want them back.” The 1848 Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty was at the bottom of much of the dissent, but the terms of that treaty are never spelled out for the viewer.
There were allusions to such historic figures as Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez and Malcolm X, but King Tiger’s followers never numbered more than 14,000 to 20,000, and, when he was a handsome firebrand of a man who had “boundless courage because he was always living in some other realm,” he didn’t exercise his power as skillfully as MLK.
A conversation is recounted that supposedly took place between Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy and Chicano leader Reies-Lopez Tijerina. Bobby Kennedy supposedly said, to the firebrand leader, “There was a war. You lost it and we won it. Go home.”
A Treaty of Hidalgo is constantly mentioned, supposedly transferring one-half of what was then Mexico’s land to the United States. The statement is made: “They lost their lands through diverse legal movements, so he (King Tiger) led a campaign to reclaim those lands.”
How devoted the followers were seemed to be one problem. A friend and acquaintance of Reies’ recounted a rally at which Reies asked how many of those present “will fight like a she-dog fights to protect her puppies” to get back the land. He asked them to stand up, if willing. One-third of the men present stood up. Reies then told his followers that those who didn’t stand up should be among the first killed. This took me back to a horrifying documentary I saw at the Chicago International Film Festival about just such neighbor purging neighbor that happened in the Philippines, when the U.S. encouraged the removal of Communists and atrocities were perpetrated, neighbor upon neighbor.
The film consisted largely of interviews with the extremely elderly (age 88) Reies himself, who wandered on about dreams and angels and was a shadow of his former firebrand self. If anything, it was an object lesson in how death comes for us all and the most dynamic among us will be weakened and withered by time, as Reies definitely had been when interviewed. He was barely recognizable as the leader who caused one man to lose his hand and shot another man in the jaw, who fell from the courthouse during the melee.
His three wives are interviewed and many of his numerous children, some of whom recount beatings at Reies’ hand. The prettiest daughter from his first marriage (Rosita) was incarcerated after Reies formed a small band of armed men and marched on the courthouse.
He then was arrested in a manhunt (2,000 National Guardsmen were searching for him) that was not as dramatic as the program claimed. Reies said he was in the back seat of a car on the way to Coyote when he was apprehended. Reies is quoted as saying, “I’m chewing up the gringos no matter who is in the middle.”
One of his wives—a second wife who left him—said, “He wanted to be fighting, fighting, fighting. I didn’t want to do anything.” His son by a second marriage remembered that Dad told him: “You are nothing. You are never going to be a man like I am.” The prettiest daughter, Rosita, who went to prison after the attack Reies engineered on the courthouse, said, “I don’t want to talk about or remember any of that. I think that people saw him as a terrorist. All my 6 brothers and I were beaten by him.”
So, not overwhelmingly positive as a leader and Man of the People.
The English subtitles were also rife with errors. Example: “”Take this (sic) pills, please.” This was in reference to what was said to be psychological torture that Reies underwent in prison. His first trial, when he defended himself, he was found innocent, but the film suggests that he was a victim of double jeopardy or that various trumped-up charges kept recurring. One of his wives, Maria Escobar, had a house that was attacked and Reies swears that the attack was by thugs from the government.
As nearly as I could determine from the meandering plot and lack of focus, Reies was declaring that all those lands were taken illegally by District Attorney Alfonso Sanchez and that they were taken from Mexican owners and sold to white people and Sanchez was the person they hoped to get when they marched on the courthouse.
Just before his death, Reies told the interviewer, “What happened, happened, my friend.” His wife said he asked for forgiveness before he died.
The Awards Ceremony for the San Antonio Film Festival will take place at 7 p.m. on Saturday night and the world premiere of “Stella’s Last Weekend,” a new comedy from writer/director Polly Draper (“Thirty Something”) will follow at 9 p.m.
A debut film from Director Jesse Borego (“Fame”, 1984-1986) “Closer to Bottom,” will screen on Sunday, August 5th. It deals with two brothers who are coping with the death of their father when both fall for the same girl.
The San Antonio Film Festival began on August 1st and will conclude with the showing of Borego’s film on Sunday, August 5th.