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CineFestival: The Nation's Longest Running Latino Film Festival

The San Antonio CineFestival began in 1977 when founder Adán Medrano saw a need to showcase the growing number of Chicano films being produced across the country.

The origins of Chicano Cinema go back to the very origins of the Chicano Civil Rights movement. I Am Joaquin (1969) written and directed by Luis Valdez, and generally recognized as the first Chicano film, began as a slide show for meetings of the United Farm Workers.

These early Chicano movies had a duel purpose. They not only served as political and organizing tools, but also as resistance to the simplistic and often times racist caricatures of Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans common in American films of the time.

Other raza filmmakers soon followed Valdez’ example by creating movies of their own. This first wave of Latino filmmakers recognized the importance of depicting their own lives with accuracy, nuance, and complexity, free from the media’s simplistic stereotypes.

So by the late 1970s more Chicano and Puerto Rican films were being created, but there was no central place to showcase the growing canon. Enter Adán Medrano, a student at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas who stepped in to fill that need.

In 1977 Medrano created the Chicano Film Festival. It was a bare bones operation. Medrano and his volunteers had no auditorium, no theater, no professional audio or projection equipment. Instead they set up a sheet on the side of an Oblate College building, set up chairs and blankets on the lawn and brought out the school’s old 16mm projector. The event was free. Mimeographed flyers went out. Filmmakers from across the country arrived by bus, car and plane, film canisters under their arms. 2000 people showed up for the films over the course of that first weekend, eager to see themselves represented on the big screen.

In 1979 the festival changed its name to CineFestival and by 1983 the festival had grown and founder Medrano had had graduated. The festival then found a new home, the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, a newly formed multi-disciplinary arts organization on San Antonio’s Mexican American West Side.

Since that time CineFestival has grown into a nine-day event with feature screenings, appearances by celebrity guests, panel discussions, receptions, community events and the Latino Screenwriting Lab, a three-day script workshop co-presented with the Sundance Institute.

Over 60 curated films screen at a typical CineFestival, as well as a Youth Program, and a special film program for the area’s senior citizens. CineFestival has hosted many of the industry’s important U.S. Latino and Mexican films, actors, and directors.

Highlights from past years include appearances by Gina Rodriguez, Luis Valdez, Miguel Arteta, Guillermo del Toro, Lourdes Portillo, Culture Clash, Edward James Olmos, Benjamin Bratt, Jimmy Smits, Guillermo Gomez Pena, and some of the new voices in Latino film such as Aurora Guerrero, Alex Rivera, and Cruz Angeles.

Since 1977 CineFestival has continued to play a significant role in the presentation, appreciation and development of Chicano, U.S. Latino, Mexican and Latin American filmmakers.

Now in its 39th edition, CineFestival will promise yet another exciting run of the best Latino independent films from the United States, Mexico, and Latin America.