If you’ve taken in the expansive programming offered by Dallas VideoFest in the past few years, you’ve felt the influence of Managing Director Raquel Chapa. When the festival screened Children of Giant in 2015, audiences saw the bones of the 1956 film Giant, which fascinated Chapa as a kid. Her dad would point to the TV when Giant was on Turner Classic Movies at his home in San Angelo, and call Raquel over. I know him, he would say. He motioned to his friend Sammy Lara, who handed a flag to the fallen solider Angel’s father.
Director George Stevens was giving the experience of Mexican-Americans equal billing with that of the oil-rich Anglo-Americans in South Texas, Chapa says. Even as a kid, without the words, she noticed this.
“Something in me realized that he was saying something with pictures. For when it was made, that was a radical statement at the time,” she says.
There’s more to the making, of course. Complicated historical context of well-known works is what Chapa seems most drawn to, when it comes to documentaries; Children of Giant spells out the sociocultural hypocrisy during Giant‘s production in a drought-ridden Marfa. (School leaders ceremonially buried Spanish textbooks behind a campus at the time, for example, in trying to force Hispanic and Latino kids to speak English.)
Preservation is also key to Chapa’s interest in film. Raised by her grandmother on the Qualla Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina, Chapa has linked VideoFest viewers to films that spell out Native American influence on whole canons of American art. She’s engaged with the sizable Native American community in Dallas to share her knowledge. It was Yuchi-Muskogee Creek artist Richard Whitman’s portraits of Native homeless men, “through a Native person’s eyes,” that first showed Chapa a more balanced sense of power between subject and maker, she says. Later there were films about women, by women, like Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister.
Chapa related deeply to something she heard filmmaker Lynn Shelton say: had there been learn-how-to-make-a-movie camps for girls, as there are now, I would have been a director ten years earlier.The problem wasn’t about overt barriers, Chapa says. It was more tricky than that. The concept of “director” already ingrained in society’s imagination didn’t include women. Chapa always thought of Francis Ford Coppola, as a kid; she didn’t yet have his daughter.
Independent film was fast becoming a new tradition when Chapa was hired at the Smithsonian in 1998. There were film screenings and festivals adjacent to the museum, and Chapa was there to watch the pool of makers grow and change.
“I always take issue when people say the ‘70s was a golden era of American filmmaking,” Chapa says. “It was that for a limited group of people – white males. Video gave access to people of color, women, and communities that hadn’t been able to make films because 35mm was so expensive.”
And so Chapa and artistic director/co-founder/head of programming Bart Weiss participate in a truly great yet definitely still fallible age of filmmaking — the video age. In VideoFest’s 30th year, on the occasion of this weekend’s newly siphoned DocuFest, Chapa shares three (four, really; no, five) essential recommendations, in her words. A schedule for all the screenings, which are at Studio Movie Grill’s Northwest Highway location, and tickets are here.
FRIDAY, 7 PM: BOMBSHELL, THE HEDY LAMARR STORY
It’s not the high point of the film, but actress Hedy Lamarr, who everyone knows for inventing the technology that made cell phones possible, was a producer. She produced her own film, which at the time was really significant.
SATURDAY, 11AM: EX LIBRIS: THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY
One film, I haven’t seen — I just know so much about this filmmaker: Frederick Wiseman’s Ex Libris. The way he films, and is able to take these very long takes without inserting himself into a doc – at the same time there’s such skill. It could very easily be done wrong. Also, in it, librarians get a fair rap! One of the worst portrayals in movies is that uptight-with-glasses librarian. Every time a librarian is portrayed in film! I don’t like that. My first job out of college was as a librarian. We have several librarians coming to the screening from SMU and it’s nice to give them some due. They provide a great service. Also: There’s Saving Brinton (SATURDAY, 3PM) which is all about conservation and preservation of film and what value there is in that.
SATURDAY, 8:15PM: BILL NYE SCIENCE GUY
Not for the reasons you would think. Director David Alvarado, who is from this area and graduated from UNT, he has a very inspiring story – he was kind of a punk as a kid and film school is what straightened him out. I’m glad he’s able to come.
SUNDAY, 9:30PM: ESCAPES
I really love Blade Runner. Every time I watch that film I get something more out of it. The screenwriter Hampton Fancher (subject of the film, once a professional flamenco dancer) is just a fascinating man – he talks, it’s his voiceover but you see this footage of him as a young man. Wes Anderson is one of the producers. This is definitely for anybody who likes behind-the-scenes [fare.] You can learn more about it even if you know a lot about it – all the iterations of the seven cuts, etc.