For The Filmmaker and The Film Lover

The 30th Annual Cinesol Film Festival is set to take place this weekend in Brownsville for the first time since 2005. Over 50 independent films will be screened in two days, with eight of those films being from Cinesol’s 17th Annual 36 Hour Film Race.

At 9 p.m. Nov. 17, eight film-race teams gathered for the drawing of five required elements to be featured in their film. The five selected elements were a documentary/mockumentary (genre), an office cubicle (location), a foam finger (prop), a hairdresser (character) and the line “I’m not a photographer, but I can picture you and me together” (dialogue).

Festival Director Henry Serrato said all teams had 36 hours to write, cast, shoot, edit and submit their 7-10 minute film by 9 a.m. Nov. 19. The film race judges were Univision’s Weather Anchor Eric Sierra, Programming Chair of South Texas International Film Festival Susan Smith and award winning director Rodrigo Moreno. The films will be screened and awarded at 7 p.m. Sunday at the eBridge Center for Business and Commercialization.

Serrato has been involved with Cinesol for 29 years. He began as a volunteer in the festival’s second year. In 2007, Serrato was appointed festival director and has been ever since.

“[Before I volunteered], I didn’t even know what a film festival was,” Serrato said. “I was a UTPA student. … My mind was blown. I never thought I would be the director. … [Now], I’m the longest-running festival director of its 30 years.”

The Cinesol team has a lineup of 57 independent films to be screened, with 15 having connections to the Rio Grande Valley. Another 15 are from Spain, one from Belgium and one from Ireland. Each daytime screening or event is $5. Saturday and Sunday’s 7 p.m. main event screening is $10.

In between films will be Q&A’s and workshops by celebrities and locals in the industry; McAllen native Raul Castillo, who appears in “Cassandro,” “Knives Out” and the TV series “Riverdale” will have two Q&A sessions. Daniel Adam Warrior, who appears in the TV series “Yellowstone” and the Scorsese film “Killers of the Flower Moon” will host the workshop “How To Get Into Hollywood.”

Other workshops include “Philosophy in Movies: How the Masters Rely On Big Thinking For Their Works” by Moreno and “The Future of Filmmaking – Artificial Intelligence/Virtual and Enhance Reality” by director Rene Rhi.

While the festival has seen all parts of the Valley, from South Padre Island to Mission, Serrato said Brownsville is the only city that has a film commission.

“There’s a film scene there, and with UTRGV there, some film students there, there’s a lot of activity in Brownsville,” Serrato said. “There’s film clubs and societies there, but there’s not a film festival so we thought it would be nice to take it back to Brownsville this year and see how well it goes for us.”

Serrato said several screenings will be a major highlight this weekend; “Going Varsity in Mariachi,” a documentary by Alejandra Vasquez and Sam Osborn, follows Edinburg North High School’s mariachi team as they compete at the state level. The documentary also premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, the largest independent film festival in the US. “Border Cowboys,” a documentary by Jose Sanchez, follows the Gladys Porter Early College High School soccer team as they compete for the state championship. “Strings” by Rodrigo Moreno will also be screened. The film has received numerous awards, including STXIFF’s Best RGV Short Film 2023.

“The Valley has a lot of talent,” Serrato said. “There’s always been a growing film scene in the Valley. … There’s a lot of local people that have gone on to Hollywood. [Our region] lends itself to interesting film locations. … There’s untapped potential in the Valley. More and more filmmakers are starting to realize that they can start something down here.”

Serrato said a film festival is for two audiences: the filmmaker and the film lover.

“If you’re interested in the art of film, whether it’s script writing or acting or directing, editing, anything, you need to go to a film festival to network. … The other target audience is film lovers. We see a lot of amazing movies that you’re not going to see in theaters. … If you are a movie lover and you want to see amazing films, local, English, international, come to the festival.”