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EDINBURG — About 300 Rio Grande Valley high school and college students packed the Edinburg Municipal Auditorium Thursday and received information, motivation and guidance on the ever changing world of acting and filmmaking.
The first day of the ninth annual South Texas Film Festival started off with Student Day, a morning and afternoon full of presentations and workshops geared toward educating and inspiring the next generation of actors, filmmakers and artists in the Valley.
Hosted by the city of Edinburg, the film festival is a competitive international event with categories featuring RGV film, short film, feature length film, documentary, music video, animated film and student film. The festival also features workshops, presentations, and Q&As panels with the filmmakers, industry professionals and celebrities.
Students from all over the Valley attended the event, from Edinburg High School to Port Isabel High School and as well as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley college students.
The day started off with an acting workshop from Valley acting legend Valente Rodriguez, known for his role as Ernie Cardenas in the popular sitcom “George Lopez” and other roles such as Frankie in “Blood in Blood Out.”
Rodriguez was born and raised in the Elsa area and attended University of Texas Pan American, now UTRGV.
His story is one that began from humble beginnings picking cotton in San Manuel to working as an actor for years in Los Angeles before landing his most known role. He followed his presentation with a Q&A session with the students in attendance.
“It’s really important to have events like this for young filmmakers, especially down here in the Rio Grande Valley because we’re so far away from the rest of the country,” Rodriguez told The Monitor. “… (T)o have all these people standing in front of these young students who are looking for information on how they can do this … this is the best way to do it and it’s for free.”
Rodriguez added that one can feel isolated in the Valley.
“Sometimes you feel like you might be the only person that’s having these thoughts in your mind … but that’s not necessarily the case,” he said. “When you come to a festival like this you meet other people who are trying to do exactly what you’re trying to do, and you can team up with them.”
Leroy Antonio Pinon, an Edinburg Economedes High School junior who is a part of his school’s theater program behind the scenes, said Rodriguez’s presentation left an impact on him to pursue lead roles this coming year.
“It gave me the motivation because … I didn’t think [acting] was for me so I just went to another job [in the theater program], but when he was talking on stage it really got me to think like I want to change my field of work,” Pinon said.
Being from the Valley isn’t a hindrance, Rodriguez further stressed to students.
“It is possible to get to where it is that you’re trying to get to from here,” he said. “Don’t use that as an excuse. Don’t build that wall. There’s going to be plenty of people that are going to be building walls in front of you. … So be confident in what you do, understand that you can do it from here and that there are opportunities and that if this is what you want to do … You can do it.”
Emiliano Tamez, a UTRGV theater senior at the event, also felt inspired by Rodriguez’s presentation. Tamez is an actor in Joseph Balderas Phantom Pain, a film in the festival.
“I really liked how straightforward he was,” Tamez said. “And the advice that you hear from him, really speaks. It really lets you know that it’s someone that’s done this as a profession for years and I really appreciate that.”
Joshua Kennedy, a South Texas actor, writer, producer and director followed the workshop with a presentation on low budget filmmaking.
Kennedy started his presentation by telling the audience that the secret to low-budget filmmaking is simply: “You have to do it!”
“So many fellow filmmakers, young and old, are waiting for Hollywood to knock at their door,” Kennedy said. “I’m like cool. So what are you working on Johnny? Well, you know, when I have the budget, I’m gonna make a really cool movie. And I know Johnny if Steven Spielberg, you know knocked on your door and said here’s a million dollars, are you really gonna know what to do with it?”
With a lively and comedic approach to his presentation Kennedy asked the audience to face some hard truths. They are not Quentin Tarantino, yet, and they will not have Robert De Niro in their first film. His message is to make the most out of your current situation, environment and people. From using friends, classmates and family as actors, to taking advantage of the Valley’s scenery for films, such as South Padre Island or the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.
The other presentations during Student Day involved John Caglione Jr., an Academy and Emmy award winning makeup artist who transformed Heath Ledger into his infamous Joker character in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.”
Michael Gregory, who has appeared in 400 films, TV shows and video games with a presentation on voice overs in games and anime and Jane Austin, stunt coordinator and managing partner of LA-based Hollywood Stuntworks with a workshop on stunts.
Ash Love Ramirez and Steve Garcia are both seniors from Edinburg North High School and attended Student Day because they want to pursue a career in acting.
Currently acting in their school’s production of the Addams Family, they both enjoyed the presentations and the overall message of perseverance that it takes to make it in the entertainment industry.
“I think it’s really important to … see other people who like the same thing that you’re interested in and you get to see how they live their life,” Ramirez said. “How they went through the whole process and how they got to where they are was very motivating.”
The Student Day ended with a film showcase from several of the students in attendance.
Asked for advice for Valley students pursuing a career in the entertainment business, Rodriguez shared encouragement.
“The way to become good at it is by doing it over and over and over … If it’s writing, write. If it’s filmmaking, make a film. If it’s acting, get on stage. If it’s music, play your music. … Find the thing that makes you happy and do that,” he said.
The festival continues Friday and Saturday with local, state, national and international film screenings, workshops, and panels featuring Q&A sessions. To view the full list of events visit stiff.com.