Short of Jerusalem or Mecca, no city other than Corpus Christi could have offered a better setting for the irreverent religious humor of Cosmico. Aside from the obvious connotations of its name, the location of the South Texas Underground Film Festival supplied an attentive audience and a welcoming atmosphere, in a week-long multimedia feast bringing filmmakers and public together for a laid-back celebration of independent cinema.
"STUFF is one of the most fun festivals I've ever attended," says C.J. Lazaretti, who had his first taste of Texan hospitality as a student at the University of Texas at Austin in 2008. "There's film, music and plenty of merriment, all in a dazzling seaside location, with perennial warm weather, too. Rob and Mariella are masters at making visiting filmmakers feel welcome, and it shows in the general atmosphere of the events and after-parties. It's truly unmissable."
Winning the Spirit of STUFF award, the controversial religious satire of Lazaretti's short film blended in easily among other bold films. Many titles in the program experimented with unusual techniques and uncompromising artistic and social statements. Cosmico had its US premiere on Saturday, December 5th, with an additional screening on Sunday, at the beautifully restored Arts Center of Corpus Christi. Short film highlights over the weekend included the moving melancholic adult fairy tale of René Chandler's Dacryphilia, as well as John Baran's No Sunshine, a riveting crime film brimming with tension and dark comedy. Lazaretti joined several other directors for Q&A sessions with the public after both screenings.
Likewise, STUFF 2015 was in no short supply of compelling features. Award-winning director James Christopher brought two of his works: DisAssociationVille, a poignant homecoming tale of personal regret, and Quad X: Rise of the Beaver Slayer, the latest installment in Christopher's Quad X series of satires about the adult film industry. Cedric Thomas Smith's Unimaginable, in turn, weaves a rich tapestry of love in many forms against a spiraling background of domestic violence. Closing the festival was Kill or Be Killed (AKA Red on Yella, Kill a Fella), a clever western-horror hybrid featuring Corpus Christi native Pepe Serna (Scarface, The Black Dahlia) and Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes, The Devil's Rejects), directed by Duane Graves and Justin Meeks. The directors of all three films were in attendance, together with many cast members, for Q&As as well.
Another popular event at STUFF 2015 was the screening of Ayotzinapa: Crónica de un Crimen de Estado. Directed by Xavier Robles, the documentary examines allegations of cooperation between the Mexican Government and the Guerreros Unidos crime syndicate in the kidnapping and disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College who went missing in Southwest Mexico in 2014. Subsequent forensic reports have confirmed the remains of individual students and identified evidence of torture and execution, sparking widespread anti-corruption protests and unrest in Mexico and abroad. Activists Andrés Pacheco and Ana Maria Fores Tamayo (of Adjunct Justice) were in attendance to discuss the aftermath of the mass kidnapping and outline current initiatives to speed up investigations and bring to justice the perpetrators of the crimes.
Whether fact or fiction, the films screened at STUFF 2015 turn the spotlight on a plethora of films and filmmakers who offer a fresh outlook on life and art. Like the Portobello Film Festival and many other grassroots events around the world, the South Texas Underground Film Festival is a vital bridge between audiences and independent movies.
"Festivals like STUFF are a great way to experience unusual films you're unlikely to see anywhere else," says Lazaretti. "The event is as immersive as it is casual. In STUFF, Corpus Christi has a reliable output of cinematic treats to blow your head away, if you like your films edgy and inventive. To that I say Amen."