Attendance grows at film festival

Kathryn Cargo By Kathryn Cargo

April 9, 2017 at 11:09 p.m.
Updated April 10, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Actor Matthew James, 23, of Dallas, left, and director, co-writer Justin Herring, 30, of Houston, watch "Camino" during the Victoria TX Independent Film Festival at the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Victoria.

Actor Matthew James, 23, of Dallas, left, and director, co-writer Justin Herring, 30, of Houston, watch "Camino" during the Victoria TX Independent Film Festival at the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Victoria.   Barclay Fernandez for The Victoria Advocate

As a teenager, John Patrick Hughes used to steal coolers as a joke.

He got the idea for his first feature film from these memories, when one of his friends contemplated the worst-case scenario that could happen from taking someone's cooler.

Hughes, 26, of Houston, was the director and writer of the film "Camino" that played Sunday afternoon as part of the final day of the Victoria TX Independent Film Festival.

The festival started Thursday and saw attendance in the hundreds, which is higher than last year, said Elizabeth Spear, festival executive director. The film with the most attendance was, "Marrying the Family," she said. Over the weekend, the Rosebud Fountain and Grill, a movie venue, saw large crowds that filled the restaurant. The other venue, the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts, was also busy with moviegoers throughout the weekend.

The dark comedy focuses on two young men who get caught up in an illegal human organ deal after stealing a cooler. The film was named for the car, Chevrolet El Camino.

Both actors are in most of the movie.

"This is where my head went, as the worst that could happen," Hughes said.

He said being in Victoria and at the festival has been a blast.

"My favorite part of film festivals is getting to meet other filmmakers," Hughes said. "I'm positive we've made some friends during this one I'll talk to once a week from now on."

The festival has helped Hughes and co-writer, producer Justin Herring, 30, of Houston, make connections that will assist them in the future, Hughes said.

"Camino" was Hughes' and Herring's first feature film, which they shot together.

"This was the film where we were like 50/50 partners going into it and collaborating and working together," Hearring said.

The men are graduates of Stephen F. Austin State University - Herring graduated in 2016 and Hughes in 2015.

They worked on the film together while they were in college. It was shot in summer 2015 over 28 days. Most work days lasted 12 or more hours.

"This is the first thing I've had a writer-director role in," Herring said.

The partners have played the movie at two other film festivals and are scheduling more.

"If this rate continues we'll probably total between 10 and 15," Hughes said.

Matthew James, 23, of Austin, played Mark, one of the young men featured in the movie. His character was the level-headed one and got brought into unwanted situations, he said. James comes to film festivals showing the movie to watch the audience's reaction on what they think is funny.

"It's awesome to get to see the people react in a certain way," he said. "To see how they start to feel for Mark and how ridiculous Jack is, and then Jack has his redeeming qualities, and it just comes into a full circle."

Cody Davids, 24, of Austin, played Jack, the character who got the two friends in trouble. Before James and Davids first filmed together, they only knew each other for less than five minutes.

"Everyone always asks, "Did y'all know each other before?'" James said. "It is kind of weird when you start to be best friends, and you're like, 'I don't know you, but we have to act.'"

Wendall Wilson, 74, of Victoria, attended the festival all weekend. Wilson likes independent films because they have a more human aspect than Hollywood ones, he said.

"If you take independent films as a whole, what you have is a picture of how we really are, which we don't have from the Hollywood movies," he said. "These are people filming usually non-professional actors doing real things."

The films were well attended, Spear said, and audience comments have been positive.

"Just overhearing conversations in the lobby, and when I've gone out to eat, I've been hearing people talk about the movies," she said.

This is the sixth year for the festival, and Spear has watched it grow.

"I feel like the word is finally getting out," she said.

This festival was the pilot for the Texas Young Filmmakers Showcase. Festival executives had local and Texas students watch films made by high school students, she said.

When Spear and former executive director Anthony Pedone first introduced the idea of a film festival, they got many questions in Victoria about what a film festival was and what it would mean for the community.

"Now, I see people already knowing about it and wanting to get behind it and wanting to be a part of it," she said



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