Texas Union Film Festival gives student filmmakers platform to show work

Stephen Acevedo

Students eagerly filed into the Texas Union theater Thursday for an evening of captivating films made by passionate directors. Unlike the movies highlighted during Oscar season, these short films were made by students for nothing more than their personal love for cinema. 

The seventh annual Texas Union Film Festival (TUFF) exhibited 11 independent short films created by UT students selected out of over 40 submissions. Although the screening itself took only 90 minutes, planning for the festival took over six months. 

The first-place winner of TUFF was “Antonio & Regina,” directed by radio-television-film graduate student T.J. Martinez. Following a husband and wife spending an evening attempting to spice up their relationship, “Antonio & Regina” takes a comically realistic peek into the struggles of keeping a marriage exciting despite the monotony of everyday life. 

“I’ve always had this fascination with relationships and sex in relationships,” Martinez said. “The way a relationship evolves and how people react with each other has always interested me, and that’s where I drew the ideas from for this story in particular.” 

Martinez acknowledged that some of the story may have been based on his personal experiences. 

“I had an ex-girlfriend, and we used to talk about maybe roleplaying or pretending that we were different people, but we never actually did it,” Martinez said. “But I guess maybe some of this film came from conversations I used to have with her.” 

With this film under his belt, Martinez said he has no plans of slowing down. His next film will be a documentary that follows a blind rodeo cowboy.

“I like both documentary and narrative, and I’ve got a couple of scripts that I’d like to develop,” Martinez said. “One way or another, I think I’ll always be a better fit in the independent film world.”

“El Fuego Detras,” directed by radio-television-film junior Leo Aguirre, took home second place. The three-minute film depicts the toxic home life of a young immigrant girl living with an abusive father. 

“My inspiration came from my life growing up in El Paso, which is a border town,” Aguirre said. “I have always been interested in characters who have been marginalized in a way by society, and all three characters in the film are, to some degree, very isolated.” 

Aguirre said he also found inspiration in the work of film industry titans like the Coen brothers.

“‘No Country For Old Men’ was shot in El Paso, so I tried to channel that a bit,” Aguirre said. “I also pulled some inspiration from Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘There Will Be Blood.’ Those two movies are great neo-westerns, so we tried to emulate that feel.” 

“El Fuego Detras” featured a particularly strong performance from Aguirre’s younger cousin, whose reaction in a particular scene was genuine fear.

“I didn’t tell the actors, including my little cousin, what exactly was going to happen during their scenes,” Aguirre said. “Her performance was very authentic because she didn’t know what the hell was going on. The actor who played her father genuinely freaked her out to the point of running out of the room, which you see in the film.”

TUFF promotes a fun, friendly competition in the UT film community. With a second prize of an Austin Film Festival pass and first prize of a South By Southwest film badge, the festival’s student filmmakers were eager to be selected as the top two films of the night.

“A South By Southwest film badge is a pretty serious prize to us movie buffs,” Martinez said. “I think any one of us would be more than happy to spend our spring break doing that.”