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CineFestival Winners BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN SONGS OF THE HOMELAND Directed by Hector Galan EL DIABLO NUNCA DUERME/THE DEVIL NEVER SLEEPS Directed by Lourdes Portillo BAJO DEL PERRO/UNDER THE DOG Directed by Michael Polish MUSIC MIGHT BE the food of love, but, as much as the food they love, music is the resound ing expression of a particular people. The heart of Italy beats more to opera than pepperoni, and raga more than curry conveys the savor of India. Whoever would understand the civilization of south Texas must develop an acquaintance not only with the taco but with the button accordion as well. Songs of the Homeland is an exercise in ethnomusicololgy, a history of Tejanos disguised as a history of Tejano music. It will receive the Special Jury Award at the 18th annual CineFestival, which runs from February 1-5 at San Antonio’s Guadalupe Theater. A screening of Hector Galan’s documentary, at 8 p.m. on February 3, will be followed by the music of Mingo Saldivar, one of the performers profiled in the film. Of more than 70 offerings, Songs of the Homeland, an introduction to the music that best exemplifies the spirit of south Texas, was chosen to be honored as the work that “best exemplifies the spirit of CineFestival.” The homeland whose songs Galan studies lies above Mexico and beneath the empyrean. A century ago, a new hybrid culture, neither Mexican nor Yankee, .was being born among the largely rural Hispanics of the area. Their music, a compound of rancheras of Norteflo origin and Central European polkas, accompanied them as they followed crops from farm to farm. Tejano troubadours anchored their performances in a button accordion, a bajo sexto and the enormous enthusiasm of Spanishspeaking audiences. Narciso Martinez is saluted as the father of conjunto, their exuberant dance music, and Valerio Longorio, who still teaches accordion to children in San Antonio, is credited with introducing lyrics into the genre. World War II propelled migration into Steven G. Kellman teaches comparative literature at the University of Texas at San Antonio. the cities and into the mainstream middle class. Challenged by the appeal and prestige of the big band sound, Berto Villa and Isidro Lopez blended it with conjunto, but upwardly mobile Tejanos became increasingly uncomfortable with the music of their humble past. Rock ‘n’ roll seized the allegiance of younger audiences and performers, most dramatically when Sunny Ozuna appeared on American Bandstand and made a national hit of “Talk to Me.” The accordion had become as popular as menudo among Tejanos embarrassed by parochialism. However, the Chicano Movement of the 1960s revived pride in la raza and its own distinctive tunes. Conjunto returned, to rally Tejanos in cotton fields and on dance floors. “Las Nubes,” by Little Joe y la Familia, became the anthem of struggle and hope for migrant farmworkers. Today, with a large network of radio stations, dance halls and record labels, Tejano music has become a lucrative industry, based in San Antonio. Songs of the Homeland concludes on an upbeat, though traditional conjunto, like other folk music, is surely threatened by new electronic technologies and social arrangements. “It’s not what you play but what you play for,” proclaims a Tejano musician. “I play for my people.” But those are not the same people who gave birth to conjunto. Any film on this subject stands in the resonant echo of Les Blank’s magnificent Chulas Fronteras analytic than Blank, using an Olympian narrator and interviews with scholars to survey 100 years of Tejano culture in less than an hour. Blank is both more ambitious and more modest; he merely immerses you in the vibrant world of Tejano music. N HER BEST-KNOWN work, Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo Lourdes Portillo studied the stubborn Argentine women who assembled every day to demand an official accounting of the children who “disappeared” in their country’s “Dirty War.” El Diablo Nunca Duenne/The Devil Never Sleeps, which won the CineFestival award for best docu mentary and will be screened at 7:30 p.m. on February 5, begins with another mys tery. A phone call informs Portillo that her uncle Oscar Ruiz Almeida has died unex pectedly, of a gunshot to his head. The di rector, who left her native Mexico at the age of 13, returns to Chihuahua to learn what really happened. “I’m no closer to knowing who he really was,” admits Portillo after amassing a wealth of new information about her late Uncle Oscar. We learn about an ebullient man who made a fortune in farming and construction, served as mayor of the coastal town of Guaymas and married a young carnival queen, Ofelia, just two months after his first wife, Catalina, died of cancer. Ofelia refuses to speak on camera, but others accuse her of being a manipulative bounder, of abusing Oscar’s children and of plotting her husband’s death. Rumors abound about Oscar’s generous insurance policy, his plastic surgery and his desire to divorce Ofelia. Is it true that he had cancer? AIDS? That he was homosexual? “There are no clear answers, no simple solutions to life’s mysteries,” is what Portillo concludes after retracing the course of Tio Oscar’s life and interviewing anyone who might have shed light on his death. The police rule it a suicide, but sources are convinced that Oscar, a wealthy man with reasons to be resented, was murdered. The truism that the devil never sleepsthough mortal scoundrels surely sleep with him might account for the amount of mischief in the world, though it does not help us make sense of it all. The Devil Never Sleeps respects the enigmas of existence enough not to presume to resolve them. It is a personalized telenovela compounded of old family photographs and recent gossip, a film noir in which black and white are irreducibly gray. To assauge his insomnia, the devil probably delights in just such exasperating films as this. Severo Perez’s …and the earth did not swallow him, which was reviewed in the October 28 issue of the Observer, won the CineFestival award for best fiction feature and will be screened again at 7 p.m. on February 2. Honored as best short, Michael Polish’s Bajo del Perro/Under the Dog, will be screened at 7 p.m. on February 1. A slight work in black-andwhite, it is a study in adolescent anxiety. Convinced alternately that he can win and that he does not stand a chance, Lefty prepares for a boxing match with a neighborhood tough known as The Man. Seventeen minutes later, the fight ends quickly and abruptly, when one of the combatants lies dazed on the ground. The match is a_ knockout, unlike the film. 20 JANUARY 27, 1995