By Joey Guerra
Published 06:20 p.m., Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Road film "Cloudburst" stars Oscar winners Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker. Scrappy documentaries "Vito" and "Jobriath A.D." explore the legacies of an activist and a rock star (respectively). And cult classics "The Wiz" and "Showgirls" amp up the camp factor.
But one of the festival's most powerful pieces clocks in at under seven minutes and has a distinct Texas connection. "The Moon Song of Assassination" is a "docu-legend" tracing the cultural impact of the death of Tejano singer Selena, who was shot in 1995 by fan club president Yolanda Saldivar.
"The big bang began. Not with a bang and not with a boom. But with the bidi bidi bom bom of Yolanda's gun," says the female narrator.
The piece combines radio and TV reports, performance footage and NASA imagery with crowd chants of "Selena! Selena!" The "bang" referred to is the cavalcade of Latino stars who found success in the wake of Selena's death, including Ricky Martin and Shakira.
"I always think that there would be no Jennifer Lopez today were it not for the tragedy of Selena's death," says filmmaker Dolissa Medina, who hails from Brownsville. Her short screens Sunday at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as part of QFest.
"It would have been Selena in that role of a Latina media megastar today. She was such a key, if tragic, forerunner who showed the entertainment industry what a huge demographic we were. People en Español came out of that tragedy. I am happy that the legacy of this South Texas girl lives on."
The impact of Selena's music and legacy continues to be felt. Duets project "Enamorada de Ti," released earlier this year, topped Billboard's Latin Albums chart. Her songs continue to be played on Spanish and English-language radio.
Medina, who recently earned her master's degree in fine arts from the University of California, San Diego, listened to "more alternative" music growing up and wasn't familiar with Selena until her death. But the outpouring of love and grief piqued her interest in the singer.
"I witnessed the impact of her loss on the streets of the Mission, San Francisco's Latino neighborhood, where I lived at the time. Her music could be heard playing everywhere," Medina says. "That, along with the surprising amount of national media coverage of her murder, really fascinated me as both a journalist and storyteller."
"Moon Song" originated as a poem and is the final part of a Texas trilogy Medina began in 2000 with "Grounds," an homage to her great-grandmother's migration from Mexico to Laredo. The second film, "19: Victoria, Texas" is a memorial to the 19 undocumented immigrants who died in a tractor trailer outside of Houston in 2003.
"I felt as if for the first time, media gatekeepers like the New York Times and People magazinewere seeing the power of our numbers. They had no choice but to pay attention," Medina says. "The fact that this was a news story about art and culture, and not the typical cliché articles about immigration, really resonated with me."
Medina's use of found footage is initially jarring in the context of Tejano music. Reports of Selena's death and scenes of her ride around Reliant Astrodome during 1995's legendary RodeoHouston performance give way to '60s-era space shuttles and mission control. But her blending of seemingly disparate worlds eventually makes sense.
"I used NASA images from this time to invoke a cultural period of aspiration and violence, a trajectory mirrored in Selena's life. And because mythically, Selena was the name for the Greek goddess of the moon, it was easy to weave these narratives together," Medina says. "It was (also) important for me to use audio of the Space Shuttle Challenger countdown to show the momentum of Selena's life and career in those hopeful moments before it was cut short. All that was left was for us to look up at the sky.
"My intention has always been to honor Selena and her story, using the language of mythology. Her fans have already made her into a kind of goddess, so I am following in that tradition."