Charlie Vela jumps into a Skype call with a collaborator out from Palo Alto at 9 p.m. He won’t finish the call until 4 a.m.
Vela, although a music producer, is also involved with film production and continues finding ways to connect music with those cinematic elements.
He is one of several artists, all connected through the filmmaking community, who are adapting and continuing to work through the pandemic.
Faced with cancellations of their screenings and presentations both locally and nationally, there’s a recurring pattern between filmmakers: creative bursts throughout quarantine.
When Vela isn’t spending time with his family, he is finishing work on other people’s records.
The longtime music producer is currently working on an album that integrates theatrical production such as storytelling and voice acting in between the music he creates.
“We’re finishing it this week,” Vela said of the project. “We’ve been kind of hunkered down doing that.”
Recording took place last year, according to Vela. What is left are final touches: tweaking, editing and mixing.
Through Skype calls that go into the morning; sometimes as late as 4 a.m, Vela works with his collaborator from California; they listen to the album through a streaming service and actively brainstorm on the call as if they were in the room together.
“We’re all working remotely through our studios at home, kind of like on Skype, streaming things to the client back,” Vela said.
Before the current project, Vela participated in a film panel for the South Texas International Film Festival, an international competition held in Edinburg.
The panel was dedicated to the documentary, “As I Walk Through the Valley,” which he co-directed with filmmaker Ronnie Garza, focuses on the secret history of underground music in the Rio Grande Valley.
The documentary premiered at Austin’s South by Southwest in 2017; STXIFF sponsored additional screenings of the documentary, according to Garza.
Additionally, Garza mentioned they had a screening scheduled at Columbia University in New York City in April.
Garza said he shot the footage for his second and third installments of his Valley Trilogy before the pandemic restrictions began — quarantine provided the time needed to focus on editing the documentaries.
“The lockdown is giving me time to edit — continue editing (Pansy Pachanga),” Garza said.
Garza’s Valley Trilogy consists of “As I Walk Through the Valley,” “Pansy Pachanga” and “11,000 Years of History in the RGV.”
The theme among the documentaries relate to the historical parts of the Valley: “Pansy Pachanga” explores the Valley’s LGBTQ+ scene and “11,000” focuses on the origins of the region.
The “11,000” project is Garza’s biggest — a five part documentary. From attending burial ceremonies to working closely with local professors, Garza launched his third project right as everything began going in lockdown.
“I’m just editing, I’m just going,” Garza said.
Aside from filmmaking, Garza works as a freelance journalist for Texas Public Radio; he creates content specific to the Valley and works closely with a small team, a reporter and a videographer.
“I think the whole filmmaking community is still figuring out best practices in terms of in-person interviews,” Garza said.
While filmmakers continue navigating through the pandemic’s effects, officials with STXIFF remain confident the show will go on as the annual event is still slated for September. STXIFF announced on their website they have no intentions to cancel the festival.
“The South Texas International Film Festival would like to inform our submitters, participants, and attendees that despite the recent outbreak of COVID-19 that has struck the U.S. and the world, our event is planned as scheduled from September 9-12,” the announcement read. “However, if the situation calls for it, we have prepared a contingency plan to postpone but not cancel the festival.”
Attempts to reach officials with STXIFF for more information were unsuccessful as of press time; Vela, for his part, has doubts about any events with large gatherings will open anytime soon.
Another filmmaker with Valley roots is Jillian Glantz, a director and University of Texas Rio Grande Valley alum.
Glantz faced a similar experience as her film “Remember My Soul” was scheduled for a screening at the McAllen Public Library on March 15.
The documentary, which was shot in the Valley, focuses on the history of Sephardic Jews in South Texas and explores their contributions to regional customs and culture, and how it helped shape the identity of people in the borderlands.
About two days before the screening, Glantz was informed that the library canceled the screening; there are plans to reschedule, but nothing is set in stone, she said.
Despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, Glantz has toyed around with the idea of making a movie at home.
“One of the good things about it is that it kind of forces you to be creative and think outside the box,” Glantz said.
She remains working on figuring out how to distribute her documentary.
Garza, who worked as a consulting editor for Glantz’s documentary, and Glantz continue working together to add “Remember My Soul” on Amazon Prime; in addition to screenings, “Remember My Soul” was added to the Library of Congress.
“There’s still ways to work through it, but it’s just not using the traditional route a lot of filmmakers are used to using,” Glantz said.