Film fest kicks up its heels


'Unicorn,' 'Cheerleaders,' 'Dance Hall' among top films at ninth annual indy movie event


Cheerleader high kicks and dance hall boot scooting were some of the highlights of the Hill Country Film Festival, held April 26-29 at Fritztown Cinema.

The festival (HCFF) is an independent film event which wrapped its ninth annual event following a weekend of diverse programming, panel discussions and a variety of hosted events.

The event is the brainchild of Chad Mathews, who has local family connections and who spent time in Fredericksburg each summer while growing up.

Mathews has seen the fest grow from a few film buffs into a growing event with directors from around the country and films submitted from around the globe.

HCFF screened 15 feature films and 73 short films representing nine countries.

Two award-winning films featured local connections. Taking Best Documentary honors was “Daughters of the Sexual Revolution: The Untold Story of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders,” which profiled the good, bad and ugly of being one of the iconic dancers at a time when American society was changing. The film featured extensive interviews with the late Suzanne Mitchell, a Fredericksburg resident who led the cheerleader squad for 14 years and cultivated their image as the “girls next door” cheering for “America’s team.”

Also featured in film interviews was Cindy Bennett, who lives in the White Oak community with her husband, Mark. Bennett was joined by several other cheerleaders who were in town for the film screening.

Taking Best Texas Film honors was “Dance Hall Days,” which featured coverage of the Turner Hall fire and rebuilding efforts, along with scenes from Luckenbach Texas, Albert Dance Hall and a mention of the Grapetown Schuetzenverein, among many others in and around Central Texas.

At the Saturday night awards ceremony, director Erik McCowan mentioned how one of the main subjects of the film, Steve Dean, was in hospice care after battling brain cancer for the past three years. Dean’s family announced on social media that he had died within hours of the film taking the award at the festival.

Hosted events included the filmmakers’ welcome reception at The Backyard at Fritztown Cinema; filmmakers’ lounge happy hours; panel discussions; and event parties at Ausländer Restaurant and Biergarten and West End Pizza Company on Main Street.

The festival was capped by a closing-night party and awards ceremony on April 28 at the Nimitz Ballroom at the National Museum of the Pacific War.

A special sendoff reception was held on Sunday, April 29, at Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall.

The festival is presented by the Hill Country Film Society, which hosts monthly free movie screenings and educational events such as a youth film camp each summer.



Festival award winners include:


Cinema Dulce - Best of Fest: “The Unicorn” (d. Robert Schwartzman, U.S.)


Audience Choice Award: “Time Trap” (d. Mark Dennis and Ben Foster, U.S.)


Best Texas Film: “Dance Hall Days” (d. Erik McCowan, U.S.)


Best Feature Film: “The Best of All Worlds (Die Beste Aller Welten)” (d. Adrian Goiginger, Austria)


Best Short Film: “Unforgiveable” (d. Giosue Petrone, Italy)


Best Documentary Film: “Daughters of the Sexual Revolution: The Untold Story of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders” (d. Dana Adam Shapiro, U.S.)


Best Student Short Film: “Towards the Sun” (d. Monica Santis, U.S.)


Best Director: Dianne Dryer, “Change In the Air”


Best Actress: Emilie Krause, “They Are Strangers”


Best Actor: James Paxton, “An American in Texas”


Best Short Screenplay: “Overwood,” written by Scott Cobb, Morgan Floyd,

Angelina Castillo, Ali Meier


Best Feature Screenplay: “Summer of ’84,” written by L. Elizabeth Powers