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Arts & Culture

Bringing Cornyation To The Silver Screen

Julián P. Ledezma
San Antonio Current
King Anchovy LII: Jeffrey James

When I first looked through the 2018 San Antonio Film Festival program, I immediately knew I was going to see the “Hometown Heroes Short Films Block.” Partly because I am a native San Antonian and partly because I saw the film “Cornyation” listed in that time block.  The 20-minute short features beautiful cinematography, archive footage, thoughtful narration, and clever editing. It strikes the perfect balance of being entertaining while providing an accurate history of the annual event.

It is difficult to think of a more transformative and impactful Fiesta event than Cornyation ­— even though most people do not know about its origin or historical significance. During the early years of Fiesta San Antonio, many of the events were exclusive and run by white social elites. One of the most important events in the 1950s was the Coronation of the Queen of the Order of the Alamo, which was a lavish debutante pageant that crowned a queen.

After witnessing how glitzy and inaccessible Coronation was to the average San Antonian, a group of outsiders decided to create a platform for the city’s underappreciated and underrepresented.

“Cornyation was created by members of the San Antonio Little Theater as a satire of the Coronation of the Queen, mocking the elite by creating their own duchesses, empresses, and queens in the show, accompanied by men in drag and local political figures in outrageous costume” wrote Dr. Amy L. Stone in her book “Cornyation: San Antonio’s Outrageous Fiesta Tradition.”

Throughout the decades, Cornyation has transformed from an insider event to one of Texas’ most iconic and longest-running LGBTQ+ events, and “one of the first large-scale fundraisers for HIV-AIDS research in the Southwest,” according to Dr. Stone. Its popularity has raised over $3 million for local charities over its lifespan. 

But why are we talking about Cornyation in August? That’s because Dave Sims’ short film “Cornyation” screened on Friday, August 3 during the “Hometown Heroes Short Films Block” of the San Antonio Film Festival. The short highlights the history of Cornyation, its connection to the LGBTQ+ community, the reign of King Anchovy LII (Jeffrey James) and the Court of Insane Privilege.

Credit Sam Sanchez / Out in SA
Out in SA
David Sims shooting footage for his Cornyation film at the King Anchovy Coming Out Party.

The short features interviews with important contemporary Cornyation figures such as Jesse Mata, Colin Hill, Elaine Wolff, and Tom McKenzie. Testimonials are also provided by Dr. Amy L. Stone and Ray Chavez — who revived Cornyation in the early 1980s and shaped the show into what it is today.

While many different Cornyation skits are excerpted during the 20-minute short, the filmmakers highlighted a skit that combined Trump’s border wall plan with the bathroom bill issue and a skit where Jesus Christ returns to Earth but cannot come to America because of the travel ban. Given these topics political relevance a full year after filming, audience members erupted into laughter after seeing them performed.

Although this short was produced in 2017, the creators plan to release a full-length feature documentary. According to producer Crissy Rivas, this year they “shot what will be the full-length feature Cornyation film that will further explore the rich history and themes we touched on in the short while following 2018’s King Anchovy LIII, Charlie Biedenharn, co-owner of Bakery Lorraine.”

In an interview with “Out in SA,” Sims confirmed that a longer version of the film is now in the editing process and should be completed by next spring. https://vimeo.com/234393227">Cornyation, the Short Film (2017) is currently available for viewing online on Vimeo.