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PBS to Show Controversial Documentary About Selena

July 13, 1999|KEVIN BAXTER and ALISA VALDES-RODRIGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A controversial documentary that explores the life and legacy of slain tejano singer Selena Quintanilla will air tonight on KCET-TV despite protests from the singer's family, which earlier led to the film being pulled from CineFestival in San Antonio, where it was scheduled to close the nation's oldest Latino film festival.

"Corpus: A Home Movie for Selena" by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Lourdes Portillo, which airs nationally on PBS tonight, has been reedited by the filmmaker in response to the family.

The documentary, part of the 12-year-old "POV" series--documentaries with a point of view--mixes rare home-movie footage provided by the Quintanillas and interviews with followers and family members. It paints a largely fawning portrait of Selena, who was shot to death by the president of her fan club in a Texas motel room in 1995.

But Abraham Quintanilla, the singer's father, objected to some fleeting moments in the film, which includes a drag-queen Selena impersonator, rumors of the singer's alleged plastic surgery and speculation about an intimate relationship between fan club president Yolanda Saldivar and Selena.

After lawyers for the Quintanillas contacted Portillo with their objections, she pulled the documentary from the June film festival. Portillo says she deleted one line from the film that "could have been misconstrued." She declined to identify the line, adding that the rest of the documentary remains intact.

"I've tried to accommodate [Abraham Quintanilla] and his sensitivity balanced out with my sensibilities as an independent filmmaker," said Portillo, whose 1983 film "Las Madres: The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo" was nominated for an Academy Award as best documentary. "It's part and parcel of being an independent filmmaker. You're not going to please everyone."

Abraham Quintanilla, who called the documentary "an ugly film," refused further comment, but his Corpus Christi, Texas-based attorney, Darrell Barger, said the family is upset over comments made in the documentary by Chicana writer Sandra Cisneros, who claimed--falsely--that Selena didn't finish high school, and writer Cherrie Moraga hints at a romantic relationship between the singer and Saldivar. The Quintanillas also objected to portions featuring the drag queen, who is shown getting dressed in a backstage scene.

"Out in California that's not going to be a big deal," says Barger. "But in South Texas, it's not a good thing."

Barger said the family never tried to prevent the film from airing on PBS, but felt Portillo had misrepresented herself when she approached the Quintanillas for help with the project. He said the family asked only that the film be "a positive portrayal that little kids could watch," a test they don't believe the completed documentary passes.

Portillo disputed that account, saying that Abraham Quintanilla approached her asking to be included in the documentary after learning that the San Francisco filmmaker had been in Texas interviewing people about his daughter.

In her film Portillo said she set out to explore why Selena, little known outside tejano music circles in life, remains an important icon for Latinas four years after her death. The film also explores class issues among Mexican Americans. But by including comments like those of Cisneros, who questions Selena's legacy, Portillo challenges the image Quintanilla has constructed of his daughter, says Ray Santisteban, who organized CineFestival.

"Lourdes went in and tried to interpret who Selena really was and what she meant," he said. "It was a conversation that was taking place in the community anyway. She did a great job of talking to working-class people and finding out what Selena meant to them.

"It's a more realistic, more in-depth look at what Selena was about and what she meant to our community."

Officials at both KEDT-TV in Corpus Christi and KLRN-TV in San Antonio said the documentary has received heavy promotion in their markets and the Quintanillas have not contacted either station about the program.

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* "Corpus: A Home Movie for Selena" airs tonight at 10 on KCET-TV and KPBS-TV (San Diego). The network has rated it TV-G (suitable for all ages).

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