SXSW Film: Poor and Pregnant in San Antonio

Mar 13, 2015

Filmmaker Micah Magee has been all over the world – but just wanted to capture the Lone Star State in her SXSW Film "Petting Zoo."

Micah Magee directed "Petting Zoo." It's making its North American premiere at SXSW.

"When I was in film school in Berlin I’d go like sit in the cactus section at the biological gardens because I missed the way it smelled so much and you can’t really get smells to be in a film," Magee says. "So I had to find the ways to have that feeling of really being there that I really missed so much. I wanted to like transport that to everywhere else in the world where the film could and, hopefully, would go."

Magee is now a married mother of three – you can hear her six-month old crawling on the floor during our interview. But her first feature film is based on her experiences when she was young. She was a teenager in San Antonio. Pregnant. Struggling to work, go to school and deal with family issues.

'Petting Zoo' director Micah Magee.
Credit Paul Grandsard

While her film raises questions about sex education, reproductive health, and other issues, Magee says she’s not making any statements. She knows some people may see her film as a profile of kids growing up too soon – she says that’s just a reality for many kids who grew up in neighborhoods like hers in San Antonio.

"Like how present are your parents, and how present you need to be, when do you need to start working, when is it financially necessary for you to start working, do you pay rent to your parents to live there because they need you to? Stuff like that which I think varies a lot from family to family and income level to income level," Magee says.

It’s a reality for the young people she found to act in her film – including the lead character – who actually went to the same high school as Magee.

Magee has been all over the world… but she felt compelled to set this story where she grew up.

"It’s very specific to San Antonio and it’s actually very specific to certain neighborhoods of San Antonio because when I was growing up there, the city was expanding so massively," Magee says.

She captured scenes that represented her corner of Texas.

"I had to have Enchanted Rock and I had to have the Guadalupe River like under the highway where I used to go swimming and I had to have fire ants and I had to have like the stray cats that used to run around our property," Magee says.

After filming, she went back to Berlin to edit – but encountered a different problem with place.

"They had the wrong crickets and they had the wrong birds and the wrong background sounds that you actually have to add to a film later," Magee says.

She lucked out when she found someone in Texas who happened to have recorded the sounds of purple martins and other "Texas specific" noises.

"Petting Zoo" debuted at the Berlin Film Festival last month… but Magee says she’s been focused on South by Southwest.

"Well for me of course it’s the real premiere because it’s where I’ll be showing it to my family and it’ll be where I can kind of show everyone what I learned and did while I was away," Magee says.

The film shows three times during SXSW. Magee hopes to get it into more theatres down the line.