The Texas Court of Appeals declared the San Antonio Four innocent over a year ago, now the four women share their story through the film which helped to exonerate them.
Anna Vasquez, a member of the San Antonio Four attended the last screening scheduled for the inaugural Lost River Film Festival on Nov. 5. The movie “Southwest of Salem” was shown to an audience of over 30 on the second floor of the LBJ Museum and gave Vasquez time for a Q&A.
Viewers watched Vasquez and her friend’s story unfold on a projector while tears and anger filled the room and everyone learned how the four were falsely accused of gang raping two little girls. Vasquez and her girlfriend were spending the week with two friends; one was taking care of her nieces for weeks at a time after her sister separated from her husband.
“Southwest of Salem” discussed the Satanic Panic of the ’80s and ’90s during which people accused each other of devil worship, and a media frenzy lasted for years. The four women took care of the girls, went shopping, played in their yard and watched movies. When the girls returned home to their father, accusations of satanic rituals and molestation came about, and the women were tried and sentenced.
Vasquez spent 15 years in prison, and several months in solitary confinement after refusing a sex-offender treatment program. She served her entire sentence, only to be declared innocent almost two years later. “Southwest of Salem” was an integral part in freeing the four from blame as it was able to spread their story and raise money.
A quick drive to the nearest H-E-B was the first thing she did when she was released. She got a pack of Juicy Fruit gum and exclaimed that she had not chewed gum in 12 years.
Vasquez now works as an education coordinator for the Innocence Project of Texas. She accompanies “Southwest of Salem” to prisons, festivals and events to educate viewers on discrepancies in the criminal justice system and the life-threatening consequences of homophobia and mass hysteria.
Vasquez said she has seen “Southwest of Salem” six times, but no longer feels able to watch the film with audiences. She waited outside of the viewing room only to come in afterward for a lengthy question and answer.
“It’s amazing and unbelievable that people want to hear my story,” Vasquez said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to know that people care about injustice, or particularly want to watch the film and hear what really happened to us.”
Vasquez finds it difficult to watch the documentary which helped to free her from parole and life on the sex-offender registry, but she also said she cannot relate to any television shows or movies that are not prison bases. Vasquez enjoys other prison documentaries and said “Orange is the New Black” is her favorite show because she can watch and relate to the characters.
Audience members of the Lost River Film Festival asked Vasquez about her journey in prison as she dealt with solitude and prison fights. Attendees shared concerns over how Vasquez and her friends were sentenced regardless of solid physical evidence. The room was filled with gratitude, as people thanked Vasquez for openly sharing the worst experience of her life.
Karen Munoz, San Marcos Cinema Club member, helped to produce the festival and attended Vasquez’s screening.
“It was important to (show) this film is because this film is a direct example of how films can create social change,” Munoz said. “Part of the reason they were exonerated was because of this documentary.”
Jess Liao attended the viewing and was able to have lunch with Vasquez. The two ate hamburgers and discussed commonalities before the event started.
“She and I have some common ground in that she and her partner were raising her partner’s children,” Liao said. “Right now I’m living with my partner and helping to raise her child. I feel like what happened to her is a situation that could still happen to me or anyone.”