Juliana Destefano (center) stars in the movie “Acid Test”
Photo: Acid test productions
An act of teenage rebellion forms the basis of a gripping new film from Houston director Jenny Waldo.
“Acid Test,” screened November 15 at the Rice Cinema as part of the Houston Cinema Arts Festival and the director’s first narrative feature, tells the story of an early ’90s teenage Houston girl named Jenny (Juliana Destefano) which breaks parents’ expectations by getting deep into punk rock and LSD. This is the only second theatrical screening after being booked at the Austin Film Festival in October.
It’s a film rooted in much of his own experience. Waldo grew up in the Washington DC area, finding connections to the local punk scene, following groups such as Fugazi and Bikini Kill. She still has the flyer from a gig with Ashes where she dropped LSD.
âIt’s not a drug movie or a drug movie that’s so cool than a coming-of-age family drama,â says Waldo.
During “Acid Test”, family dynamics become history. A Gen X split creates conflict while paving the way for resolution.
The story is set in the 1992 presidential election. Archival news clips propel the narrative backdrop. Waldo includes references to the Republican convention being held at the Astrodome as well as the Supreme Court confirmation of Clarence Thomas from the previous year.
âWe were filming on the cusp of the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, and it’s like, ‘Wait a minute, is another person testifying against a possible Supreme Court judge?’â Waldo said. “There were people on the crew who were new to Anita Hill.”
When: 7:30 p.m. November 15
Or: Rice Cinema, Sewell Building, 6100 Main St., No. 301, Houston
Waldo shot the film in Houston at locations such as his home and the River Oaks Theater.
For that final sequence, Waldo, âI wanted something that would look like a movie theater in the early 1990s. The River Oaks certainly has that vibe. Going to a movie in theaters was a big part of our childhood.â We had one. very short window, and it was actually one of the places we had to pay for. “
Heights concert hall, Dan Electro’s, provided the setting for the concert. The group Giant Kitty, for whom Waldo previously filmed videos, regrouped and played the lead role.
âI didn’t want the film to be a piece of nostalgia. I wanted to tap into the current mold of what the movement is today, âshe says.
Born and raised in Washington DC, Waldo went to college in Oberlin, Ohio, then moved to Los Angeles, where he earned an MFA in film production from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. She landed in New Orleans in 2004, but moved to Houston in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.
She currently teaches at Houston Community College and has incorporated students to work on the “Acid Test”. Funding was provided in part by nonprofit arts organizations Fresh Arts and From the Heart Productions.
Waldo found his star, Destefano, after seeing his audition tape.
âAs soon as I saw her tape, I knew she was the right one. You like to watch her, âWaldo says.
Destefano claims several film and television credits starting as a child actor. Based in Los Angeles but raised in Houston, Destefano stayed with her parents during filming, helping the super low budget production as a local hire.
Destafano’s mother, Mary Beth, helped during production by preparing some of the team’s meals. âShe came to me when she was nine and told me she wanted to be an actress and I thought that was a phase she was going through,â said Mary Beth. “Then when she was 11, she asked me to take her to an audition, and I realized she was serious.”
Michael Bergeron is a Houston-based writer.