In just eight years, Houston Cinema Arts Society (HCAS) has put the nation’s fourth largest city on the map among film industry professionals, artists, and film aficionados as a premier showcase for the moving image and the creative process. Although the society is still working to expand public awareness, its founding illustrates how Houston’s cultural entrepreneurship is taking off along with our diverse population and economy.

In 2007, then-Mayor Bill White asked arts philanthropist and former trial attorney Franci Crane to head a task force to stimulate film culture in Houston. She and a team of cultural leaders came back several months later with the recommendation that Houston sponsor cinematic programming that celebrates the visual, performing, and literary arts. This unique focus on films “by and about artists” accomplished two goals: It filled a niche in the broader film festival world that was sorely underrepresented. And it identified Houston, internationally, as a thriving arts town that celebrates innovative films, media installations and performances.

HCAS received 501(c)(3) status in September 2008 and presented a weekend Film Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and Rice University. HCAS launched its inaugural five-day film festival in 2009. In addition to its now-annual Houston Cinema Arts Festival (HCAF), held in November, HCAS presents a variety of initiatives and programs including a growing schedule of year-round screenings, events, performances, and guest lectures.

The Houston Cinema Arts Festival is the most ambitious of the HCAS programs. This five-day, multi-venue festival includes over 50 narrative and documentary films, an interactive video installation gallery, 16mm screening room, live multimedia performances, panel discussions, Meet the Makers workshops, and free outdoor and student field trip screenings. In its relatively short history, HCAS has brought notable guest artists, such as Tilda Swinton, Alex Gibney, Guillermo Arriaga, Isabella Rossellini, John Turturro, Shirley MacLaine, Rick Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Fisher Stevens, Robert Redford, Tracy Letts, Will Forte, and Thomas Haden Church among many others, to the Festival.

HCAS is proud to collaborate on many of its programs with a number of Houston’s finest arts, cultural, and other nonprofit organizations. Partners have included The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Contemporary Arts Museum, Inprint, Blaffer Art Gallery, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, Houston PBS, Houston Ballet, HGOco-Houston Grand Opera, Aurora Picture Show, Southwest Alternate Media Project, Texas Children’s Hospital, and others. Current initiatives in progress include expansion of educational outreach with HOUSTON CINEMA ARTS FESTIVAL ON THE ROAD to take films about the arts to Houston area high schools and internship programs with the University of Houston Valenti School of Communications and Houston Community College Film Department.