(November 23, 2014) The sixth annual Houston Cinema Arts Festival, the sixth that I’ve programmed, came to its supposed end last Sunday. It then continued for four more days with our “after-fest” Spotlight on Texas and some command performances of festival hits, all in Sundance Cinemas. Now, I think we have truly wrapped it up, and I can only keep this festival running by playing back my memories of an amazing, though freezing, week.
As in the past, the “live cinema” performances were the most memorable. I’m still stunned by the power of the individual testimonies by audience members presenting their family photographs at the Digital Diaspora Family Reunion Roadshow hosted by Thomas Allen Harris. Each was like a short play, a piece of spontaneous theater, and a powerful extension of Harris’ film, Through a Lens Darkly. It’s the third time I’ve seen Deke Weaver’s Wolf, and the excellent projection and sound at the Rice Media Center elicited a great performance by Deke. Heather and Benjamin Epps’ Revolve on Camera: The Performances, complemented by live dancing by the Spring, TX` Revolve Dance Company, was a flawless show, adored by the MFAH audience. The Epps’ short film Angsters, with its blend of dance, music, Houston public art, and cinematic experimentation, could be the emblematic film of our film festival and the city of Houston itself.
Our field trips were particularly satisfying this year. The high school students so appreciated the inspiring presences of Tim Guinee and Thomas Allen Harris following the showings of One Armed Man and Through a Lens Darkly at the MFAH and Eldorado Ballroom. The English filmmakers Dan Poole and Giles Terera were such vivid presences in their film Muse of Fire and then via Skype for the Q&A, that many students happily posed with the projected artists after the show.
I’m so glad that our efforts to bring the subjects of our films, as well as the directors, landed us both Born to Fly’s director Catherine Gund and choreographer Elizabeth Streb, as well as director Jennifer Grausman and art forger Mark Landis of Art and Craft. Grausman wrote that her screening “was one of the best screenings/audiences we’ve ever had,” and Landis’ pithy and hilarious comments during the Q&A were the highlight of the week for many.
Post-film discussions were stronger than ever this year. The Q&A’s with James Ivory, led by three different moderators (Ernie Manouse, Rich Levy, and me), gave those who attended all three rich insight into this great director’s career. It was amazing how much information and illumination Julie Taymor packed into her 20 minutes of conversation with Greg Boyd! I wasn’t there, but I heard that Bun B did a brilliant interview with director Daniel Ziv after Jalanan, and I hope to have Bun back to host future Q&A’s. I was there to moderate a “Meet the Makers” brunch panel that gathered an inter-generational array of guest artists including the Epps, Gund, Ivory, Lee Caplin, and Marcelo Gomes. It was inspiring–especially hearing from Gomes about the support that Brazil gives its film artists, something that our own country should emulate.
The most satisfying part of the festival for me, happily, is still running through December 10, and so the festival is not, in fact, over. The Brandon Gallery exhibition Street Scenes: Street Photography and the Moving Image, came together beautifully, thanks to the hard work of installation coordinators Camilo Gonzalez and Stephen Wilson and the gallery’s Lynne McCabe and Dan Fergus. The photographic and video works by James Nares, Ken Jacobs, Jem Cohen, and Cheryl Dunn complement each other and fit the space perfectly. You should run to see the show, and then stay for a while to catch all the videos that make this exhibition an ongoing street film festival on its own. The partnership with Brasil and the Brandon, which included a fabulous Cinema Arts Celebration party, will continue year-round (watch for future announcements), so this festival never has to quit.