This year’s Houston Cinema Arts Festival will continue to celebrate film and its intersections with the arts, an emphasis that is unique among American film festivals. At the same time, in common with a host of other film festivals, we are exploring several areas that we feel are vital to address at this historical moment.
Foregrounding voices neglected by mainstream media is a mission we share with other film festivals. This past year, especially, outrage has grown over the persistent, shameful scarcity of women directors in commercial film (4% of the past decade’s top releases, according to a 2015 USC study). The Traverse City Film Festival countered this by having all of its 2016 official selections directed by women, adding a token sidebar of “Films by Men.” In our case, we are partnering with the AFI Directing Workshop for Women (DWW), which, since 1974, has trained hundreds of women in screen directing (including, in the first class, Maya Angelou, the subject of one of our feature documentaries). Three recent DWW filmmakers will screen works on November 13 at the MFAH, and then join in a panel discussion along with many of the women directors in this year’s festival. These include veteran independent feature directors Beth B (Call Her Applebroog) and Katherine Dieckmann (Strange Weather), as well as a group of new feature film directors whose works are among the most exciting I’ve encountered this past year: Celia Rowlson-Hall (MA), Amber Tamblyn (Paint it Black), and Cheryl Nichols (Cortez).
The neglect of black filmmaking voices, which also reached a boiling point this year in the #Oscarssowhite protest, will be partially countered when we honor the pioneering independent film director Billy Woodberry. In the belly of the beast, Woodberry helped lead the 70s and 80s “L.A. Rebellion” of black independent directors. He was joined by, among others, Julie Dash, Charles Burnett, and Carroll Parrott Blue, the esteemed media artist who now lives and works in Houston, and who will be joining Woodberry in conversation following his latest feature And When I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead on November 12. Woodberry will also be joined by his former CalArts student, Akosua Adoma Owusu, when he presents his classic Bless Their Little Hearts at the Houston Museum of African-American Culture on November 11. Owusu’s experimental films, more of which will be on view at The Brandon at Brasil on November 12, have attracted enormous international acclaim.
Exposing audiences to new forms and technologies of cinematic practice is another shared function of adventurous film festivals. Interactive media installations have supplemented theatrical screenings throughout our festival’s history, and several will be on view in MFAH Cullinan Hall (Wangechi Mutu’s The End of Carrying All), The Brandon at Brasil, and the Menil Collection, where artist Amie Siegel will present her remarkable work, Provenance, exploring the odyssey of Le Corbusier furniture from Chandigarh to high-class homes. The advanced mode of production attracting many filmmakers and festivals these days is immersive cinema, primarily seen in 360-degree films made to be experienced on VR HMDs (virtual reality head-mounted displays; now you too can speak the jargon). Narrative and documentary filmmakers are excited about the capacity of VR to intensify empathetic identification. We have a variety of powerful VR experiences in store for those of you who come to our VR Gallery at The Brandon at Brasil from November 11-13. One of them, Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness, expands on the extraordinary Notes on Blindness film in our program to give spectators a deeper understanding of the experience of being blind. A couple of other VR works are by visual artists who have created 360-degree experiences of their paintings (Rachel Rossin) and animations (Maarten Isaäk de Heer), providing the viewer more room for exploration.
De Heer, who will be visiting from the Netherlands, will show his animated FEBRUAR as both an Oculus Rift VR film at The Brandon at Brasil, and as a “fulldome” experience in the planetarium at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on November 13. “Fulldome” is the other, less commonly explored branch of immersive cinema that we are highlighting this year, thanks to our new partnership with HMNS, which will also be showcasing our second annual CineSpace awards screening the same night. At HMNS, we will be projecting a surprising selection of animated and dance films created expressly by artists for fulldome encompassing viewing.
We are thrilled to be part of the film festival universe driving cinema forward, opening it to new forms and diverse voices. We are also proud to be improving and expanding on our own unique niche, which is the celebration of the arts. Along with our annual selection of the year’s best new films about the visual, performing, and literary arts (see the index of films by art form on page 59), we have, as always, several “live cinema” events that will combine live music and film, from the opening night presentation of Honky Tonk Heaven with a performance by Dale Watson through the live appearance at the Asia Society by Slanty Eyed Mama following their Happy Lucky Golden Tofu Panda Dragon Good Time Fun Fun Show: The Movie. Above all, the art of cinema will be honored through the presence of special guest Eryk Rocha (Cinema Novo) and our tribute to one of our greatest cinematographers, Frederick Elmes, who will accompany two films directed by his longtime collaborators David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch, Blue Velvet and Paterson.
Dive into this catalogue for more gems, including the major upcoming releases La La Land, Jackie, Lion, and Neruda, and plan to take our weeklong journey from the opening night Honky Tonk Heaven at the MFAH through the closing night free screening of Contemporary Color on Main Street Square, with stops along the way at the Menil Collection, Aurora Picture Show, HMNS, HMAAC, Asia Society Texas Center, and Rice Cinema. Buckle up!