While our feature film premieres (Wild, The Imitation Game, The Sound and the Fury, etc.) are grabbing most of the press coverage, festival regulars know that the short films are often our strongest selections. This year, the quality of the shorts we’ve gathered is pretty spectacular.
There are a couple of archival discoveries, neglected films by well-known filmmakers, I’m very excited to share. In 1990, Robert Frank made a film called C’est Vrai! that is a continuous 60-minute shot filmed on the streets of New York, during which staged fictional and unstaged documentary events transpire before the camera. I was not aware of this film at all, until Marian Luntz, who oversees the Robert Frank film collection housed at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, told me it might be the right film to show to celebrate Frank’s 90th birthday and to tie in with our “Street Scenes” programming. Frank is, in the view of many, the greatest of American street photographers, but the street has not been a prominent milieu of his films. This film was a revelation to me, for both its content and its masterful photographic style.
Another surprise was the film Bronx Baptism, made in 1980 by our featured guest artist DeeDee Halleck with Babette Mangolte and, believe it or not, sculptor Richard Serra. It’s a neglected masterpiece, I believe, capturing a miraculous baptism ceremony in a Pentecostal church in the Bronx. Halleck is a well-known media activist, yet many of her admirers are unaware of her lifelong collaborations with important visual artists, including Serra, Robert Smithson, and Nancy Holt. These creations, including Bronx Baptism, will be featured in the Brandon Gallery free program DeeDee Halleck: Collaborations with Artists. Coincidentally, another great artist Halleck assisted was Robert Frank, and she will talk about her work on his short film Keep Busy, on the same program as C’est Vrai!
Two of my favorite films of the year are short films about the cinema, and are jammed together in one program on November 16. Mati Diop’s 1000 Suns is about the star of her uncle Djibril Diop Mambety’s African classic Touki Bouki, and how he’s faring in the shadow of that film today, while Deborah Stratman’s Hacked Circuit is a tour-de-force reconstruction of the foley sound effects used in a scene of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation.
If you like short narrative films, the most buzzed about one of the year, as you’ll see by the accolades on the film’s website, is Tim Guinee’s One Armed Man, adapting Horton Foote’s short play. Guinee, an accomplished actor who began his training at HSPVA, elicits phenomenal performances from his film actors, and will present his film twice during the festival, on November 13 and 16. You will find a few knockouts in this year’s Texas Filmmakers Showcase, including two films from women directors who are clearly going places– Annie Silverstein’s astonishing, beautifully observed Skunk, and Kat Candler’s electrifying Black Metal, which she is in the process of turning into an upcoming feature, following this year’s remarkable debut, Hellion. We’re showing the Showcase on November 14 and repeating it as part of our Spotlight on Texas section November 17-20, because it is, far and away, the best compilation I’ve seen from the Houston Film Commission’s annual series.
Finally, three of the most esteemed American experimental filmmakers are coming to our festival, and screening new and classic short works. I was familiar with James Nares’ amazing action paintings, and had heard about his films, but had never seen them before this year. I believe now, as I do with Warhol, that the films, gems of often humorous, minimalist action, are as fine if not finer than the paintings. I particularly recommend the free presentation of Street (2012) and Pendulum (1976) on November 13 at the Menil, but that tantalizing pair should draw you back for Nares’s showing of thirteen more films on November 15 at the Brandon.
Inspired early in their careers by Helen Levitt, James Agee, and Janice Loeb’s 1955 classic In the Street, Ken Jacobs and Jem Cohen will present and discuss the film, and show their own works made under its influence. Both Jacobs and Cohen have broadened the horizons of street photography with their photographic and cinematic experiments on Polaroid (Cohen) and in 3D (Jacobs), all on view in the Brandon Gallery Street Scenes exhibition. Both have, coincidentally, applied their street photography skills to capturing, with their engaged, poetic, and idiosyncratic eyes, Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, as will be seen in Jem Cohen’s Same Street, Different Worlds and Ken Jacobs’ Blankets for Indians, both at Sundance Cinemas.