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Houston's acclaimed film festival casts New York film maven as new lead

Houston's acclaimed film festival casts New York film maven as lead

Jessica Green Houston Cinema Arts Festival
Jessica Green is a New York film pro who's in love with Houston's potential.  Photo courtesy of HCAF

Jessica Green is ready.

Recently, the Houston Cinema Arts Society announced that the 49-year-old, born-and-based Manhattanite is now the new artistic director for the Houston Cinema Arts Festival. She replaces longtime director Richard Herskowitz, who hipped her to the fest when she was a jury member for the Ashland Independent Film Festival — where Herskowitz is still the artistic director — a couple years back. (That’s also where she met Museum of Fine Arts, Houston film curator/HCAS board member Marian Luntz, who was also a juror and who eventually headed the organization’s artistic-director search committee.)

After going through several rounds of vetting from the HCAS, who went on a national search to find its next director, she got the gig. And although she was just in Houston for a couple of days to take a look around, she already has a bunch of ideas for the 11th annual festival this November. “[I want] films that really contend with the idea of creativity as a key to solutions around our problems, around our human issues,” says Green, as she walks around the McGovern Centennial Gardens. She’s also looking to find films that shine a light on artists and their lives, as well as to engage more with local and visiting artists and getting them involved in the festival.

Green has such an impressive work history that rustling up films and artists will probably be a breeze for her. For the past decade, she served as cinema director for the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem, founded by the late, great documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles. She's served as a post-production coordinator for such films as the Nicole Kidman flick Margot at the Wedding.

At the turn of the millennium, she became the executive editor at BET.com, handling all the entertainment interactive features for the cable channel's site. And back in the ’90s, she was a founding editor for the hip-hop monthly Stress, rounding up future rap icons like Jay-Z and Eminem to appear on covers. Green admits that Houston hip-hop was one of the many things that influenced her to take this position.

“Houston has an incredible, historical hip-hop and rap currency — and then, also, an incredible, present-day hip-hop currency,” she says. “And we've seen how it's kind of spread and influenced everything and, for sure, influenced film -- in terms of everything from editing styles to how music and sound is used in films. So, I’m really interested in those intersections and hip-hop really provided a foundation for that.”

Green is looking forward to coming back to Houston and coming up with film programming that will not only attract local cinephiles, but creative people of color — much like herself. “There are so many people in Houston that, you know, look like me and are like me, and Houston is so diverse,” she says. “So, I want to program for that real, authentic, grounded, incredibly diverse population. And I think we’re at a time when there is an opportunity for diversity to really be embraced.”