Less than a week before Halloween and the Houston Cinema Arts Society has announced the full lineup for its November 10-17 film festival. Coincidence? I don’t think so because, while there’s no horror flicks on the schedule, this eight-day monster of a cinema festival is set to devour all of Houston.
With 11 venues — including new-to-the-fest Houston Museum of Natural Science — there will be no place to hide from all the Oscar contenders, art films about art, Texas stories and live performances. Plus, the invasion of stars, directors and producers coming to the Bayou City might transform us all into cinephiles.
While it could take a day or two just to peruse the schedule of over 50 feature films, special programs and events, unveiled by HCAF artistic director Richard Herskowitz at launch party at The Alley Theater on Tuesday night, some definite trends and themes have emerged.
So here’s a quick overview to help plan those cinematic days and nights that will soon be upon us.
HCAF gives Houston premieres to several critic and film fest circuit darlings. If you want to get into the Oscar pool early, there’s plenty of movies making Houston premieres that might be competing early in 2017 for a naked gold guy. See and then maybe place a bet on: Jackie, the Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy drama starring Natalie Portman; La La Land a 21st century take on the old fashion musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (it's the early Oscar favorite for Best Picture), and Lion based on based on Saroo Brierley’s memoir of his childhood in Calcutta starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman.
A Woman’s Perspective
The 2016 HCAF boasts approximately as many women directed and co-directed films as films directed by men, and many of these women will accompany their creations to Houston and participate in panel discussion or workshops while here. Actress/writer/director Amber Tamblyn presents Paint It Black based on Janet Fitch’s novel of the same name. Another actress-turned-director, Good Wife and True Blood star Carrie Preston, comes to Houston to screen her documentary Happy Lucky Golden Tofu Panda Dragon Good Time Fun Fun Show, which has got to at least win an award for best title this or any year.
Look also for films by women about innovative and boundary-breaking woman. New York No Wave underground filmmaker Beth B offers two film portraits, one of her mother, painter Ida Applebroog in Call Her Applebroog, and another of burlesque stars in Exposed. Director Leslie Iwerks dishes the savory story of Brennan’s and Commander's Palace founder Ella Brennan in Ella Brennan: Commanding The Table.
2016 marks the second year of HCAF collaborating with NASA to bring CineSpace, the short film fest inside the larger fest. Last year they received more than 200 entries from around the world but this year they’ll more than double that. See the finally 15 with all the right stuff at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and then wins this year’s competition as chosen by Academy Award-nominated Texan director Richard Linklater.
Paired with this interstellar event will be an intriguing selection of art shorts, titled Fulldome Dance and Animation, all created for immersive viewing and screened inside the HMNS’s planetarium. Those wanting to dive even deeper into immersive cinema should get to The Brandon at Brasil for the VR Gallery, which will include an Oculus Rift VR experience and a video installation by visiting Netherlands-based artist Maarten Isaak de Heer.
The Eyes of Texas Are Upon Texas
As always, the fest brings to town an impressive collection of Texas films by Texas filmmakers. HCAF opens with the documentary Honky Tonk Heaven: Legend of the Broken Spoke from Houston born filmmaker Sam Wainwright Douglas and Brenda Mitchell. Country artist, and Broken Spoke regular, Dale Watson caps off the night with a live performance.
Even while its showcasing national and international films, the HCAF remains ever grounded in the Lone Star State with a Texas Filmmakers’s Showcase, a selection of artists portraits from the 14 Pews Film Academy and a tribute to Wharton native Horton Foote on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Script supervisor Anne Rapp will introduce Tender Mercies, which Foote wrote the screenplay for, and will present an excerpt from her upcoming documentary on Foote.
The “false crime” documentary films Until Proven Innocent and Booger Red, both based on Texas Monthly articles, depict cases of wrongful conviction and the investigative journalism that helped exonerate them. A panel discussion on this genre of documentary at the University of Houston Downtown will feature Until Proven Innocent filmmakers Anthony and Jenna Jackson, Booger Red filmmaker Berndt Mader, exonerated prisoner Anthony Graves, Houston defense attorney John Raley, Houston Innocence Network founder David R. Dow, Texas Monthly senior editor David Mann, and former Texas Monthly contributor and filmmaker Al Reinert.
Arts of Every Medium
Staying true to its founding ideals to celebrate films that celebrate the visual, performing, and literary arts, HCAF 2016 offers films on everything from literature (Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise) to dance and music (Argentina) to even fiber arts (Yarn). There’s an art form chronicled on film for everyone.
And legendary cinematographer Frederick Elmes, known for his work with directors David Lynch, Ang Lee and Jim Jarmusch, will be honored. In what is sure to be festival highlight, there will be a 30th anniversary screening of the Lynch classic, Blue Velvet, in which Elmes was a close collaborator, and afterwards, Elmes will be interviewed by Houston rap star and passionate cinephile Bun B. Elmes will also present a master class on cinematography at The Brandon Gallery in Café Brasil.
For more information about the 2016 Houston Cinema Arts Festival, visit the festival's website.