Houston, we have a fest world problem. With eight days of film screenings, live performances and special programs happening at 11 different venues, the eighth annual Houston Cinema Arts Festival, which kicks off Thursday (November 10), forces us once again to make some cinematic choices because it’s pretty much impossible to see everything.
So how to decide which films to catch and which to sadly let go? Should we take the Oscar bait and be the first in Houston to see Jackie or La La Land? How about picking just one venue and spend the week at the Museum of Fine Arts or Sundance Cinemas seeing the bounty of films each has to offer? Or do we go for one genre like biopic or concert documentary?
Each and every schedule strategy would probably give us many nights of cinematic treats, but this year I’m going back to HCAF fundamentals. The festival has always brought films to Houston that celebrate the arts and artists. So in keeping with that founding spirit of the festival, here’s a selection of must-see art films about the arts selected by genre.
Honky Tonk Heaven (November 10 at the MFAH)
For a music documentary with a definite Texas twang, let’s start our HCAF right away with the opening night homage to the Austin live music haven the Broken Spoke. This pick also delivers the first of many live performances at the Festival, with a frequent Broken Spoke favorite, Texas country artist Dale Watson, on hand to do a set.
Also try: Contemporary Color
End the Fest with a filmed one-of-a-kind concert experience that matched artists like St. Vincent, Nelly Furtado and the concert’s creator David Byrne with elite college color guards. This free screen of Contemporary Color (November 17) takes place appropriately enough in Main Street Square amid the colorful Art Blocks.
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise (November 11 and 13 at Sundance Cinemas)
In keeping with HCAF’s focus on films about extraordinary artists, And Still I Rise explores the life of this renowned American writer Maya Angelou through the words of her literature, interviews and archival footage.
Also try: And When I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead on the life and work of San Francisco Beat poet Bob Kaufman. (November 12 at Sundance Cinemas).
Burden (November 13 at Sundance Cinemas)
The documentary spotlights the public and private life of Chris Burden, the controversial performance artist in the '70s-turned-celebrated sculptor and creator of monumental installations.
Also try: Call Her Applebroog, director Beth B’s portrait of famous New York-based painter Ida Applebroog, who just happens to be her mother. (November 12 at Sundance Cinemas)
Argentina (November 11 and 12 at Sundance)
Can the history and character of a country be told in dance? Writer and director Carlos Saura uses traditional music and a series of choreographed tableaux to explore Argentina’s rich cultural history.
Also try: director and choreographer Celia Rowlson-Hall will present a selection of her short dance films as well as her fashion and music videos. (November 15 at the Aurora Picture Show)
The Architect (November 11 at Sundance Cinemas)
For the second year, the partnership between Cinema Arts and Architecture Center, Houston brings a mini fest–six films about the art of architecture–to the larger Fest. In this ArCH presented comedy, a couple (Parker Posey and Eric McCormack) discovers their marriage might not be that structurally sound when their architect, tasked with building their dream home, falls in love with the wife.
Also try: Who couldn’t use some Infinite Happiness, a visual diary about living in the world’s best housing development, 8 House, a housing complex in Copenhagen, Denmark, designed by Bjarke Ingles. (November 17 at Architecture Center Houston)
Fulldome Dance and Animation (November 13 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science)
Images of time, space, abstract animation and even parkour and breakdancing will surround the audience as the HMNS planetarium hosts a program of short, immersive experimental films. Stick around the museum later in the evening for the CineSpace Awards to glimpse what happens when art and NASA meet.
Also try: It’s not your cineplex’s 3D movie in the HCAF VR Gallery with Oculus Rift VR experiences including an animated video installation by Maarten Isaäk de Heer. (Multiple dates at Brandon Gallery)
This Too Is Art
For those looking for films that don’t quite fit into traditional art genres or categories, here are two more to add to that must-see list.
Yarn (November 13 and 15 at Sundance)
From Iceland comes this quirky look at how dedicated knitters turn yarn into two dimensional art, sculpture, installations and even aspects of performance arts. Along the way the film profiles circus performers, interactive designers and wool graffiti artists as they weave their woolen tapestries into an unsuspecting world.
Exposed (November 11 at the Brandon)
Beth B exposes the dances, bodies, lives and visions of eight New York Burlesque stars. The film takes viewers into burlesque clubs to experience nights onstage and backstage in this alternative performance world.