The myriad of Houston art festivals and fairs just seem to get bigger every year, and Houston Cinema Arts Festival, which kicks off Thursday night with the premiere of a biopic about legendary singer Janis Joplin, is no exception. With over 60 films, live performances, events and parties all happening at 10 venues over eight days (November 12-19), it’s almost impossible to keep track of it all.
The festival is keeping its strong focus on films about artists, and includes several selections on its roster that we’ll probably be seeing again around Oscar time. This year officials have also added a new extraterrestrial dimension as it teams with NASA for CineSpace. So whether you’re planning on purchasing a festival pass and seeing as much as you can, or if you’re set on finding and seeing just a few choice films, you’ve got to have a plan.
I recommend choosing one of two strategies. Either pick a subject matter that most intrigues, or graze the schedule to come up with a kind of cinema tasting menu to experience a wide range of films. This year, along with space, there’s an intense focus on music and even an architecture film fest within the Fest.
If you are going to buy a pass or single tickets, here’s some advice for getting the full Cinema Arts experience.
Come for the films; stay for the parties
Many of the screenings present opportunities to learn more about the films, with Q&A sessions or musical performances. But there’s also lots of social events offered, beginning with the opening night party for Oscar-nominated director Amy Berg’s documentary, Janis: Little Girl Blue, the revealing look at Janis Joplin’s life and music.
Also don’t miss Christopher “Kid” Reid and Christopher “Play” Martin’s recreation of the House Party rap battle scene. They’ll be joining the party at the Cinema Arts Celebration at Brasil, Saturday night, after a screening of the film at the MFAH that afternoon.
Nibble on some Oscar bait
Every years there’s always a few prestigious, star-studded films that will probably make many an Oscar list come January. This year Carol is already generating big buzz. The film is based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, and stars Cate Blanchett as a 1950s upper class housewife in love with another woman (Rooney Mara). (November 15, 8 pm at Sundance Cinemas.)
Youth–something neither Michael Caine’s composer character nor Harvey Keitel as a film director vacationing in the Swiss Alps possess–looks to have performances that could win some big awards. (November 14, 6:15 pm at Sundance Cinemas.)
Houston, we have no problem. . .celebrating space through cinema
With the first year of this new collaboration between Houston Cinema Arts and NASA, the fest is set to bring in some old favorites like Apollo 13 and new, (miles-above-the) ground breaking docs, like A Year in Space. Strap yourself in and await launch time on Friday night for the CineSpace: Awards Ceremony and Screening followed by the showing of Luke and Andrew Wilson’s film Satellite Beach.
Sticking with the fest highlights will certainly keep cinema-fans immersed in fantastic films for a week. Yet, there’s so many other quality selections on the schedule, it would be a shame not to check out at least one or two oddballs that might not be on everyone’s radar.
With an eye towards films and events that celebrate the weird, fun and original, I’m picking a few of the lesser-known films I don’t want to miss.
Telos: The Fantastic World of Eugene Tssui
November 13, 6:30 pm at Sundance Cinemas
The first film of the ArCH (Architecture Center Houston) Film Fest, within the Cinema Arts Fest, Telos chronicles the life and design imagination of Eugene Tssui. Telos asks why live in the ordinary when we can live within structures that are extraordinary. Eugene Tssui will be present at the screening, and hopefully he’ll be making another of his distinct fashion statements.
A Woman Like Me
November 15 at 5 pm at Sundance Cinemas
Here are two films in one, a documentary about the making of this movie and a fictional account of director Alex Sichel’s battle with terminal cancer. Both will doubtlessly be devastating. Sichel films and plays herself directing the film and Lili Taylor plays an idealize, fictional version of Sichel, as a woman who is “having much more fun having terminal cancer,” and dying in a much more whimsical, movie way.
Traveling Light: An Animation and Matchbox Show
November 15, 8 pm at Cinema on the Verge Gallery-She Works Flexible
This event is both a screening of animated films curated by Laura Heit and a matchbox puppet show live performance by Heit, which will be projected on a large screen. Within each matchbox is a whole story, maybe even a whole quirky world, that Heit reveals.
Between the Folds
November 16, 11 a.m. at Sundance Cinemas
Yes it’s a documentary about origami, but it looks to also be a film about how art, beauty and science meet, overlap and perhaps even fold within each other. What happens when scientists and mathematicians become artists, and is there much difference between the two outlooks on life?
November 16, 8 pm at the Menil Collection
Part of the Cinespace Art Exhibition and Screenings program within the Festival, Jeanne Liotta is one of five artists featured who explore outer space through video and photography. Liotta curates and hosts this collection of films and videos from Joseph Cornell, Hollis Frampton, along with her own Observando el Cielo.
Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict
November 18, 7 pm at Sundance Cinemas
If one can afford it, and certainly Peggy Guggenheim could, art is certain one of the best addictions to have. The documentary examines Guggenheim as a both a fascinating “colorful character” but also an influential figure in the modern art movement with a focus on her history with some of the most important modern artists of the time.
What will be your don't-miss film for the 2015 Houston Cinema Arts Festival? For the full schedule, visit the HCAF website.