Houston Cinema Arts Festival looked to the stars once again at the second annual CineSpace screenings and awards night. The special short film festival within the larger Fest began in 2015 as a HCAF and NASA partnership to inspire filmmakers and offer them the use of decades of footage from NASA’s archives to help them tell their stories.
Inspirational was truly the word of the evening this year as the final 15 entries were projected onto the IMAX screen at the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Wortham Giant Screen Theatre giving the audience of film, science and space buffs a glorious expanded view of our solar system and beyond.
Before the CineSpace awards began, the HMNS and HCAF partnered for another special showing of immersive animation and dance films in the newly renovated Burke Baker Planetarium that set the exploratory and innovative mood for the evening.
A Long Distance Hello
The CineSpace festival then launched, appropriately enough, from orbit as International Space Station Commander Shane Kimbrough opened the celebration via a video greeting from the ISS. Down on Earth and in the theater, NASA representative Dan Jacobs, Johnson Space Center Director Dr. Ellen Ocha, CineSpace head and HCAF board member Patrick Kwiatkowski, and NASA International Space Station Imagery Manager Carlos Fontanot gave the audience an overview of how far CineSpace has come in just one year. More than doubling the submissions from their inaugural year, 2016 brought 457 entries from 50 countries and six continents. They’re still hoping for some Antarctic scientist/frustrated filmmaker to try next year.
While a committee of NASA and HCAF officials picked the top 15 finalists, the top three winners were chosen by Academy Award-nominated director and Houston native, Richard Linklater. The main criteria of the CineSpace competition, that a minimum of 10 percent of the film must contain NASA video imagery, yielded a varied of subject matter and genres from animated science fiction to trippy hip hop space videos to quirky comedies and moving documentaries.
After the screenings, last year’s winners, Houston artists Mary Magsamen and Stephen Hillerbrand, had the honor of announcing that Sébastien Tulard from France won first place and the $10,000 prize for his film 1950 DA, which not so coincidently is the name of a real near-Earth asteroid which tends to get close when it regularly buzzes our planet. The film tells the story of a boy named Axel, an outcast in his neighborhood, who calls to the stars and heavenly bodies on his homemade radio.
Earthly and Stellar Inspiration
When I spoke to Tulard after the awards, he explained that he made the film as part of a social program in France that brings filmmakers into low-income communities to write stories inspired by locals and cast the residents within their films. Tulard was indeed inspired by a real boy in the neighborhood and the director then wove his own fascination with space travel into his narrative.
Rather ironically, Tulard only looked to the NASA archives for high resolution imagery because he wasn’t happy with the initial CGI. “And it was very cool,” he said, also explaining that he also didn’t know about CineSpace and that his film would likely be eligible until a fellow director and friend mentioned it. Tulard said he took additional pride in the award as Linklater’s work, and especially his film A Scanner Darkly, was a favorite of his.
If the 2016 CineSpace Awards finalists and winners are any indication, Tulard’s words to the audience to “look to the stars and keep dreaming” might be a foretelling of the many astonishing films yet to come as art and science create together.