When Cressandra Thibodeaux made her final bid on 800 Aurora St., Andrea Grover's original home for the Aurora Picture Show, she didn't settle down at her desk to plan the future of her new organization, 14 Pews.
Instead, she knocked on the door of her new neighbors in Sunset Heights, an historically Latino neighborhood. When she met Rachel, a 17-year-old living in the adjacent house with non-English speaking parents, Cressandra was told that the residents of Aurora Street had rarely, if ever, taken advantage of the programming at the microcinema.
"My goal is to get Rachel into this movie house," declares Thibodeaux, whose purchase of the original Aurora Picture Show home was first reported on CultureMap.com.
Taking a cue from Project Row House's Rick Lowe, she is hatching a plan to foster a culture of inclusiveness through film, beginning with a neighborhood film festival spotlighting Spanish-speaking films. It's ideas like the nascent Heights Latino Short Film Festival that will ensure the continuation of 800 Aurora St. as the city's epicenter for creative work in experimental film production and screening.
Thibodeaux was waiting in the LAX terminal to board a plane during her recent move to Houston when she received a phone call from her former colleague, Alfred Cervantes of the Houston Film Commission. He informed her of the urgency of finding a buyer for the former microcinema before it could be usurped for less creative causes. When she landed at IAH on Friday, July 7, she spontaneously placed a bid.
Two days later, her offer was accepted and she immediately began work on developing the concept for 14 Pews, a moniker inspired by Jann Waley of the Alley Theatre.
Thibodeaux's sudden shift to fronting a new arts organization was precipitated by her own transitioning personal circumstances.
"I'm going through a divorce and thought that Houston would be the best place to lick my wounds," she tells CultureMap. "It's always treated me like a forgiving lover who wraps me in her warm moist arms. And the moment I landed at the airport I was engulfed in her warm moistness."
The city's inherent receptiveness to fresh ideas has left Thibodeaux utterly charmed.
"I have spent 10 years tossing ideas and projects at the walls in Los Angeles," she explains. "I came to Houston and in one week everything I tossed stuck to the walls. I credit the humidity."
She's hardly a bright-eyed West Coast transplant. Growing up on Hawthorne Street in Montrose, Thibodeaux attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and was friends with Carlos Lama, a creative spirit that she describes as the perennial "golden boy" of the Houston art community.
When she learned that Lama is married to Andrea Grover, she took it as a sign. "My knees went limp," she beams. "The guy is a golden boy — I still get chills."
Later that week, things started falling into place: she is now repped by her former Dallas production company, Big Fish, and received a letter of acceptance from the University of Houston Law Center. (Part Chippewa Indian, she previously studied Indian Law at University of Denver.) She has also been recruited by Rice University to teach screenwriting in the fall at the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies.
"Houston has once again taken me in like a forgiving lover to the point where I'm wondering, "Why did I ever leave?,'" she gushes.
Thibodeaux's creative intuition crosses countless disciplines. Before graduating from HSPVA, she studied ballet in San Francisco. In addition, she received an MFA in filmmaking from Columbia University and worked as a photojournalist in Los Angeles, where she recently wrapped shooting a documentary about a rookie team that competes in the Baja 1000 (Houstonian Adam White will serve as one of the film's editors). This June, her mixed media resin series, entitled BP Sucks, was displayed at the Art Basel satellite show, Hot Art.
Such an acumen for interdisciplinary art has already inspired myriad ideas for 14 Pews, like hosting weddings and small theater troupes such as puppeteer group Bobbin Doctrine. Among the organization's flagship programming will be 14 PEWS Production, based around a monthly 48-hour film project competition, resulting in a low budget production for a guaranteed two-week run.
"I'm very hands on," Thibodeaux says, "and I'm trying to honor Andrea's legacy. I realize, I've got this theater, there's a thriving indie film scene here — let's do this."
Expect monthly-changing art exhibitions on the theater's walls, photography and lighting classes by Ben DeSoto and a screenwriting workshop in conjunction with UH's preeminent creative writing program. Aurora Picture Show will also continue to utilize the facilities. On this many endeavors, Thibodeaux is consulting with Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts.
As part of her outreach to neighborhood families like Rachel's, Thibodeaux will hold an open forum on Aug. 28 at 2 p.m. to get ideas for how the local community and Houston's art enthusiasts may wish to see the space utilized. Infused with what Thibodeaux describes as her own "love affair with Houston," 14 Pews is poised to become a beacon of ingenuity in the dynamic arena of short films.