Starring Texas!

Texas twists and Cheryl Tiegs highlight Gulf Coast Film Fest

Texas twists and Cheryl Tiegs highlight Gulf Coast Film Fest

There was a reunion of sorts in Clear Lake last weekend. More than 200 film industry professionals, and those up-and-coming, overtook the NASA Hilton’s Marina ballroom to recognize and celebrate winners of the 11th Gulf Coast Film and Video Festival. While it may not be as big or famous as some film festivals, in Texas it surely has to be the one with the biggest heart.

Founding director Hal Wixon, an actor himself, says the fest has rightly been dubbed “the little festival that could.” Considering that it was literally wiped out last year due to the aftermath of Hurricane Ike (significant supporting sponsor businesses in Kemah and Seabrook were swept away by the storm), it’s a miracle that only one year had to be skipped. Now it’s back, strong as ever, and partiers at the sell-out awards event relished the return of the film community’s annual bash.

There were surprises and some definitely Texas twists. In true Academy Awards fashion, the winners were revealed by the ceremonial opening of envelopes —however, their trophies were presented by a real Texas stuntwoman, Jody Haselbarth. The petite blonde, dazzling in her emerald green dress and shoes, most recently worked in the seven-Emmy-winning HBO film Temple Grandin (shot in Texas). I’ve seen Jody’s stunt work first-hand – including a rough-and-tumble stint in the indie horror film, Mr. Hell, shot in Houston (and available on DVD). She’s one tough little cookie!

There was a brief hush when supermodel icon Cheryl Tiegs, the festival’s Cascade Excellence Award recipient, walked into the ballroom during the opening cocktail party. Like flies drawn to honey, guests gravitated to the tall, striking woman who graciously posed for photo after photo with admirers. She is perhaps the most famous American model of the 1970s-1980s and is renowned for her cover photos on Sports Illustrated magazine’s swimsuit issues.

Tiegs has long been more than a pretty face and enviable body. She is an author, businesswoman, clothing designer, public speaker, and avid spokesperson for health, fitness, the environment, and underprivileged children. Philanthropy is very important to her and she serves on two boards: C.O.A.C.H. for Kids and the Earth Conservation Corps.

Her signature Cheryl Tiegs clothing line for Sears sold nearly a billion dollars of merchandise in its 10-year span and is credited for helping turn the company around. That accomplishment landed her on the cover of Time magazine—  a result of her brainpower and talent, not her physical beauty.

Currently, Tiegs’ attention has turned to the environment as she explored the effects of global warming while on an Arctic expedition. She is committed to “going green” and educating the public on indoor air quality, having completed a nationwide radio campaign to bring awareness to this issue. Recently, Access Hollywood named her their “Green Star of the Week.”

A poignant moment during her award acceptance was prompted by event designer Karen Wixon’s glam table decorations featuring cowboy hats and vintage movie posters. Some posters were of films with Tieg’s former father-in-law, the late film star Gregory Peck. She remains close to the Peck family and speaking of them brought tears and a lump in her throat that took a few seconds to get under control. Peck, a legendary leading man of the John Wayne era, is perhaps best known for his Oscar-winning role as Atticus Finch in the film version of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Tieg’s son,  Zach, is Peck’s grandson.

Tiegs was happily surprised to see Houston native Neal Hamil at the event. He represented her at Ford Models when executive vp for the agency. Hamil, who spent 20 years in Manhattan before moving back home last fall, was attending the film festival awards for the first time. Ironically, it reunited him with his erstwhile client. He laughed, “I was definitely out of context for Cheryl!” (She’d forgotten he was from Texas.) When she learned Hamil was spearheading Audi’s Houston Fashion Week next month at the Wortham Theatre, she promised him a return visit.

“I loved attending this year's awards dinner,” said Hamil, “and seeing my friend and former client who came from LA to receive the festival’s award. It always surprises me (delightfully so) at the amazing talent in Houston and the Gulf Coast region. The writers, actors, directors and all the other creative talents in the film arts who live and work here are as good as can be found anywhere.”

Kemah, Seabrook, League City and Deer Park apparently understand the economic value of a film festival and of film production to their areas. Officials from each city were on hand, including Seabrook’s Mayor Gary Renola and Mayor Toni Randall of League City.

Since there was no physical festival or awards ceremony in 2009 due to Hurricane Ike,  those winners were at long last recognized and most were on hand as this year’s award presenters: Clayton Miller, Shawn S. Welling, Gordon S. Williams, Randy Chapman, Paul Zienty, Carlos A. Pagan and yours truely.

It was an honor to present the Best of Festival Award for the film Eternal Peace. it was shot in Houston and made possible by an Emerging Filmmaker Grant from Houston’s Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP). Eternal Peace is a gripping, 10-minute short film of importance that, while I watched, made me hold my breath. Twice. It is the dramatic story of a mother trapped in an abusive relationship and the lengths she’ll go through to protect her daughter. I urge you to watch it and to share it with others.

The film’s writer and director, Jason Clemons, was unable to attend the awards ceremony as he was on location in Waller, shooting his latest film Forever and After. However, he was quick to point out when I spoke with him a few days later, “It’s not one person that makes a film; it is such a collaborative effort.” Credit is shared with producer Michael Darling, actors Caroline Parker (also executive producer), Neal Gage, Robyn Drake (also associate producer) and Gwyneth Stevens. Composer Dave Billingsley’s music was perfect and haunting. There were many others behind the scenes that made the film magic happen. Congratulations to all these Houston filmmakers who took home the top prize.

Entries to this year’s competition came from Europe and the Far East, as well as the United States. (Texans won in five categories.) Wixon estimates around 2,000 were sold during the two days of screenings.

Unique to the festival are its screening venues: the Kemah Holiday Inn and the Butler Longhorn Museum in League City. (Move over longhorns, we’ve got movies to watch.)

And the 2010 Gulf Coast Film & Video Film Festival winners are:

Best of the FestivalEternal Peace, Jason Clemons, Houston

Best Drama:TOW, Adam Newell, Indianapolis, Indiana

Best Short: Taco! Taco! Taco!, John Estrada, Austin

Best Student Project: TheCold Day in Hell, Eric Achoa, Houston

Best Documentary: Humble Trash, Debbie Finely, Austin

Best Comedy:Audrey the Trainwreck, Frank Ross, Chicago, Illinois

Best Foreign Film: Why There are Things That are Never Forgotten, Lucas Figueroa, Madrid, Spain

Best Screenplay: Blaze of Glory, John G. Updike, Houston

News_Gulf Coast Film Festival_Cheryl Tiegs_Jody Haselbarth_Hal Wixon
Cheryl Tiegs at the podium, with Jody Haselbarth and Hal Wixon, festival founder and director, at right Photo by Andrew Olson/A.T. Olson Photography
News_Gulf Coast Film Festival_Neal Hamil_Ernie Manouse
Neal Hamil, left, and Ernie Manouse Photo by Cynthia Neely
News_Gulf Coast Film Festival_Jody Haselbarth_Pat Patton_Kathryn McNeil
From left, Jody Haelbarth, Bay Area Houston Magazine columnist Pat Patton and model Kathryn McNeil Photo by Andrew Olson/A.T. Olson Photography