It’s take five for the Houston Cinema Arts Festival, as organizers of the multifaceted cinema showcase gear up for another round of screenings, live performances and multimedia happenings. The fifth annual edition kicks off Wednesday with Cutie and the Boxer, Houston-born filmmaker Zachary Heinzerling’s documentary portrait of artists Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, and concludes Sunday with the H-Town premiere of An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story, a riveting account of wrongful conviction directed by two-time Oscar nominee Al Reinert (For All Mankind, Apollo 13).
We caught up with HCAF artistic director Richard Herskowitz to get some inside info about this year’s ambitious and eclectic lineup. And while he didn’t want to play favorites — well, he did admit that some attractions are more unique than others.
CultureMap: Inquiring minds want to know: What’s new, strange or different at the 2013 Houston Cinema Arts Festival?
Richard Herskowitz: Well, I’d say the Cinema on the Verge program at our downtown headquarters — in GreenStreet, at 1201 Main — is a knockout. I’m really proud of this attraction. We created a theater there that we’re calling the Cinema 16 gallery, and it’s where we’re showing our special four-screen feature, North of South, West of East — which, for me, is one of the crown jewels of this year’s program.
It’s an incredible 82-minute narrative feature with excellent actors like Ben Foster, and a great script, that can only be shown in a custom-designed space with four screens surrounding an audience seated in swivel chairs. It was an incredible challenge to set up — but the staff did it.
One can see Haden Church and Richard Linklater on the same evening.
Also, our musical presentation lineup is especially strong this year. We always try to add live components to our offerings, to make the theatrical experience really special. Sometimes that live component is a visiting filmmaker, who’s there to talk with the audience. But also, we have live musical performances — starting with The Yellow Ticket, the silent film we’re presenting with an original score by violinist Alicia Svigals, founder of The Klezmatics. And we also have this really unusual animator from San Francisco, Jeremy Rourke, who’s also a musician, and basically performs his own music live with his own animation playing behind him.
And the Chinese film we’re showing Saturday at the Asia Society Texas Center, The Love Songs of Tiedan, is one of my favorite films of the year. It’s just cinematically breathtaking — you really have to see it on the big screen. And one of the great things about it, it’s a musical. I had hoped that by bringing one of the actors here, we could have a live performance of some of the songs from the movie at the end of the screening.
But in fact, three members of the cast — actor Feng Si, and actresses Ge Xia and Yelan Jiang — are going to be here. And they’re all going to perform music at the end of the film.
CM: There’s almost too much going this year. It’s not just that you sometimes have interesting offerings competing against each other. There are other times when you seem to be in danger of having one thing overlap with another in the same theater. Like on Friday, when you have a special sneak preview introduced by actor Thomas Haden Church right before the tribute to Richard Linklater . . .
RH: Well, they’re back to back so people can make it a double feature. Think of it this way — they can see Thomas Haden Church and Richard Linklater on the same evening. It’ll be a great evening at the Museum of Fine Arts. That was the best night for both of them. And besides, this is a film festival. And film festivals are highly concentrated. When people get into the swing of a film festival, seeing four films a day is not unusual at someplace like Sundance or Toronto. And that’s what we’re hoping to do here: Build an audience of ravenous cinephiles in Houston as well.
CM: Looks like you’re pulled off a real coup by getting playwright Tracy Letts here to introduce the film adaptation of his August: Osage County.
RH: Well, that’s thanks to the help of Kevin Rigdon from the School of Theatre and Dance at the University of Houston. He and Letts were colleagues back at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago years back. So in some ways, this is a personal favor. And he’s also going to meet with Kevin’s students while he’s here. Of course, it helps that Kevin happens to be married to our executive director, Trish Rigdon.
CM: You’re bringing in producer Ron Yerxa and a couple of other guests along with him.
RH: Ron Yerxa is one of the great producers in Hollywood, in that he’s making independent, artistically strong films on big-studio budgets, basically. He’s responsible for Cold Mountain, Little Miss Sunshine, Little Children and many other films. He’s been a good friend of mine for many years. And he has two movies coming out in November — Nebraska, with Will Forte and Bruce Dern, and Charlie Countryman, with Shia LaBeouf. So he’s going to be here with Forte and the director of Charlie Countryman, Fredrik Bond, to show both films Saturday. Just like Friday, it’ll be a double feature.
CM: To satisfy all those ravenous cinephiles?