Richard Linklater Opening Night Wednesday
Cinema Arts Festival Houston: A star is born
Around four years ago, when attorney and arts supporter Franci Crane took then-new HGO director Anthony Freud to meet Mayor Bill White, she thought she was essentially paying a social call. But when the meeting was over (they discussed HGO’s upcoming The Refuge project), White wanted to talk to her about something else.
The mayor told Crane he was interested in developing both the film industry and a “film culture” in Houston.
On his wish list: A new film festival — one that would distinguish Houston from the literally thousands of cities that host such festivals. And he wanted Crane, an old friend and former law partner, “to be his film czarette,” as Crane says today.
“He knows I have a passion for film,” Crane explained in an interview. She is, after all, a co-chair (along with Michael Zilka) of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's film committee. “But I know nothing about the film business.”
Still, “he knew I would do something.”
That something led to the creation of the Cinema Arts Festival Houston. Of course, Crane didn’t create it by herself, as she is quick to point out.
“The only smart idea I had was to enlist a lot of smart people,” she said.
Crane assembled representatives from a wide range of arts organizations into the Mayor’s Film Task Force. The members included Rick Ferguson of the Houston Film Commission, Marian Luntz of the MFAH, Andrea Grover of the Aurora Picture Show, Mary Lampe of SWAMP (she became the task force president), Jolene McMaster of Women in Film and Television, and Karen Farber of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, among others.
Each of the task force members brought in ideas from their own spheres. Eventually, the group began debating the possibility of building on Houston’s strong visual arts culture, which led to the festival’s emphasis on presenting films that are either about artists or made by artists.
Luntz remembers that there was some hesitation on the part of “people who have a taste for more traditional film [who] had a hard time with [the concept of] media arts and digital arts” as the basis for a film festival.
But as a group, the task force was determined to create a distinctive festival, and the arts-based vision prevailed.
This led to the hiring of California-based Richard Herskowitz as “curator.” An experienced programmer with a taste for avant-garde film, Herskowitz didn’t just run with the concept, he “sprinted with it,” according to Crane.
The result is this year’s festival, which, despite its somewhat quirky vision, has brought a level of film-festival buzz that Houston hasn’t seen in many years, thanks to the presence Tilda Swinton(for multiple events), Richard Linklater, and Mexican writer/director Guillermo Arriaga.
Cinema Arts Festival looks terrific on paper. Now let’s see how it plays, and how the public responds.