When film, space and art meet almost anything can happen. That seemed to be the gravity-defying message of Houston Cinema Arts Festival’s space day on Friday. The day of fictional and documentary films about our journey beyond Earth culminated in a night full of possibility and wonder.
Astronaut Scott Kelly, high above the world in the International Space Station, offered a recorded welcome to the audience at the MFAH’s Brown Auditorium for CineSpace, the short film competition organized by NASA and Cinema Arts. 194 films were submitted from 22 countries and 32 states. Sixteen finalists were chosen by committee and then the final judgment with Oscar nominated director Richard Linklater.
The films of those finalists covered as-wide-as-space range of subject matter and stories, but most contained themes of hope and inspiration.
A girl whose mother died of cholera from unclean water grows up to find water on Mars in Red Pearl. Voyager 1 and 2 travel across the galaxy in Voyagers. And a robot searches through space for a new habitable planet for humans in Mission Avante. These were just a few of the stories real and fictional being told.
Search for Higher Ground
After the screening of all 16, the winners were announced and the audience seemed to be in complete agreement with the judging when Astronaut Don Pettit presented the first place prize to Higher Ground by Houston artists Mary Magsamen and Stephen Hillerbrand.
Though Judge Linklater is of course a native Houstonian, he was never told the place of origin of each entry, so there was no pro-hometown bias in his evaluations.
Higher Ground tells the story of a seemingly normal family, who after watching space footage on television, decide to build their own rocket ship in the backyard out of bits of their house and stuff from their garage.
When I talked with Magsamen and Hillerbrand after the ceremony, they revealed their DYI rocket ship created for the film is still standing in their backyard. It took about a month for the whole family to build the ship and shoot the movie.
“It was a lot of shooting because we shot at night. We would come home, pick up the kids from school, have dinner and then go out in the backyard and start building the spaceship,” Hillerbrand said.
The ship is over two stories high and stands higher than their north Houston home. It’s been up for about a year, and people can climb inside like a jungle gym, but both Magsamen and Hillerbrand seemed a little sad their kids have become bored with their homemade spaceship and won’t bring their friends over to play in it.
While the couple have no plans to exhibit the ship, they do have an upcoming exhibition in March at Lawndale Art Center, a space memorabilia gift shop to sell t-shirts, plates and patches.
Another space treat
Following the CineSpace awards ceremony came another space treat, a short selection of videos from artist Marco Brambilla and a special screening of Satellite Beach, a short film directed by Luke and Andrew Wilson about a NASA project manager supervising the Shuttle Endeavor’s trip through Los Angeles in 2012.
Luke Wilson was too flu ridden to make the trip to Houston, but managed to Skype in from his kitchen, perhaps a little high on Robitussin. He and brother Andrew, who attended the screening, discussed the gorilla filmmaking it took to shoot a movie around the Space Shuttle Endeavor’s real-life 12 mile road trip from the Los Angeles International Airport to California Science Center.
The crew of Satellite Beach followed Endeavor through the streets filming all the way, as Wilson wanders through the real crowds, in character as shuttle manager Warren Flowers. The half hour comedy has something of a twist about half-way through, but it only serves to make Warren’s devotion to the shuttle all the more endearing. Wilson told the audience that he’s like to give Warren other film adventures in the future.