Five features from Asian filmmakers, several compelling documentaries, suspense stories, romances and a good number of comedies are on the slate at the 44th edition of WorldFest, the annual Houston 10-day festival that showcases independent films from the U.S., with local filmmakers highlighted.
This year's dates are April 8-17, and film lovers should expect to take in some 50-plus features and 88 short films, all screening at the AMC Studio 30 Theatres.
WorldFest executive director Hunter Todd revealed the line-up during a reception at La Colombe d'Or Wednesday night, attended by film critics, programmers, actors, directors, festival devotees, and representatives of various Houston consulates, including Italy, Mexico, and Jamaica.
I've known Hunter for some 20 years, and he and I had to laugh as we wondered aloud how he has come to edition number 44 of the third-oldest film festival in the U.S. He was around to help give a boost to the early careers of a few directors you may have heard of: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ang Lee, Ridley Scott, The Coen Brothers, John Lee Hancock (a former Houston lawyer), Randal Kleiser, David Lynch, Gavin Hood, Oliver Stone, and Atom Egoyan, to name a few.
Among this year's offerings, there's buzz on Radio Free Albemuth, a sci-fi thriller by American director John Alan Simon, with writer Philip K. Dick as a character in a plot about the overthrow of a corrupt government regime.
Other highlights: Indie stalwart Henry Jaglom is back with "Queen of the Lot," about an actress who'll stop at nothing to achieve fame and fortune. Look also for Polish director Jerzy Antczak's take on a favorite and oft-filmed story, The Lady of the Camellias, the stormy romance between courtesan Margaret Gautier and Armand Duval.
Hong Kong director Stanley J. Orzel's Far Away Eyes focuses on four skilled assassins as they reminisce and ponder the future. Taking Satan to the Mat, Tom Borden and Paul Aldridge's exploration of an unlikely marriage of fundamentalist Christianity and professional wrestling, promises not to be dull. From Slovakia, Bathory is a different tale about the Countess Bathory, allegedly the deadliest murderess of all time.
Some Houston productions will include Chris Page's sequel, Into the Wind II: The Adventure Continues, on powered paragliding, shot partially in Russia. Tom Vaughan's thriller, Playing House has a stunning temptress moving in with a newlywed couple. Trisha Ray's latest, SugarBaby, set partly in Calcutta, is the story of three street singers, two record producers, one assassin, and one baby. Shawn Welling's third film shown at WorldFest is Project Aether. Welling makes movies when not busy with his urban dance company, Planet Funk.
Besides screenings, there's the usual group of additional activities: six master classes in film/video production and distribution, an opening night champagne gala, the Remi Awards gala dinner, and a Regatta & Texas BBQ complete with Longhorn steers and a sailboat race at the Houston Yacht Club.
On hand for the announcement: Lindsay Oreschnigg and Elizabeth Shelby, publicists for Allied Integrated Marketing, which does publicity for 20th-Century Fox and other studios; Marian Luntz, film curator at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Nick Nicholson, president of the Houston Film Critics Society; and artist David Adickes.
Also spotted were Meghan Hendley, journalist for KUHF Radio's arts-magazine show "The Front Row;" Sally Hill, film critic for The Examiner newspapers; Wayne Childers, AMC Studio 30 manager; Nina Garza, actress and artist; and Gary Schoonover, longtime friend of WorldFest. Festival staffers Kathleen Haney, Dustin Jesudason, and Vincci Chan were also on hand to help spread the word about WorldFest. Hors d'oeuvres from La Colombe d'Or's Cinq restaurant and Texas wines were sampled.
Festival headquarters have moved to the Marriott Westchase, so look for the master classes, seminars, and the Awards gala, all open to the public, at the new location. More information, ticketing, trailers and updates at www.worldfest.org.