Where Movies Star
Ever hear the one about the guy who laughed so he wouldn’t cry? Well, there are times when J. Hunter Todd — founder and director of the long-running, long-struggling WorldFest/Houston International Film Festival — sounds very much like he’s aiming to position himself as the punch line for that old gag.
Yes, it’s that time of year again, time for another edition of H-Town’s remarkably resilient film exposition. The 45th annual WorldFest kicks off a 10-day run Friday at the AMC Studio 30 with the world premiere of Smitty, a family friendly drama starring Oscar winners Louis Gossett Jr. and Mira Sorvino, Oscar nominees Peter Fonda and Lolita Davidovich and Twilight franchise regular Booboo Stewart.
Gosett, director David M. Evans and writer-producer Michael Baumgarten are expected to be on hand for the 8 p.m. opening night screening.
This year, even more than usual, WorldFest needs to sell every ticket it can.
And Todd is keeping his fingers crossed that a respectable number of folks show up to greet the visitors and view the movie. Because this year, even more than usual, WorldFest needs to sell every ticket it can.
“What’s so different about WorldFest 2012?” Hunter asks rhetorically. Then, with a burst of laughter than sounds like it could have been a wail of anxiety instead, he answers himself: “We’ve lost more major sponsors this year than ever before in history.”
Blame it on the economy. “For example, Eastman Kodak — 44 years a partner of the festival — is gone after declaring bankruptcy. Which leaves us not only without the $25,000 they used to give us, but also without all the raw stock we used give as prizes to young filmmakers. So there’s no more Kodak Award.”
And don’t get Todd started on the loss of free tickets that Continental Airlines used to provide for celebrities visiting WorldFest. Hunter will allow that United Airlines has been, er, uninterested in continuing that tradition. But that’s the only printable thing he wishes to say on the subject.
“I’ll tell you,” says Todd, making his annual bid to be known as the Rodney Dangerfield of film festival chiefs, “we’ve been doing so much belt-tightening around here, my belt is starting to scratch up my backbone.”
But seriously, folks: Despite all his concerns about budgetary constraints and spinal discomfort, Todd insists that this year’s festival will continue the WorldFest tradition of offering “a cornucopia of cinematic delights,” with dozens and dozens of shorts, student films and, of course, international features.
In the latter category, he sounds especially excited about the inclusion of
- Heathens & Thieves(9 p.m. April 20), “an old school Western” about outlaws seeking stolen gold on a ranch owned by Chinese settlers;
- Barbarian Days (9 p.m. Monday), a documentary about fans of Conan the Barbarian author Robert E. Howard who annually gather in Howard’s Texas hometown;
- Forgetting the Girl (9 p.m. Sunday), a psychological thriller about a traumatized photographer who develops an extreme method for erasing bad memories; and
- Jacob (11 p.m. April 20), a filmed-in-Houston horror flick co-starring veteran character actor Michael Biehn and Houston Film Critics Society president Nick Nicholson (who also served as an executive producer).
But wait, there’s more:
- The Black Dove(9 p.m. April 19), featuring John Savage and Sean Young in a seriocomic caper about an ex-convict’s search for his long-lost Gibson guitar;
- Just 45 Minutes from Broadway(7 p.m. April 20), which by Todd’s estimate “may be somewhere around the 400th movie by indie director Henry Jaglom” to play at a WorldFest; and
- Closing-night film America (7 p.m. April 22), a thriller starring Lymari Nadal (wife of producer and co-star Edward James Olmos) as a young women who flees her Caribbean coast village to escape her abusive boyfriend, only to find there’s no hiding place in the Land of Opportunity.
Mind you, these are only the films that spring immediately to Todd’s mind when asked about festival highlights. Truth to tell, he says, all the movies in the WorldFest 2012 lineup are exceptional efforts.
“There’s not a dog in the kennel this year,” Todd promises.
Which is a very good thing when there’s a wolf at the door.