Houston's Film Festival

Renowned Hollywood director enjoys a lively Houston night: 5 revelations from the Cinema Arts Festival

Renowned Hollywood director enjoys a lively Houston night at film fest

James Ivory
James Ivory swooped into Houston and impressed an audience of film lovers. Courtesy of Houston Cinema Arts Festival

Three-time Oscar nominated director James Ivory would like to sell you a slightly-used gondola. The story behind why the acclaimed director of 33 films including A Room with a View, Remains of the Day, Howards End and Le divorce has an authentic Venetian gondola resting comfortably in his barn in upstate New York was just one of the tales he revealed during an evening at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston celebrating his work and achievements.

The 86 year-old Ivory, who as one audience member in the Brown Auditorium Friday night put it “is still in great shape” traveled to Houston to participate in the Houston Cinema Arts Festival and receive the The Levantine Cinema Arts Award, which every year during the Festival is given to a creative artist who stretches the “boundaries of cinematic expression throughout an illustrious career.”

Levantine Films president, Donna Gigliotti, who has herself been nominated three times for an Academy Award for films she produced, was there to present the Levantine Award to Ivory, observing that with his long-time producing partner Ismail Merchant, “James Ivory created his own genre. It’s recognized by film goers throughout the world and that is a unique and mighty achievement.” 

 Used Venetian gondolas can be bought on eBay, and, in Ivory’s, opinion the newer Venetian gondolas are “tacky” and look like they’re from Vegas. 

After the awards ceremony, came the screening of The City of Your Final Destination, Ivory’s most recent film and the last film created in collaboration with Ismail Merchant, and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

In The City of Your Final Destination, which is based on the novel by American writer Peter Cameron, an American graduate student named Omar travels to Uruguay to convince the family of the deceased novelist, Jules Gund, to allow him to write a biography on Gund. In the book and film a day trip to see the family artifact, a Venetian gondola, becomes a turning point in Omar’s life.

One of the rare and real treats of the Cinema Arts Fest are the many opportunities to listen to filmmakers and artists discuss their work and for audiences to ask their own questions. Those who stayed for the Ivory’s conversation with Richard Herskowitz, Houston Cinema Arts Society artistic director, which also featured Peter Cameron, got to hear a fascinating discussion about the process of turning a novel into film but perhaps more importantly learned:

1). Argentina puts it all on the line in its performance as Uruguay.

2). Though Ivory kept protesting that he’s not all that “analytical,” it seems his self-analysis is only a bit delayed as he can still watch his early films have an aha moment and discover “That’s what that was all about.”

3). Many Hollywood actresses will refuse to be in a prestigious Merchant Ivory film if they have to play a bitch.

4). Used Venetian gondolas can be bought on eBay, and, in Ivory’s, opinion the newer Venetian gondolas are “tacky” and look like they’re from Vegas more than Venice.

5). Ivory believes Mr. and Mrs. Bridge and A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries have the most autobiographic elements of any of his films.

The independent filmmakers who put their imagination, gifts and many times own money into making movies today are real heroes to Ivory who says “the old system of distribution of independent or foreign films that’s just gone,” but he seems to marvel at and celebrate that these films continue to be made.

James Ivory will present two more of his films this weekend: Mr. and Mrs. Bridge on Saturday at the Museum of Fine Arts with moderator Ernie Manouse and The Remains of the Day on Sunday at Sundance Cinemas with Inprint director Rich Levy serving as moderator.