In 2008, when the Houston Cinema Arts Society hired Richard Herskowitz to run its newly minted Houston Cinema Arts Festival, the longtime film programmer wanted to shake up the standard way audiences experience film.
“At the time, there was an interest in cinema leaving the theater space and going into other environments to blend with film and live performance. One of the things that attracted me to the job was I wanted to do a festival that didn’t just show movies,” says Herskowitz, who, as HCAF artistic director, has helped bring guest artists such as Ethan Hawke, Robert Redford, Isabella Rossellini and Will Forte to the annual event.
Today, Herskowitz continues to operate outside the usual boundaries. The 2015 festival—which has expanded to an entire week, running November 12 through 19—includes customary motion picture screenings, of course, but also much more.
Some of the most anticipated supporting events are concerts. Old-school duo Kid ‘n Play, following a screening of their hip-hop classic House Party on November 14 at the Museum of Fine Arts, will perform that evening at Brasil. Then, on November 19, at Asia Society Texas, two members of Cambodian psych-pop band Dengue Fever will play tunes from the soundtrack to Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll. The concert follows a screening of the enthralling 2014 documentary, which chronicles the Cambodian rock movement of the 1950s through 1970s before the Khmer Rouge occupation took it all away.
Back inside the theater, the festival’s expanded incarnation allows for the programming to breathe, says Herskowitz, adding that HCAF always spotlights Texas creatives. Patrick Wang, a Sugar Land–born Burmese-American filmmaker who has landed on best-of lists in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, will screen his acclaimed In the Family (November 15, Sundance Cinemas) as well as his latest offering, The Grief of Others (November 14, Sundance Cinemas). Trey Shults, a Houston born-and-bred director who won the 2015 SXSW Audience Award and Jury Prize, will premiere Krisha (November 13, Sundance Cinemas), which he filmed in and around H-town in just nine days. And Katie Cokinos, the former Austin Film Society managing director, will present her I Dream Too Much, a full-length film that was executive-produced by Richard Linklater (November 15, MFAH).
Perhaps the most anticipated night of this year’s HCAF is the CineSpace Competition, in which filmmakers got to grab rare footage from NASA’s archive to make short films up to 15 minutes in length. Fifteen works—pared down from 194 submissions—will screen during the evening of November 13 at the MFAH; Austin’s Linklater (Boyhood, Dazed and Confused), making his fourth festival appearance, will announce the winners.
Also November 13, at Aurora Picture Show, the festival hosts Filipino filmmaking pioneer Kidlat Tahimik and screens his film The Perfumed Nightmare, about a villager who wants to start his own space program. Herskowitz says the CineSpace Competition was a draw for Tahimik, who will also present a live performance in costume and a media installation. “He had always wanted to come to Houston,” says Herskowitz, “because NASA inspired him to become a filmmaker.”
Nov. 12–19 For a complete schedule of showtimes and events, see houstoncinemaartsfestival.org.