Sundance, Tribeca, Cannes, Toronto and SXSW need no introduction with the movie industry set. But after nine years of cultivating a film community through the tenacious efforts of the Houston Cinema Arts Society and Festival, it's no longer a matter of time until the Bayou City joins their ranks.
The HCAF 2016 lineup, announced last night at the Alley Theatre, brings a robust roster of film guru favorites (cinematographer Frederick Elms, director Billy Woodberry), premieres starring household names (La La Land featuring Ryan Gosling, Jackie staring Natalie Portman) and unique-to-Houston programming (CineSpace) to the seven-day celebration that's hosted by the city's museums and art organizations.
When Richard Herskowitz took the reins of the inaugural HCAF in 2008, the Oregon-based film festival producer knew next to nothing about the Bayou City’s art community.
“When I first came to Houston, I was embarrassed about how little I knew about the city's arts scene,” shares Herskowitz, now artistic director of Houston Cinema Arts Society. “I walked into the Menil Collection and thought it was one of the greatest museums. And I knew nothing about it. It then became my goal to help spread the word about the city’s distinctive arts presence through the film festival.”
Former Mayor Bill White tasked Franci Neely, a philanthropist, attorney and self-proclaimed film buff, with spearheading a task force that would highlight and attract filmmaking to Houston in 2007. “White knew the positive economic impact the film industry can have on a community,” Neely says. “We looked at Austin and its robust cinema society and thought, ‘Why can’t we have this in Houston?’’’
And for the past eight years, Neely, Herskowitz and HCAS have continued to grow the festival by highlighting the city’s robust arts organizations as a canvas for the film festival’s programming. This year’s week-long event, running November 10 through 17, includes a hearty lineup of screenings, panels and live performances.
Legendary cinematographer Frederick Elmes (Olive Kitteridge, The Night Of) will host a masterclass (Nov 13), plus a tribute screening of his iconic film, Blue Velvet, celebrating its 30th anniversary (Nov 11).
This year, more than half of the directors presenting at the festival are women—a huge feat in the male-dominated industry. An AFI Directing Workshop for Women will present a screening and panel with Tessa Blake, Dime Davis, Jean Lee and the female directors participating in the festival, including Amber Tamblyn.
For the second year, the festival highlight continues to be CineSpace, the international short film collaboration with NASA that will be screened at the Houston Museum of Natural Science (Nov 13).
Another exciting addition to lineup is the Houston premiere of Honky Tonk Heaven (Nov 10), a documentary about The Broken Spoke in Austin, one of the last operating Texas honky-tonks where George Strait and George Jones were stage regulars, and includes interviews with Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker.
For the first time, HCAF is partnering with the Houston Museum of African American Culture, with legendary filmmaker Billy Woodberry’s Bless Their Little Hearts (1984) screening at the museum (Nov 11).
“Collaboration with Houston’s vibrant cultural scene has always been vital to the festival,” says Neely. “We always wanted the event to be unique and capitalize on one of Houston's greatest strengths: the arts.”
Houston Cinema Arts Festival
Nov 10–17, from $10. For a complete schedule of showtimes and events, see houstoncimenaartsfestival.org