More than a decade since former Mayor Bill White floated the idea for a film festival that would put Houston on the cinematic map, what is now the Houston Cinema Arts Festival has expanded to become a multi-day event featuring dozens of screenings, panels, and juried film competitions that shine the spotlight on both local talent and Oscar winners to-be.

But looking at the full schedule that begins Thursday, Nov. 9, it can feel impossible to narrow your choices, assuming you don't have your schedule blocked off to attend the entirety of the five-day festival. Thankfully, Houstonia whittled the schedule down to six superlatives to guide your festival attendance, along with a number of runners-up. And if you absolutely can't miss it all, grab one of the festival's all-films passes for $99.


Best Bang for Your Buck: CineSpace

Nov. 10 at 8:30 p.m. | Rice Media Center

From more than 650 entries, this Richard Linklater-juried competition will screen 13 finalist short films inspired by or using NASA imagery. The submissions truly run the gamut, from To The Sky, which focuses on an elderly woman with Alzheimer's disease who writes a letter to the heavens, to The Great Portals of Cyberspace: Doomsday, in which a smartphone from outer space attempts to take over the world.

Tickets $10. Rice Media Center, 2030 University Blvd. More info and tickets at houstoncinemaartsfestival.org.


Best Way to Understand Houston's Sprawl: Citizen Jane

Nov. 11 at 3 p.m. | Rice Media Center

With her landmark text, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs cemented her legacy as the patron saint of New Urbanism that argued for an emphasis on walkable, livable urban spaces. Half a century later, her work remains instructive, potentially offering ideas for a denser, better-designed Bayou City. Pay attention to Citizen Jane as it chronicles her clash with New York City master builder Robert Moses to preserve whole sections of the city against destruction for highways and other neighborhood-destroying projects. 

Runner Up: I Look Up Film Series, where Architecture Center Houston asked three local design leaders to compile films that resonate with the city's unique design and housing landscape.

Tickets $8. Rice Media Center, 2030 University Blvd. More info and tickets at houstoncinemaartsfestival.org.


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Best Excuse to See Bun B: Singin' in the Rain

Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. | White Oak Music Hall

Set for its 65th anniversary, the classic Singin' in the Rain will take over White Oak Music Hall for live renditions of the musical's songs by Houston hip-hop favorite Bun B, jazz singer Kat Edmonson and more. There will also be a screening of the film, just in case your old VHS-taped version has finally worn out.

Runner Up: Bodied, a film in which a white grad student delves into the unfamiliar world of battle rap for his thesis project. The screening will be followed by a Bun B-led Q&A with director Joseph Kahn.

Tickets $20. White Oak Music Hall, 2915 N. Main St. More info and tickets at houstoncinemaartsfestival.org.


Best Idea for a New Talent: No Maps on My Taps

Nov. 12 at 1 p.m. | Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

For a moment, it looked like tap dancing would go the way of the dodo after the retirement of Gene Kelley, Fred Astaire, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who popularized the art form in the '30s and '40s. But, as this restored version of George T. Nierenberg's 1979 documentary shows, other talents emerged, and there is still something worth appreciating about the dazzling, dizzying footwork of more recent artists such as Bunny Briggs, Chuck Green, and Harold “Sandman” Sims.

Runner Up: A Life in Waveswhich follows Suzanne Ciani as she shapes the male-dominated world of New Age music with her Buchla synthesizer.

Tickets $8. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet St. More info and tickets at houstoncinemaartsfestival.org.


Best Look at Houston's Artistic Chops: Horace Tapscott: Musical Griot

Nov. 10 | Rice Media Center

Houston-born jazz legend Horace Tapscott left his mark on the world as the founder of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and other notable jazz ensembles. Don Cherry and Arthur Blythe are interviewed alongside archival footage of Tapscott as they reminisce on their mutual legacy in the jazz canon. Director Barbara McCullough will be in conversation with DJ Flash Gordon Parks, the renowned local ethnomusicologist, following the screening.

Runner Up: Ash: The Art of Wayne Gilbert, examining the work of the Houston artist who uses human remains as a medium.

Tickets $10. Rice Media Center, 2030 University Blvd. More info and tickets at houstoncinemaartsfestival.org.


Best Film Ever Made, According to Gay Twitter: Call Me By Your Name

Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. | Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

When it premiered at Sundance earlier this year, Call Me By Your Name received rapturous, near-universal praise, immediately ushering it into the ranks of Brokeback Mountain, Carol, and Moonlight as one of the still-rare big screen depictions of same-sex romance. Based on a novel of the same name, the film follows the unspooling romance between 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and older Oliver (Armie Hammer) after a summer encounter in the Italian countryside. There are already Oscar whispers, and people are clamoring over the soundtrack—a dazzling compilation of instrumental and popular tracks that includes new music from Sufjan Stevens. Catch it early before its release date later this month.

Runner Up: Rebels On Pointea documentary following the all-male, drag ballet company formed in the aftermath of the Stonewall Riots.

Tickets $10. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet St. More info and tickets at houstoncinemaartsfestival.org.

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