For its 10th year, the Houston Cinema Arts Festival is feeling retrospective.
Just don’t think that means “nostalgic.”
Founded a decade ago by the nascent Houston Cinema Arts Society, the five-day array of screenings, multimedia installations, and live performances continues to rely on—and define itself by—unique happenings that provide the kind of immersive experiences 2-D screens simply can’t.
“We are trying to add more live events that can’t be duplicated by sitting at home and watching Netflix,” says HCAS Executive Director Patrick Kwiatkowski.
A pair of virtual-reality installations featuring innovative digital auteur Kim Voynar should clear that bar alone. At the same time, HCAF remains the best place to glimpse the upcoming awards season firsthand; last year it unveiled Call Me By Your Name and I, Tonya fresh off their Toronto International Film Festival debuts. (Check the website for late-breaking 2018 additions.)
This year, returning guests include composer Donald Sosin and violinist Alicia Svigals, who will accompany a screening of 1923 German silent film The Ancient Law; and Scott Stark, the Austin-based experimental filmmaker who will preside over the live image manipulation of his Love and the Epiphanists.
One sure highlight will be HCAF alum Sam Green’s in-person narration of A Thousand Thoughts, his “live documentary” about Kronos Quartet. As the Grammy-winning avant-garde ensemble performs at the relatively intimate Asia Society Texas Center, past collaborators like Phillip Glass, Terry Reilly, and Laurie Anderson will discuss Kronos’s groundbreaking career onscreen. Green’s film killed at Sundance this past winter.
“I really can’t think of when musicians have been better served by a filmmaker than what Sam Green did for this,” says HCAF Artistic Director Richard Herskowitz. “Incredible work.”
Appropriately, HCAF’s final screening will be The Last Movie, the late Dennis Hopper’s Godard-inspired 1971 follow-up to Easy Rider. The film was so self-indulgent and incoherent (to some) it made Hopper a Hollywood pariah for years. Universal refused to distribute it, and even Hopper himself once admitted “it’s not a very pleasant experience for most audiences.”
But others, like Repo Man director Alex Cox, found it prophetic.
At Rice Cinema, Cox will screen The Last Movie as a tribute to the time Hopper visited the campus movie house—then known as Rice Media Center—to show 1983’s Out of the Blue. He capped off a madcap evening by performing the “Russian Dynamite Death Chair” stunt at a nearby racetrack.
Look it up; stories like that are why the Internet exists. A little of that daredevil spirit lives in HCAF.
“One of the things really inspired me in the early years,” says Herskowitz, “was people telling me about [how] Houston had a deep history of sort of extra-cinematic special events.”
Thanks to the festival, these type of events are now a lot more accessible—if a little less deadly.
Houston Cinema Arts Festival, Nov. 8–12. Tickets from $12 (All-access passes $149). Various locations. Full schedule and tickets available at cinemahtx.org.