Previewing WorldFest 2015

This year's grab bag of films includes a documentary about the Kilgore Rangerettes, a martial arts film and an anti–global warming polemic.

By Joe Leydon April 9, 2015

Leaves of the Tree

WorldFest Houston
April 10–19
AMC Studio 30
2949 Dunvale St.

For years, WorldFest Houston founder and chairman J. Hunter Todd has humorously described his remarkably resilient film festival as a showcase for “movies you’ve never heard of, by directors you’re never heard of, that you’ll never hear of again.” Trouble is, some of the festival’s snarkier critics have claimed that too many of the features included in what Todd calls his “annual cornucopia of cinema” serve as punchlines for his joke.

But seriously, folks: The H-Town iteration of WorldFest—an event originally presented by Todd in Atlanta, Miami and the Virgin Islands—has managed to survive for nearly four decades, and even developed something like a faithful audience. And at various points along the way, the Houston festival has given early-career exposure to such notables-to-be as Ang Lee, George Clooney, Joel and Ethan Coen (whose debut feature Blood Simple, Todd recalls, played to an embarrassingly small crowd at the old Greenway 3 Theatre), Brad Pitt, John Lee Hancock, Billy Bob Thornton (a supporting player in the 1990 WorldFest guilty pleasure Zombie Chicks in Zombietown) and prolific TV director Lesli Linka Glatter (whose Oscar-nominated 1985 short Tales of Meeting and Parting screened here long before she made her mark with multiple episodes of ER, Homeland, The West Wing, Mad Men and True Blood).

This year’s WorldFest—which begins Friday and runs through April 19—is chockfull of movies that…well, you’re probably never heard of. Many of them are indie features that likely will never make it past the festival circuit. But there are others that, if only for their curiosity value, stand out amid the clutter in the WorldFest program. Here are the films that most intrigue me—all of them set to screen at the AMC Studio 30, the festival’s headquarters. 

Leaves of the Tree

WorldFest Houston 2015 kicks off with this debut feature from Houston-based lawyer-turned-producer/screenwriter David Healey, an inspirational drama, filmed in H-Town and Sicily, starring Eric Roberts as an attorney who seeks a cure for his life-threatening illness by searching for a legendary tree rumored to have healing powers. Co-star Sean Young (No Way Out, Stripes, Blade Runner) will be on hand Friday for the opening-night screening, where she’ll accept the WorldFest Remi Career Achievement Award.

April 10 at 7, April 17 at 9

Girl on the Edge

A rebellious teenager (Taylor Spreitler) descends into self-loathing and substance abuse after she’s drugged, raped and subjected to online humiliation by a manipulative predator in director Jay Silverman’s drama about intervention and redemption. The supporting cast includes Peter Coyote as Hank Taylor, operator of a residential treatment center, and the late Elizabeth Peña – who tragically passed away last fall at the age of 55 – as Taylor’s fellow holistic healer.

April 19 at 7

The Global Warming War

Call this one a would-be rebuttal to An Inconvenient Truth, and you won’t be far off the mark. Documentarian Luke Dillard offers a slew of interviews with the tiny minority of climatologists, and meteorologists who are skeptical about dire predictions regarding human-produced climate change.

April 15 at 9

The Hit Producer

Some people would kill to gain entry into the film industry. One of them is Katelin Ballantyne (Michelle Doherty), an ambitious young producer who is blackmailed into becoming a hit woman for a Dublin drug kingpin while raising funds for her next project. After attracting international attention with his award-winning shorts, Mexico City native Kevin de la Isla O’Neill makes his feature filmmaking debut with this Irish-produced indie thriller.

April 18 at 9

A Sort of Homecoming

Even if you are unfamiliar with Laura Marano, if you have any Disney Channel viewers in your household, they’ll recognize the young actress as the star of the popular teen-skewing sitcom Austin & Ally. So maybe you’ll want to plan a family outing to WorldFest to see Marano as the lead player in director Maria Burton’s filmed-in-Louisiana coming-of-age drama set in the competitive world of high school debate tournaments.

April 18 at 5


According to the WorldFest program, Danish filmmaker Katrin Ottarsdóttir’s latest effort is “an expressionist, slow-paced, claustrophobic and at times unpleasant psy­chological drama about an 11-year-old girl caught between her mother’s mental illness and her father’s well-meaning passiveness. A non-main­stream film that doesn’t try to please anyone.” Now, really: how can you resist a come-on like that?

April 19 at 5

The Martial Arts Kid

B-movie aficionados, rejoice! World champion kickboxer Don “The Dragon” Wilson and black-belted badass Cynthia Rothrock, cult-fave veterans of ’90s direct-to-video action flicks, are back in action – sort of – as unlikely co-stars of a family-friendly dramedy directed by WorldFest returnee Michael Baumgarten (Exodus Fall, Smitty). In a bold stroke of casting, they play martial arts instructors who help their bullied nephew (Jansen Panettiere, brother of Nashville star Hayden Panettiere) gain confidence, resilience and the ability to open up an economy-size can of whup-ass.

April 11 at 1 

Steps of Faith

Self-taught Dallas filmmaker M. Legend Brown recently told an interviewer that he was told by God to make this faith-based comedy-drama about a less-than-devout Christian woman who’s directed by The Almighty to move to a small town and work on a Hippotherapy farm helping children. Hey, the Lord works in mysterious ways…

April 12 at 5

Sweethearts of the Gridiron

The Kilgore College Rangerettes—the storied dance team established at Kilgore College in 1940 to keep football fans attentively seated in the stands, and not drunkenly brawling beneath them, during halftime—are celebrated in Chip Hale’s admiring documentary.

April 11 at 7 pm


Bruce Greenwood—a remarkably versatile actor who has played everyone from President John F. Kennedy in Thirteen Days to former Houston Ballet artistic director Ben Stevenson in Mao’s Last Dancer—portrays an emotionally scarred loner who becomes the reluctant guide and savior for a troubled teen runaway (Ella Purcell of Maleficent) during a trek through the Alaskan wilderness in writer-director Frank Hall Green’s award-winning drama.

April 18 at 7 pm



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