On The Town

Heaven Sent: Documenting Texas's Fast-Dying Dance Halls

The Houston Cinema Arts festival showcases a filmmaker who’s aiming to preserve Texas’s history, one dance hall at a time.

By Jeanne Lyons Davis October 24, 2016 Published in the November 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Hou 1116 honky tonk 1 esqc7v

Filmmaker Brenda Mitchell wants to preserve Texas’s history, one dance hall at a time. Her new documentary, Honky Tonk Heaven, which makes its Bayou City debut November 10 at the Museum of Fine Arts as part of the Houston Cinema Arts Festival, captures Austin’s legendary Broken Spoke dance hall as it continues to welcome two-steppers and dodge urbanization.

“For 52 years, owners James and Annetta White have opened their hall five nights a week, hosting newcomers like Willie Nelson—before the braids, mind you—and George Strait,” says Mitchell, who co-directed the film with Sam Wainwright Douglas.

In 2013, thanks to that city’s commercial boom, two new apartment complexes rose up nearby. Today they tower over the beloved venue. “It broke my heart,” says Mitchell, who’s coming to town with Douglas for the festival. “It was only a matter of time before it would be a shopping mall. That’s when I decided I needed to tell their story. Institutions like this are important to Texas.”

Hou 1116 honky tonk 2 qr45md

Broken Spoke proprietors James and Annetta White

The documentary is one of 35 features screening at the Houston Cinema Arts Society’s weeklong fest, taking place at museums and art institutions around town, in tandem with panels and live performances.

Besides Honky Tonk, other highlights include a masterclass by legendary cinematographer Frederick Elmes (Olive Kitteridge, The Night Of) and screening of his iconic Blue Velvet, celebrating its 30th anniversary, at the Museum of Fine Arts (Nov. 11), and a chance to see legendary filmmaker Billy Woodberry show his first new work in several decades, And When I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead, at the Houston Museum of African American Culture (Nov. 12).

And for the second year, the fest is bringing back mega-popular competition CineSpace, a collaboration with NASA in which participants incorporate actual space imagery into short films. A select number of short films—from nearly 500 submissions—will be screened at the Museum of Natural Science on November 13, with acclaimed Texan writer and director Richard Linklater (Boyhood, Dazed and Confused) judging the panel.

Houston Cinema Arts Festival

Nov 10–17, from $10. For a complete schedule of showtimes and events, see houstoncinemaartsfestival.org

Show Comments