Houston, Texas is internationally recognized for its vibrant and varied art scene, and the Cinema Arts Festival Houston taps into the city’s creative energy by celebrating and advancing the collaboration between film and art. In addition to the wealth of foreign and independent films screening at this year’s festival—among them !Women Art Revolution, Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow and Pina, Wim Wenders’ 3-D tribute to the late choreographer Pina Bausch—the festival will also feature a variety of media installations and art performances to compliment its stellar lineup. Among the guests appearing at this year’s festival are actor/director/novelist Ethan Hawke, winner of this year’s Levantine Cinema Arts Award, and director Richard Linklater, both of whom will be on hand to present a screening of their 2001 collaboration Tape.
MovieMaker caught up with Cinema Arts Festival Houston’s artistic director Richard Herskowitz, who took the time to discuss Houston’s art scene and this year’s festival, running from November 9th through the 13th. To find out more about this unique festival and to view its complete lineup, visit cinemartsociety.org.
Laurel Dammann (MM): How do you see the current film scene in Houston within the larger context of film in the United States? How do you wish to see the Houston film and art scenes evolve?
Richard Herskowitz (RH): Houston has a great alternative film exhibition scene and history, intertwined with its incredibly active arts scene. At the source of both were the amazing John and Dominique de Menil, who founded the Rice [University] Media Center and brought artist/filmmakers like Rossellini, Godard, Warhol and many others to Houston. They also created the Menil Collection, one of the greatest museums in the world. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston’s thriving repertory film programs and the Aurora Picture Show’s history of presenting artists’ films in unexpected venues maintain this city’s determination to blend film and the arts.
The Southwest Alternate Media Project has been at the fulcrum of the independent filmmaking scene here for over thirty years and is another legacy of the de Menils’ visionary philanthropy. SWAMP helped back some early independent Texas features, like Houston native Richard Linklater’s Slacker and Eagle Pennell’s Last Night at the Alamo. They continue to support new independent features, including our closing night film about Houston’s mammoth annual Art Car Parade, Art Car: The Movie.
Cinema Arts Festival Houston was created by a coalition of arts organizations, including representatives from all of the above, and our goal is to create something that is a cross between an arts fair and film festival and furthers the blending of art and film that is Houston’s particular bent.
MM: There is a wide variety of international film screening at the Cinema Arts Festival Houston; what are some notable differences and/or similarities you find intriguing between the work of these foreign directors and those within the Houston scene?
RH: In bringing Patricio Guzmán here for three programs, we are emphasizing, in addition to the well-known political aspects of his classic Chilean documentaries (like The Battle of Chile), the reflections on literature, astronomy, religion and art that flow through his works. The wide range of his intellectual reflections echoes that of the international directors the Menils brought to the Rice Media Center. (Guzmán’s nightly public dialogues with Rice University scholars mimic the encounters the de Menils fomented.) From Beijing, we are bringing Zhu Wen, the very inventive director of Thomas Mao, who also happens to be one of China’s greatest living authors and who has cast a major contemporary artist, Mao Yan, in his new film’s leading role.
Once again, a fascination with other art forms connects our international guests with many of this area’s independent filmmakers, including Laura Harrison, Ford Gunter, Jena Moreno and Robert Ziebell—all of whom our festival has featured.
MM: What are some things you consider when selecting films for the Cinema Arts Festival? What impact do you want the films you screen to have on the audience?
RH: There are a lot of passionate lovers of the arts here, and I try to satisfy fans of dance (Pina, Crazy Horse), literature (My Jules Verne), music (Echotone, Downtown Express), painting (Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow, The Mill and the Cross) and more. I especially seek out films that demonstrate the power of arts education to change the lives of kids at risk, manifested this year in Shakespeare High and last year in Louder than a Bomb and Thunder Soul (which was about a Houston high school).
MM: Are there any films or events at this year’s festival that you are particularly looking forward to?
RH: I’m particularly excited about the shows that blend live performance and film. There’s Braden King’s three-screen performance of Here (The Story Sleeps) with the Boxhead Ensemble, the night after we show his feature road movie Here. [Seeing] Miwa Matreyek’s live shadow projections on her own animated films was one of my most wondrous art experiences this year, and I can’t wait for others here to share it. I’m bringing back for the second time the great silent film accompanist Donald Sosin, who is joining with music students from Rice’s Shepherd School of Music to accompany his original score for the newly rediscovered silent film Upstream, by John Ford.
MM: Anything you’d like to add?
RH: We do have a nice track record of attracting actors with multiple artistic talents and interests, including Tilda Swinton, John Turturro and Isabella Rossellini in our first two editions. This year it’s the film and theater actor, director and novelist Ethan Hawke coming with his friend Richard Linklater. Also, we are expanding in a big way our interactive media exhibits, inspired by Sundance’s New Frontier. We have media installations by Lynn Hershman, Lech Majewski, Trimpin, Braden King and Miwa Matreyek, [which] complement their films in the festival, situated in six different Houston sites.