8 Nov



The only U.S. festival devoted to films by and about artists of all stripes, the 2009 Cinema Arts Festival Houston runs this week at various cultural locales throughout the city’s Downtown and Museum District. And to hear curator Richard Herskowitz tell it, the Cinema Arts Society’s debut is more than “just” a film festival – it’s a vibrant multimedia arts event breaking out of the confines of the movie theater through live music and film performances, and more. 

“The nearest equivalent,” Herskowitz says, “is the International Festival of Films on Art in Montreal. Ours is different in that it was conceived from the start as a multimedia arts festival, supplementing films with installations, live music and film performances, and outdoor projections.” 

Houston Cinema Arts Festival has a stellar lineup of actors, directors, and other artists participating in the jam-packed event November 11-15. Guests presenting new and classic films include Academy Award-winning actress Tilda Swinton, Texas filmmaker and director Richard Linklater and Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga. The arts-oriented festival will also host photographer Susan Meiselas, rock band Dengue Fever, and members of The Yes Men and Ant Farm media collective, among many other notable presenters. 

The festival program involves collaboration among many of Houston’s extraordinary film and arts institutions, including the Museum of Fine Arts Houston; The Menil Collection; the Houston Ballet; FotoFest; Aurora Picture Show, and many others.  Many of their representatives serve on the board and task force of the Houston Cinema Arts Society, the nonprofit organization responsible for devising the Festival’s unique identity. 

“The festival has been created to reflect Houston’s extraordinary status as an international art city,” says its curator. “We are also picking up on a Houston tradition of displaying cinematic art artfully. The screening of Peter Pan at Miller Outdoor Theater accompanied by songs written by students of the McGregor School, the presentation of The Red Shoes outdoors at Discovery Green accompanied by the Houston Ballet II, and the H Box portable video theater in the Alabama Theater are some examples of what we are attempting— film presentations that will be unusual and memorable experiences for our viewers.” 

In November of last year, Houston Cinema Arts Society presented a preview festival with just five programs honoring artists Lynn Hershman Leeson and Alex Rivera. This year’s festival has expanded to include nearly forty programs including special series, performances, installations and discussion panels that focus on various multi-faceted topics surrounding cinema and the arts. Three special series, or “mini-festivals,”


Dengue Fever

bring celebrity guests and incomparable work to the festival: “The Worlds of Tilda Swinton;” “Guillermo Arriaga, Escritor” and “The Films of Richard P. Rogers and Susan Meiselas.” 

“The Worlds of Tilda Swinton” celebrates the Academy Award winner’s many artistic achievements in producing, writing and acting, as well as her passionate commitment to the cinematic arts. It includes a sneak preview of her latest independent feature film, to be presented on Saturday in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Brown Auditorium Theater. On Sunday, Swinton will discuss her close collaborations with two avant-garde artists, Derek Jarman and Lynn Hershman Leeson. She will present the documentary on Jarman she wrote and narrated, Derek at 1pm, followed by a showing of the cult feminist sci-fi film, Teknolust, where she will be joined by director Hershman. 

The weekend culminates on Sunday at 6 pm with “The Ballerina Cinema of Dreams,” a celebration at Discovery Green Park co-presented by HCAS and Swinton’s 8½ Foundation, featuring a free outdoor screening of The Red Shoes and preceded by a performance of three short pieces by Houston Ballet II. Swinton will be on hand at each of the screenings to introduce the films and, in many cases, engage in conversation with the audience. 

“Guillermo Arriaga, Escritor” is devoted to the work of Arriaga, the extraordinary artist who wrote the trilogy of films directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel). On Thursday at 9:45 pm, Arriaga will introduce Amores Perros, the film that first brought him worldwide acclaim, at the Angelika Film Center. The next day at 3 pm at the Alabama Theatre, Nuestra Palabra will host a reading by Arriaga from his novels as well as a discussion about his approaches to writing across media. 

That night at 6:45 pm at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Arriaga will introduce and discuss his screenplay, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, a classic story of friendship, revenge and redemption, grounded in the contemporary environment of the Texas-Mexico border. The Three Burials will also be the subject of the Festival’s “Setting the Scene” workshop on November 14, featuring crew members exploring the production of a Texas-filmed classic.

 “The Films of Richard P. Rogers and Susan Meiselas” includes several screenings and events exploring the fruitful partnership of filmmaker Richard P. Rogers and photographer Susan Meiselas, including the Houston premiere of one of the year’s most original and important documentaries, The Windmill Movie, at the Angelika Film Center at 6:45 pm on Saturday. Directed by Alexander Olch and produced by Pulitzer Prize–winning photographer Susan Meiselas, The Windmill Movie is imaginatively composed from footage collected over many years for an unfinished autobiography by legendary art documentarian, experimental filmmaker and film professor Richard P. Rogers. 

Meiselas, who was Rogers’s life partner for many years (they married near the end of Rogers’ life), collaborated with him on two classic documentary films made in the 1980s in support of the Nicaraguan people and revolution, Living at Risk and Pictures from a Revolution. Meiselas will be present for a discussion of Pictures from a Revolution after it shows Friday at 4 pm at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Brown Auditorium. Living At Risk will play Saturday at 4 pm at the Rice Media Center. Alfred Guzzetti, who co-directed Pictures from a Revolution and Living at Risk with Rogers and Meiselas, will also attend these screenings. 

Finally, thanks to Meiselas’s efforts, some of Rogers’s key works have been gathered for “Remembering Dick Rogers,” which played to acclaim at the Walter Reade Theater in New York this past June. The program consists of three short films: Elephants: Fragments of an Argument; Moving Pictures: The Art of Jan Lenica; and 226-1690. The series of three films, with each film being less than thirty minutes, will be shown Sunday at 1 pm at the Rice Media Center. 

The festival’s opening night will kick off on Wednesday with a very special guest. Richard Linklater, who was born in Houston and is the maker of such seminal films as Slacker, Dazed and Confused, A Scanner Darkly, School of Rock and Before Sunset, will be at the screening of his latest theatrical release, Me and Orson Welles at the Museum of Fine Arts at 8 pm. Meanwhile, the acclaimed Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire will be playing downtown at the Angelika Film Center, beginning at 7 pm. 

Me and Orson Welles is Linklater’s tribute to the ultimate maverick director, Welles, as filtered through Robert Kaplow’s novel of the same name. Zac Efron graduates from teen heartthrob to serious actor and displays impressive range as Richard Samuels, a young actor drawn into Welles’s theater troupe and orbit. 

“The message for me, and I hope for others, is that great movies are made when filmmakers draw inspiration from diverse art forms and cultural experiences,” says Herskowitz. “When movies are made because they evoke other hit movies (which is how a lot of feature films get made), they are often dead on arrival.”


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