Tying the Arts Together

Article excerpt

The Houston Cinema Arts Festival

Houston, Texas

November 11-15, 2009

Houston stands larger than the Texas plains in the national imagination with its big oil, big energy, big medicine, NASA, cutting-edge technology, and a penchant for plastic surgery, But Houston--the third largest, fastest-growing city in the United Stales--offers something more: it vibrant and diverse arts community. Although many might think it unimaginable to launch a new film festival during a crushing recession, it seems perfectly logical in economically robust Houston. Elegantly curated by Richard Herskowitz, former director of the Virginia Film Festival, the Houston Cinema Arts Festival unspooled more than forty films and events, cross-fertilizing the arts and cinema.

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"It's the only U.S. film festival devoted to films by and about artists of all stripes," says Herskowitz. (1) "Ours is also conceived as a multimedia arts event, surrounding its films with live performances, installations, and outdoor projections." A citywide celebration at eight venues (including the historic Alabama Theatre, Rice Media Center, the Miller Outdoor Theatre, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston), the festival provocatively torqued preconceptions of films about the arts--a genre stereotypically linked to flat, monotone explanations of paintings. Herskowitz's rigorous, surprising curation, however, prompted audiences to consider the migrations, flirtations, and infiltrations between different artistic outlets such as writing, painting, sculpture, performance, photography, and cinema.

Exploring the interstices between the arts, commercial cinema, and public media cultures, the program was both eye-opening and heterogeneous, combining narrative, documentary, experimental, performance, and installation film. The festival opened with two sold-out screenings of films adapted from novels. Leading Texas maverick filmmaker Richard Linklater presented Me and Orson Welles (2008, UK), the fictionalized story of Welles's production of Julius Caesar on Broadway in 1937, based on Robert Kaplow's novel of the same name. Precious (2009, directed by Lee Daniels), which won three awards at the Sundance Film Festival, is the story of a Harlem teenager who overcomes enormous obstacles to discover her own potential.

Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga screened his landmark Mexican New Wave film, Amores Perros (2000, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2006, directed by Tommy Lee Jones, U.S./France). Warm, welcoming, and wry, Arriaga (also an established novelist) shared how his non-linear narrative structures emerged out of his Attention Deficit Disorder symptoms, saying, "You are unable to understand logic, but it develops intuition."

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Documentaries featured at the festival included What If, Why Not?: Underground Adventures with Ant Farm (2009, directed by Beth Federici and Laura Harrison, U.S.), the first film to chronicle the radical Ant Farm architectural group that made such works as the land art piece Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas; La Danse: Le Ballet de L'Opera de Paris (2009, directed by Frederick Wiseman, France/U. …