The Houston Cinema Arts festival has become something I look forward to every year. Combing through the upcoming schedule, I have put together a preview of my exhausting (but not exhaustive) itinerary. I have purposefully narrowed my focus to documentaries about artists and skipped over many of the narrative, fiction films. This year the documentaries lean toward profiling musicians: heavy metal rockers in Egypt, Mexican musicians who immortalize drug traffickers as glamourous outlaws, and Jonathan Demme’s portrait of Enzo Avitabile, a world-renowned Neapolitan saxophonist and singer/songwriter.
I have tried to make tough choices. But in some cases, I had to split hairs and leave a “this or this” scenario. Glasstire’s Peter Lucas has also done a great job covering some parts I missed or has covered in greater depth some things I have included.
Four screen, immersive video installation by New York artist Meredith Danluck shot in Detroit and Marfa, and described by Danluck as a portrait of “post-hope” America. Visitors will sit in 25 swivel seats to see all the interweaving stories on the surrounding screens.
—more from Peter Lucas on the “Cinema on the Verge” section of the festival
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 6
CUTIE AND THE BOXER and Opening Night Party
This documentary is a love story and focuses on the chaotic 40-year marriage between Noriko and the “boxing painter” Ushio Shinohara, whose work you’ve probably seen at Zoya Tommy Contemporary in Houston.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 7
BEFORE THE SPRING AFTER THE FALL
A group of young heavy-metal musicians are followed pre- and post-Arab spring in Egypt. It should be an interesting lens through which to see the effects of the political upheaval and change.
View the trailer here
The river town of Puerto Berrío in Colombia has been a site of violence between guerrillas, the army, paramilitary, and drug traffickers for over 30 years. Locals have fished remains of unidentified victims (No Names NNs) who float downstream, and they have begun baptizing them, decorating their graves, and visiting them as if they would a family member to attempt to guarantee divine protection and special favors. It sounds a like a moving (albeit difficult to watch) portrait of a selfless act of communal mourning.
—Also part of the “Cinema on the Verge” with photo exhibit held in conjunction at Cinema Arts Headquarters
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 8
This sounds like it could be a little slow, but if you are a Harry Dean Stanton fan you might be predisposed to it. In this “poetic tribute,” fimmaker Sophie Huber follows around the singing and harmonica playing Stanton, who says himself that he doesn’t “give anything away.”
—more from Peter Lucas on Stanton and Paris, Texas here
SLEEPLESS NIGHTS STORIES
Seemingly mundane moments with quite a few famous people. This film by the legendary Jonas Mekas captures the 90-year-old’s everyday life as he hangs out with Marina Abromovič, Patti Smith, and Yoko Ono. Björk even gives him a ride to the airport.
Cathy Lee Crane will present her sixty minute documentary/elegy to one of Italy’s most important filmmakers, Pier Paolo Pasolini. Barbara Hammer will then present Witness: Palestine, heartbreaking stories told by Palestinians: a man recounts losing his village when he was six, a sister speaks about her brother killed by a rubber bullet, a farmer says he cannot travel to his land to plant, to name a few examples. With an interactive twist, the stories won’t be seen on a white screen. Instead, Hammer will select twelve volunteers from the audience at Aurora Picture Show to wear a white T-shirt to become a human screen.
Guinness Book of World Record fans get ready: Land artist Jim Denevan sets out to break his own record for creating the world’s largest artwork, which he set in the Nevada desert in 2009. This time he trades desert heat for Siberian cold as he journeys to Lake Baikal to carve shapes into the frozen lake over nine square miles of ice.
JAMEL SHABAZZ: STREET PHOTOGRAPHER
If the solitude of Siberian ice carving sounds uneventful for a Friday night, check out this documentary about Brooklyn-born photographer Jamel Shabazz’s lively NYC street photos.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 9
TEXAS FILMMAKERS SHOWCASE
Organized by the Houston Film Commission brings the following films made by people in our own backyard (descriptions from press materials):
Cork’s Cattlebaron by Eric Steele (15:15 min.)
–Two men sit down for a life-changing steak dinner in Omaha, Nebraska.
The Garden and the Wilderness by Craig Whitney (27:19 min.)
–A poetic re-imagining of the Western genre, The Garden and the Wilderness examines the dramatic themes of life on the frontier, refracted through the lens of 21st century realities.
Hellion by Kat Candler (6:25 min.)
–All hell breaks loose when Petey is left with his hell raising brothers. But things go from bad to really, really bad when dad comes home.
Little Lions by Tony Costello (9:56 min.)
–Cosmo spends his days roughhousing with this little brother and sister, and the games don’t stop when he discovers an injured bird in their backyard. Little Lions is the story of a boy who’s just starting to figure it out.
Vincent Valdez: Excerpts for John by Angela & Mark Walley (11:53 min.)
–Two years in the making, this short documentary film captures the creative process of artist Vincent Valdez. Filmmakers Mark and Angela Walley follow Valdez as he creates a series of works dedicated to his childhood best friend John Holt Jr., an Army combat medic, who died in 2009 after serving in Iraq.
Vultures of Tibet by Russell Oliver Bush (21:01 min.)
–In rapidly developing Western China, Sky Burial, a sacred ritual in which the bodies of Tibetan dead are fed to wild griffon vultures, becomes a popular tourist attraction.
PERSISTENCE OF VISION
The animation in this preview looks off the wall. Innovative animator Richard Williams (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) labored for half of a 50 year career on what he thought would be his masterpiece. It looks like it did not quite work out, but should be an interesting story about an undeterred artistic vision.
Not an art documentary, but I really, really want to see Alexander Payne’s latest. Payne is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time, and if you want to get in the mood try to get your hands on one of his early short films called “The Passion of Martin.” I had never known about it until stumbling across it on a Wholphin DVD.
Nebraska will probably win out for me, but this documentary sounds so interesting. Not too far away from us in Houston has been a raging war on the US-Mexico border. This documentary shows how narco-traffickers have become iconic outlaws and how the musicians who sing about their exploits have become superstars. It focuses on singers in El Paso, Texas and a crime scene investigator in neighboring Ciudad Juarez.
I love this documentary. It is a must-see classic about hip hop culture and the creativity of adolescents living in economically depressed New York City in the 1980s. Peter Lucas talks about it here.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10
Many in Houston might already know Austin-based media artist Scott Stark’s work, but I do not so I am curious. It looks like a compilation of short videos that are a weird, trippy meditation on the banal, such as a carpet, mannequins, and the filmmaker’s own body.
ENZO AVITABILE: MUSIC LIFE
Oscar®-winning director Jonathan Demme creates what looks to be a romantic portrait of musician Enzo Avitabile and the city of Naples. Avitabile is a world renowned Neapolitan saxophonist and singer/songwriter.
This does not profile an artist, but someone who lived through something unimaginable. Michael Morton spent 25 years in Texas prisons before he was exonerated through DNA evidence by the Innocence Project. Released in 2011, Morton has captivated people with his lack of bitterness or anger, as he has become an advocate for legal reform and has tried to repair his relationship with his estranged son. Morton will be in attendance at the screening.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 11
This should be popular as it shows the history of the Houston Ballet as it rose to prominence becoming the fourth largest ballet company in America.
—actual film premiere with ballet-affiliated people in attendance is Sunday, November 10 at 4:00 pm
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 12
Even more local representation … (descriptions grabbed from PR materials):
Kathryn Kane, Sing-Song
–a 50’s period film following Jeannette, a little girl consumed with resentment toward her older sister, the seemingly perfect Carol Anne, but she soon learns her sister is the true solace in an unfair world.
Lauren Kelley, Burlap Interior
–a stop motion animated short that depicts everyday life situations in the interiors of automobiles in a jittery absurd nonlinear narrative.
Douglas Newman, Bellows and Buttons
–a profile of Gabbanelli Accordions, one of Houston’s musical treasures for over 50 years.
Jerry Ochoa, This Neighborhood
–a deeply disturbed man who spends his days spying on people and his nights murdering them, convinced he has to kill everyone to save mankind.
View trailer here
The last film on the docket. This sounds like a heavy one, following a 13-year-old girl trying to overcome a trouble past of a drug-addicted mother and being adopted by a new family. I am guessing it ends on a hopeful note.