The Houston Cinema Arts Festival is back with an eclectic program celebrating film both as art and as art document. It opens this Wednesday and runs through Sunday. As always, the fest features some great programming. And, as always, it’s a little difficult to decipher and plan for. In reality, the HCAF is a few festivals rolled into one and squished into 5 days. The arts documentaries are arguably the heart of the fest–windows into the lives and work of a variety of visual artists, photographers, designers, musicians, actors, writers, etc. There are also a number of Texas-related narrative features, documentaries, and short films showcased in the fest. And then there’s an outdoor screening of a Gene Kelly musical. And, oh yeah, the Sundance kid will be in town. I encourage you to check out the full schedule of films and events. But in case you don’t have the time to analyze the program (or are just plain sick of choices after election day), I’m going to attempt to slice this thing up and give you my two cents in the form of some themed notes and “cheat sheets.”
Experimental film, installation, audio-visual performance.
I’m going to start on the verges. For this first post, I’d like to focus attention on what I think are the REAL attractions of the festival. These are fantastic, unique works of cinema, video installation, and audio-visual performance that celebrate boundary-pushing in moving image art–most of which are part of the festival’s “Cinema On The Verge” programming. Although these more experimental works are presented as peripheral and easily buried in the festival’s schedule, they are the programs that aggressively explore film’s expansions–past and present (and they most clearly show the festival’s collaborations with various artists, curators, and arts organizations.) This is the stuff you really wouldn’t otherwise get to experience, and I think the main reason one should love, support, and take part in the Houston Cinema Arts Festival. Below are a few notes on things I am particularly excited about and a suggested schedule for those adventurous audiences. (I’ll follow this up soon with more posts on the fest, sliced in different ways.)
The year’s archival focus is the work of Shirley Clarke, an important yet often overlooked American independent film director, and one of our great female film artists. In the 1950s, Clarke turned from dance to filmmaking, bringing with her a unique approach and sensibility for the choreography of actors and images. After gaining recognition with her early short films, her first feature film was the unconventional and controversial The Connection (1962), based on the play by Jack Gelber/The Living Theatre and featuring jazz musicians Freddie Redd and Jackie McLean. HCAF presents a new 35mm print of The Connection on Thursday evening. This is without a doubt the most important film shown in this year’s festival. Then, on Friday afternoon, Milestone Films founders Dennis Doros and Amy Heller will speak about Clarke’s work and their journey tracking down elements of her lost film Portrait of Jason (1967), as well as present 16mm film prints of her great, early experimental shorts Dance in the Sun (1953) and Bridges-Go-Round (1958), on loan from the MoMA. Then, on Saturday evening, there will be a special screening of a new 35mm print of Clarke’s Ornette: Made In America (1985), her unique portrait of Fort Worth-born Free Jazz genius Ornette Coleman. This opportunity to see and celebrate Clarke’s work is a real treat. Unfortunately, they’ve scheduled two of these three programs in tough spots, but do what you can to attend them!
Andy Warhol / J.J. Murphy
I’m happy that the “Cinema on the Verge” program includes a number of 16mm film programs, beginning Thursday evening with filmmaker, critic and scholar J.J. Murphy presenting two rarely seen Andy Warhol films: Bufferin (1966), in which Gerard Malanga reads poems and diaries with all of the names replaced with the name of the well-known pain reliever; and The Velvet Underground in Boston (1967), Warhol’s kinetic document of a Velvets performance. On flickering 16mm film, with an intro by Murphy, and surrounded by an enthusiastic audience is the way to see Warhol films. On Sunday afternoon, Murphy will be in attendance to present two of his own best-known films, Sky Blue Water Light Sign (1972) and Print Generation (1973-74), the latter made in Houston while he was teaching at St. Thomas University.
The Light Surgeons
Led by artist Christopher Thomas Allen, this London-based group has continually innovated cross-disciplinary practice with their films, installations and audio-visual performances. The Light Surgeons’ new live cinema performance project, SuperEverything, explores the cultural landscape of Malaysia through a tapestry of documentary footage, motion graphics, and music. The boldest contemporary work in the festival, the U.S. premiere of this unique cinematic experience will be presented in the Asia Society’s fancy new theater on Friday and Saturday evenings. Props to the Mitchell Center for bringing this and other Light Surgeons activities to Houston. (Chris Allen also has a nice little installation piece, Dialog, on view in the festival’s “Cinema On The Verge” gallery at 4411 Montrose.)
The Aurora Picture Show co-presents whiteonwhite: algorhythmicnoir, a new film installation from artist Eve Sussman and her collective, the Rufus Corporation. This is an experimental film noir that is edited live in real time by a custom computer program that Sussman calls the “serendipity machine.” The piece runs continuously, delivering an ever-changing narrative by shuffling thousands of clips, voiceovers and music cues. Sussman and whiteonwhite collaborator/star, Jeff Wood, will be in attendance on Friday evening, and will interrupt the ongoing film at 7:30 for a brief talk about the work and a reception. It will then be on view on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Honestly, I don’t know how this thing will be at all, but I’ll be there Friday night because I’m intrigued by the experiment, I like that there will be drinks there, and I like that all the fancy people will be at the Robert Redford talk.
…and then there are also programs featuring great films by Phil Solomon, Stan Brakhage, Vanessa Renwick, Stacey Steers, and others. And the Cinema On The Verge installations on view at 4411 Montrose- definitely pop into the gallery to see those anytime you’re in that building for a screening. And Chris Johnson’s Question Bridge: Black Males on view at Project Row Houses in the afternoons… Ok, ok, I’ll stop.
If this good, weird stuff looks like your cup of tea, then here’s a cheat sheet below for scheduling your Cinema Arts fest. You can click on the titles for more info.
CINEMA ARTS Cheat Sheet #1
Experimental Film, Installation, and Audio-Visual Performance
THURSDAY, NOV. 8:
5:30 PM (Cinema 16)
Bufferin (1966, Andy Warhol) & The Velvet Underground in Boston (1967, Andy Warhol)
Shown on 16mm film. Presented by filmmaker/scholar J.J. Murphy.
9:15 PM (Sundance 6)
THE CONNECTION (1962, Shirley Clarke)
New 35mm print. Introduction by Dennis Doros and Amy Heller.
FRIDAY, NOV. 9:
1:00 PM (Cinema 16)
WHERE’S SHIRLEY? (Talk on the work of Shirley Clarke and two films screened)
Speakers: Dennis Doros and Amy Heller (Milestone Films)
Dance in the Sun (1953, Shirley Clarke) & Bridges-Go-Round (1958, Shirley Clarke)
3:00 PM (Cinema 16)
Films made 1990-2011. Filmmaker Stacey Steers in attendance.
5:00 PM (Cinema 16)
Films made 1988-2002. Filmmaker Phil Solomon in attendance.
6:00 PM (Aurora)
WHITEONWHITE: ALGORHYTHMICNOIR (2011, Eve Sussman)
Continually-running, ever-changing film. Eve Sussman & Phil Wood in attendance. Artist talk and reception at 7:30.
SATURDAY, NOV. 10:
1:30 PM (Cinema 16)
Films made 1983-2012. Filmmaker Vanessa Renwick in attendance.
4:00 PM (Cinema 16)
Films made 1978-2007. Filmmaker Phil Solomon in attendance.
7:30 PM (Asia Society)
Live audio-visual performance by The Light Surgeons.
SUNDAY, NOV. 11:
2:00 PM (Cinema 16)
Sky Blue Water Light Sign (1972) & Print Generation (1973-74)
Filmmaker J.J. Murphy in attendance. Restored 16mm film prints.