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The World (Fest) Is Not Enough

In its 33rd year -- or is it the 22nd? the Houston International Film Festival still barely registers with the people it's suppose to serve

In 1992, however, the renamed WorldFest/ Houston got too big for its own good. By his own admission, Todd seriously miscalculated the appeal of his festival when he ambitiously expanded his program to cram some 140 features into three venues over ten days. At the end of WorldFest '92, a disappointed Todd promised to reinvent his showcase as "a lean, mean movie machine." The following year WorldFest/Houston presented 70 features. In 1995, the year WorldFest shifted to two screens at General Cinema's Meyerland Plaza multiplex, the downsizing continued with a slate of 47 features.

Todd makes no apologies for what some wags have described as "The Incredible Shrinking Festival." In his view, less truly is more.

"I know that at some other festivals, like Toronto or Sundance, they show anywhere from 150 to 300 movies," Todd says. "That's unfair to the filmmaker, and unfair to the audience. With only 47 movies, the audience has more of a chance to see more of the movies. And we get to have more repeat screenings, so that if you miss a movie tonight at nine, you may get a second chance to see it at five."

Better still, less means fewer movies of lesser consequence. Reducing the number of screening slots that must be filled with something, anything, means WorldFest "can be more selective, and program fewer marginal movies," Todd says.

"We received over 500 feature entries this year, of which we were able to pick 47. And let me tell you: In our first round of selecting, we were able to throw out all but about 80. In other words, the others should have never been made. I'd say The Blair Witch Project has done a great disservice to the industry, because now everybody thinks they can make a terrible, grainy, shaky movie -- and make money."

This year, as he has for the past three years, Todd will emphasize "truly independent" productions in a schedule of 47 premieres. For WorldFest 2000, he has accepted "only independent, undistributed, new feature films," he says. "No major studios or distributors are accepted." The only exceptions to the rule are revival screenings of The Sound of Music (a benefit for KUHF/88.7 FM) and The Wizard of Oz, and the opening-night premiere of Love and Basketball. Of the latter, a New Line Cinema release, Todd insists: "It's still an indie, even though it has a distributor already."

So what's new at WorldFest 2000? For one thing, state-of-the-art digital projection, which will allow Todd to screen video and 16mm at Meyerland Plaza instead of at a separate venue. And there has been some crafty tweaking of the scheduling. "We have a new documentary section," Todd says. "Every afternoon at five, we'll show a feature documentary. We're especially proud of Waco - A New Revelation, which is going to blow people's minds. And then, every day at five, we're [also] going to have a family film section."

Looking ahead, Todd points with pride to a new staff addition: Charlotte Aguilar, director of development, who comes to WorldFest with considerable experience in fund-raising for arts organizations. With her help, Todd hopes "to make the festival more of a year-round event, to expand our Houston Film Society membership, [and] to offer classes and workshops in filmmaking," he says. "We'd also like to have a building of our own, and have a large screening room in it."

Even as he considers these ambitious plans, however, Todd acknowledges that WorldFest/Houston currently is, in terms of scope and attendance, far short of being a first-tier, or even a second-tier, film festival. Part if the reason for that, he insists, is lack of local support.

"But part of it is my own fault," Todd says, "because I have almost a fetish about paying my bills and keeping my promises. I cannot run an event that doesn't pay its bills. And therefore I am very fiscally paranoid. Remember Filmex in Los Angeles -- the film capital of the world! -- that went bankrupt? They would have ten elephants in the street outside, and 50 spotlights, and it was quite an event. But I've seen grandiose things come and go. Over the years, I've run a few of them myself. But now, if I rent a spotlight or two, I pay for it. And if we bring in a celebrity, I have to pay him. We can't promise things and then say, 'Er, well, we don't have the money.' We run a very fiscally responsible event, which is a tough thing to do sometimes. Because, you know, when a celebrity does come in, well, they don't come because they're your friends. They come because you pay them. And appearance fees now are up to ten grand for an old star like Liz Taylor or somebody at that level.

"We're just trying to produce a quality event, with films that we're proud of showing to the public."

The big question is, does the public know? Or care?

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