When it came to choosing a film for a free outdoor screening with new partner the Downtown District – which would have to get the approval of all the downtown establishments, clear the streets, arrange the projection and get the permit – Richard Herskowitz, artistic director and curator for the Houston Cinema Arts Festival, knew it would have to be pretty special.
Luckily, last year Talking Heads’ David Byrne paired pop stars (Nelly Furtado), indie rock stars (St. Vincent) and Beastie Boys (Ad-Rock) with color guard teams to create visually pleasing, synchronized routines of flag-waving technicolor – and the Ross Brothers (Bill and Turner) were there to film it.
“Contemporary Color is a concert film, but it’s more than a concert film,” says Herskowitz. “You’re going to see the performances as the culmination of the creative combustion [that] occurred when these musicians were inspired by these student-performers.”
“It fits our arts theme perfectly because it isn’t just about music. It’s also about color guard as something in between sports and choreography.” Herskowitz says he knew it would be perfect for the Downtown District, and they agreed, even suggesting they get a color guard team to perform. So the TSU Ocean of Soul Waves will kick the night off.
“Cinematic experiences people don’t expect — that’s who we are,” says Herskowitz. He cites examples from this year’s programming: country musician Dale Watson closing the screening of Honky Tonk Heaven: Legend of the Broken Spoke, “fulldome” immersive shorts in the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s planetarium, and an investigative journalism panel at the University of Houston to follow up on screenings of Until Proven Innocent: The Hannah Overton Story and Booger Red, two of three recent “false crime” films (the other being An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story, screened at the 2014 festival) based on Texas Monthly stories “about prosecutors creating these false narratives to put people in prison.”
“[These films are] really striking a chord with people,” says Herskowitz. “People have had enough of this kind of injustice.”
This year’s festival will also showcase the work of women directors, including several actresses who have moved behind the camera, like Amber Tamblyn, Cheryl Nichols and Carrie Preston. “There’s something here now that women are really rising up and taking hold of the camera,” says Herskowitz. “That’s where the quality is now, and the energy.”
And there’s the award season contenders — Jackie, La La Land and Lion, but Herskowitz says, “big premieres are the icing on the cake.”
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“We’re trying to revitalize the theatrical experience – basically getting people away from their phones and laptops and experiencing film collectively again,” says Herskowitz. He adds that the festival is “aiming to stretch people’s ideas of what a film is and encourage them to come out, and it’s working.”
The closing night screening of Contemporary Color, with the TSU Ocean of Soul Waves, is set for 7:30 p.m. November 17. Art Blocks at Main Street Square (Main & McKinney). Free.
Houston Cinema Arts Festival screening dates, times and locations vary. Through November 17. For information, visit houstoncinemaartsfestival.org. Free to $600.