"The winners of today are the Spielbergs of tomorrow," proclaims Hunter Todd, founder of WorldFest (né the Houston International Film Festival). And the statement actually isn't wild hyperbole: Todd claims his festival discovered heavy-hitting directors like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Ang Lee, among many others.
Todd's enthusiasm for today's big-screen big shots clashes somewhat with WorldFest's present almost-all-indie incarnation. "We don't show mainstream Hollywood stuff," he says. "About 14 years ago, we switched our format. We went strictly indie except for opening night." Though WorldFest once hosted more than 100 feature films -- and boasted Houston premieres of such hits as Heathers and Do the Right Thing -- you won't find but one studio movie among the 60 entries chosen for this year's competition.
This year's opening-night exception is Laws of Attraction, a major studio picture starring Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore. It makes sense: Kick the fest off with a bang (Moore is even rumored to possibly attend the screening). After opening night, though, it's all indie.
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It's not all obscure, however. The festival is peppered with recognizable names. Director Ate de Jong's thriller Fogbound features Luke Perry, and indie hero Kevin Corrigan makes his annual film-festival appearance in Monika Mitchell's comedy, Break a Leg. B-movie star Eric Roberts appears in two entries, the aforementioned Leg and Miss Cast Away, Brian Michael Stoller's parody of Hollywood movies. Sundance Channel fanatics may remember the name Tim Hunter. He directed a little movie starring Keanu Reeves called River's Edge. Hunter's new film, The Failures, is also featured.
One of the most interesting offerings is the documentary featurette Never Been Done. It chronicles the life of Jon Comer, a 27-year-old pro skateboarder from Keller, Texas. At age seven, Comer's right leg was amputated (just below the knee) because of an injury he sustained when he was four. Shot on mini-DV, the movie, directed by Matthew J. Powers, combines action footage of Comer skating (you can barely tell he wears a prosthetic) with interviews, including testimonials of Comer's talent by skateboarding luminaries Tony Hawk and Steve Caballero.
More than 500 entries were submitted for WorldFest this year, and according to Todd, "400 of them should never have been made, and you can say the same thing about Hollywood." Certainly most of the films chosen for competition will never again be seen in America after the festival closes, but attracting audiences while flaunting indie cred is a tightrope act. For example, one of WorldFest's marketing slogans is "Not intended for some audiences -- like the majority." Why is a film festival using such alienating language? To be sure, every filmmaker wants his movie seen by as many people as possible. There's always the desire to come off as cool and hip, but you also have to put butts in the seats, right? "These are not mainstream majority films," says Todd. "They're for people passionate about independent films, special films for a special audience."
Apparently that special audience keeps coming back for more. "I see several hundred of the same faces every year at the festival," he says. "It's bizarre."