One of the most exciting finds of the year for Richard Herskowitz, artistic director and curator for the Houston Cinema Arts Society Festival, was Krisha, a film by native Houstonian Trey Edward Shults. "This is one of the best debut films I've ever seen," Herskowitz tells us.
The story follows a woman (played by Shults' aunt Krisha Fairchild) who attends Thanksgiving dinner with her extended family after being away for ten years. Family secrets, wounds and jealousy soon turn the celebration into a confrontation. Shults shot Krisha in nine days in his Houston-area family home.
"The film was at SXSW and swept both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prizes, which is very, very rare," Herskowitz says. "I remember thinking, 'Oh, I hope this doesn't open in Houston before the festival because we want to feature it.' I was really happy when we were able to get it."
Shults, the Levantine Cinema Arts Emerging Artist Award winner, Fairchild and other members of the cast and crew will attend the Saturday screening of Krisha.
One of dozens of films the festival is screening over eight days at various Houston venues, Krisha is also one of several films made by Texans included on the program.
Patrick Wang who made In the Family (about a gay man fighting to keep custody of his deceased partner's son) is another Texan on the program. In the Family has a Sunday screening with Wang in attendance.
"Patrick Wang's made a couple of really incredible films. When I discovered he was from Sugar Land and hadn't been brought back to the area really, we decided to feature him as well," Herskowitz says.
“This year, and completely without intention, has become our most Texas oriented festival ever. It was part of what we were going to be about, when Bill White and Franci Neely started the festival, that we were going to promote the level of filmmaking coming out of Houston. That wasn't part of the primary mission, but it was always part of the plan.
"Our goal is to bring world-class cinema to Texas. There are so many filmmakers in Texas making work about the arts, making world-class cinema in Texas, so it seemed natural that we would want to celebrate it.”
Following the unofficial Texas-centric theme is Amy Berg’s documentary Janis: Little Girl Blue, about the life of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member and Port Arthur native Janis Joplin. It opens the Houston Cinema Arts Society Festival on Thursday. Joining Berg for an after screening discussion is rapper Bun B, who as it happens is also a Port Arthur native.
“We put a lot of thought into what would open the festival,” Herskowitz tells us. “First of all, it’s a terrific new film. Second, Amy Berg is an especially important filmmaker, probably one of the most important documentarians working in America right now. She's a great researcher. She dug up this amazing television footage from a reunion showing Janis Joplin returning to Port Arthur for a high school reunion. And the most important thing is, of course, the Texas connection with Janis Joplin."
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Another film with strong Texas ties is Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove by Joe Nick Patoski. The author of popular biographies on Willie Nelson and Selena, Patoski makes his directorial debut in the documentary about Texas musician Doug Sahm.
“[Doug Sahm] also had a real connection with Janis Joplin. He was from the same time and he also went out to San Francisco, where she went, and like her, flourished. The difference is that he lived long enough to come back to Texas and make more music. Janis Joplin didn’t have that.
"I saw these two films back-to-back and I saw the connections between them. That’s what happens for audiences, too. Sometimes ideas ricochet across the movies.”
The opening night screening of Janis: Little Girl Blue with Amy Berg and Bun B is set for 7:30 p.m. November 12. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. Screening dates, times and locations vary. Through November 19. For information, visit houstoncinemaartsfestival.org. $12 to $600.