We love film festivals. Thankfully, Houston has loads to choose from. Here's our list of the top 10 film festivals in Houston. Most of these will seem familiar to movie fans; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's Latin Wave, the Houston Indian Film Festival and the ever impressive Houston Cinema Arts Society all made the cut.
Also on our radar, but missing from this list is the Reel Teen Film Festival at the Houston Public Library. A collection of new works by young filmmakers, Teen Fest has an impressive track record for presenting a mix of films that range from studiously serious to happily silly with awards in eight categories. The next Reel Teen fest is scheduled for May 2014.
In the also ran category is the now defunct Mexican Film Festival organized by Viva Cinema, which ran a multi-plex in the Sharpstown shopping center. While it boasted some great films, the festival was a victim of a poor publicity campaign. The trouble didn't stop there. Viva Cinema closed the theater down last fall due to what it said were unfair industry practices.
10. Houston Iranian Film Festival Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and Rice Cinema
One of two festivals on our list hosted by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's outstanding film department, led by long-time curator Marian Luntz, the Houston Iranian Film Festival does a great job of finding gems such as My Name Is Negahdar Jamali and I Make Westerns, (seen above) a 2012 documentary by director Kamran Heydari. My Name chronicled the unexpected story of Negahdar Jamali, a pleasant who has spent the last 35 years making amateur westerns which feature sometimes reluctant friends and family in front of the camera.
Another recent film featured at the festival is Negar Azarbeyjani's 2011 Facing Mirrors, an impressive narrative debut that follows Eddie, a female-to-male transgendered person, as he tries to make his way to Germany for reassignment surgery and Jafar Panahi's 2011 This Is Not a Film, made by the Panahi who was under house arrest in Iran and banned from filmmaking at the time for reportedly creating "propaganda against the regime."
9. Q-Fest Various locations
It's been less than 20 years since Loris Bradley of DiverseWorks, Liz Empleton of Rice Cinema, Sarah Gish of Landmark Theatres, and Marian Luntz of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, put together the First Annual Houston Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (HGLFF). Steve Buck of the now defunct Angelika Film Center and Andrea Grover of The Aurora Picture Show soon joined them and helped grow the festival. Now under the direction of Kristian Salinas with such cinema and queer advocates as Stephanie Saint Sanchez and Rachel Boyle, Q-Fest is in good hands. The next festival, scheduled for next July, should be announced soon. This story continues on the next page.8. Señorita Cinema
Rice Media Center
The brain child of award winning filmmaker and founder Stephanie Saint Sanchez, Señorita Cinema Festival is the very first all-Latina film showcase in the state of Texas. Last year's festival featured Delusions of Grandeur with director Iris Almaraz in attendance (she also made her special sangria for the opening reception), Homebound with director Fanny Veliz in attendance, and Houston's first ever poet laureate Gwendolyn Zepeda as guest presenter.
7. ArCH Film Festival Architecture Center Houston, 315 Capitol
The 2013 ArCH Film Festival had a Boom and Bust theme last August, something Houston knows a little bit about. The jury-selected films focused on stories of excess and crisis, such as Lauren Greenfield's feature-length 2012 documentary Queen of Versailles about a family living in a 90,000 square foot mansion (that's not a typo - 90,000) and Sam Green and Carrie Lozano's 10 minute 2009 The World's Largest Shopping Mall which chronicled the current state of the New South China Mall, a seven million square foot shopping center that has stood empty since it was built in 2005 by Chinese billionaire Alex Hu Guirong.7. Jewish Film Festival
Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston
The 10th Annual Houston Jewish Film Festival is set for early March, 2014 and the line-up is, as always, diverse. We're looking forward to The Real Inglorious Bastards (you didn't think George Clooney made that up all by himself, did you?), Wagner's Jews and An American Tail.
6. SplatterFest Alamo Drafthouse, Mason Road
We get our annual fill of gore, guts (and giggles) at SplatterFest. It's a short film competition with filmmakers getting just one weekend to write, shoot and edit a horror short.
There were 33 entries in 2013, ranging from My So Called Afterlife to Zombie Family: A Day in the Death. There was also Satan Cherry, The Crucifixion and Space Drugs. Some were more giggle worthy than scary, but all's fair in love and horror, right?
4. Latin Wave Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
There are two things we really like about Latin Wave. One, the films. Two, the filmmakers. The films are always the latest works from cutting edge Latin American directors, writers and actors. Many selections anticipate the "next big thing" in a particular country's cinema, in terms of both talent and themes. And Latin Wave, as with most of the festivals that made our list, does a great job bringing in lots of filmmakers every year. Latin Wave 9 is set for May1 to 4, 2014.
Paraguay's 7 Cajas (7 Boxes), (seen above) directed by Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori, written by Juan Carlos Maneglia, was screened at the Latin Wave 8 in 2013.
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3. Houston Indian Film Festival Various locations
The Houston Indian Film Festival, now in its seventh year, is headed by film producer Sutapa Ghosh . Under her direction the festival has grown by leaps and bounds, attracting more and more high-profile filmmakers and actors. The festival features, yes, the usual Bollywood extravaganzas, but also includes lots of other genres, including documentaries.
The next Indian Film Festival of Houston is scheduled for October 10 to October 12, 2014.
2. Gulf Coast Film and Video Festival Various locations
We like the Gulf Coast Film and Video Festival for its humble, down home attitude (the festival must have a "no divas allowed" rule) and for the variety of categories, from feature length documentaries to animated shorts, foreign language features to art/experimental shorts. The festival also has student projects and music video categories.
There were plenty of Texas filmmakers among last year's winners, but the student project winner came from Madison, Wisconsin and the best short winner was from Brewster, New York.
Submissions for the 16th Annual Gulf Coast Film and Video Festival, set for September, 2014, are currently being accepted.
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1. Houston Cinema Arts Festival Various locations
We can thank former Mayor Bill White and arts philanthropist and former trial attorney Franci Crane for the stellar Houston Cinema Arts Festival - the two were the initial forces behind what became the Houston Cinema Arts Society, which produces the annual festival. With a focus on films about the arts and artists, HCAF has brought in dozens of celebrities and cinema greats such as Isabella Rossellini, Tilda Swinton, Shirley MacLaine and Robert Redford. The 2014 festival, sure to be another blockbuster, is set for November 12 to 16.