Films are once again being seen at the Alabama Theatre, thanks to Cinema Arts Festival Houston's H BOX by Portuguese architect/artist Dider Fiuza Faustino. A series of looped videos and short films are shown in the portable screening room (constructed from connecting panes of glass and aluminum, the BOX can easily be packed up and moved). The filmmakers and video artists include Argentina's Sebastián Diaz-Morales, Israel's Yael Bartana and Switzerland's Shahryar Nashat. (We'll get back to Nashat.)
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From the outside H BOX looks basically like, ah, a box. There's a short ramp leading up to an opening. You walk around a wall into a small room. The wall in front of you makes up the screen; the wall behind you has a padded steel bar that runs right around butt-height, inviting people to sit. Black bean bag chairs strewn around the room providing more seating. Altogether, Hair Balls estimates 15 people could jam into the H BOX at one time to watch a film.
Hair Balls was among the first to visit H BOX and we got to see a bit of Nashat's 2007 video Plaque (Slab). Just under seven minutes, the film starts off inside a factory with a giant slab of concrete being lifted by a crane. Cut to a 1964 television performance of Canadian pianist Glenn Gould playing in front of three standing slabs that look suspiciously like the one we just saw at the factory. Cut to modern-day Berlin, where we see a husky construction worker pouring out concrete into a similar slab form. You get where this is going, right?
As impressive as the design and programming of the H BOX is, it's the idea of it that is most exciting. Any place can now be a screening room. A grocery store parking lot, a high school gym, some crazed movie freak's back yard -- basically anyplace with a little available space can become movie theater. Richard Herskowitz, curator of the Cinema Arts Festival Houston, has said that in the same way that video is expanding the concept and accessibility of films, H BOX is expanding the idea and accessibility of movie theaters. Of course, it's doing it at the rate of 15 people per screening, but still, Dider Fiuza Faustino's H BOX is a major step in the right direction.
H BOX will be installed at the Alabama Theater through the end of the festival, November 15. For more information about it and the festival's screening and event schedule, visit www.cinemartsociety.org.