Free for All: Art Without a Price Tag: Asia Society Texas, the Menil Community Arts Festival and Much More

The Gods of Cheap Entertainment have smiled down on us this weekend. In fact, they may have smiled a little too much; there are so many things to do, it will take some scheduling to get to them all. So, let's jump right in.

The Asian Film Festival is a good way to kick off your weekend. On Friday, American Pastime opens the festival. The film, directed by Desmond Nakano (White Man's Burden), takes place during the sepia-toned days of pre-WWII Los Angeles. Teenager Lyle (Aaron Yoo) is eagerly awaiting a promised baseball scholarship. But after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, his all-American family finds itself, along with thousands more, shipped off into the Utah desert to an internment camp. Lyle's family is stunned and humiliated -- they're Americans, after all, how could this happen?

American Pastime spins one of America's worst moments into the stuff of a family's abiding dignity and perseverance. Masatoshi Nakamura and Judy Ongg are especially effective as heads of the household whose innate goodness holds them all together until the storm clouds pass. Filmed on location at the Topaz Relocation Center near Abraham, Utah, the movie also features an unlikely romance of mismatched lovers, à la Romeo and Juliet.

American Pastime screens at 7 p.m. on Friday.The festival continues through the weekend with Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, an amazing animated fairy tale (2 p.m. Saturday); Bruce Bereford's Mao's Last Dancer, the story of Houston Ballet's former principal dancer Li Cunxin (6 p.m. Saturday); and Christina Yao's Empire of Silver, a period epic about a banking dynasty falling apart during China's Boxer Rebellion (5 p.m. Sunday.) For information, visit or call 713-348-5843.

Also on Friday is the Friday Night Films at Whole Foods Market Montrose: The Wizard of Oz. Now we have a theory about why The Wizard of Oz has remained so popular all these years -- it's those damned flying monkeys! Yeah, yeah, there were wonderful performances by Judy Garland and the rest of the cast members. Sure, there's a strong, emotion-packed storyline about love, family and home. And yes, Dorothy's ruby slippers were very cool. Ditto the falling house and curled up feet of the dead witch. We admit there was even a memorable song or two. But it's the flying monkeys that keep people coming back to this classic. The moment when they take to the sky to do evil on behalf of their master, the Wicked Witch of the West, it's flat out awe-inspiring.

The screening starts at dusk at the Whole Foods Market/Montrose at 701 Waugh Dr. For information, visit or call 713-284-1260.

Saturday is a very busy day starting with the annual Menil Community Arts Festival. The museum has teamed up with neighboring community organizations for an all-day celebration of the arts. You can see the Menil's current exhibits -- "Richard Serra Drawing: The Retrospective" alone is worth the trip -- and the Houston Center for Photography's Collaborations IX Print Sale and the WAS-H Watercolor Art Fair. (By the way, get there early and pick up a Richard Serra poster in the Menil bookstore, while supplies last.)

Expect several performances -- including Valerie Hartzell's classical guitar concert inside the Rothko Chapel, as well as a family drum circle led by Sam Dinkins III, courtesy of Da Camera. The whole thing takes place alongside the Indie Book Festival, which features readings by authors Laurie Clements Lambeth, Ana Maria Rodriguez, Justin Sirois, Andrea White and Andrew Porter and loads of small press and indie titles for sale.

On the film side of things, SWAMP will be screening The Territory and Aurora Picture Show will have a Stop Motion Animation Workshop.

Enjoy the Menil Community Arts Festival from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 1515 Sul Ross. For information, visit or call 713-525-9400.

Still hungry for more visual art? The 13th Annual Midtown Visions Cultural Arts Tour should be just the thing. Dozens of studios, workshops, museums and galleries showing works by individual artists and collectives are all on the tour. Highlights include Lawndale Art Center with "The Photographic Mirror" curated by Chuy Benitez, Station Museum of Contemporary Art with the FotoFest group exhibit "ARTIFACTUAL realities," and Gallery Sonja Roesch with "Layers" by a trio of artists.

Take the tour from noon to 5 p.m. with stops at various locations. For a complete list of participants and events and a route map, visit or call 713-652-5028.

Also on Saturday, there's the Greater Houston TeenBookCon 2012 with readings, signings and panel discussions by two dozen authors, including Siobhan Vivian, Megan Crewe and D. J. MacHale, and graphic novelists such as Lea Hernandez and Nick Pitarr. Orson Scott Card, the man behind the popular Ender Wiggins, Serpent World and Alvin Maker series, is the keynote speaker. Greater Houston TeenBookCon 2012 is sponsored by the Blue Willow Bookshop, which will have titles by all the authors on sale.

See some of the best young adult authors writing for teens from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Alief Taylor High School, 7555 Howell-Sugar Land Rd. For information, visit or call 281-497-8675.

After a Saturday start, the Asia Society Texas: First Look Festival will still be in full swing on Sunday. Following years of anticipation, the Asia Society Texas Center opens the doors to its fabulous new building in grand fashion with Asian-themed dance performances, art exhibitions, acrobatics, storytelling and music, along with tours of the 39,000-square-foot center, an architectural masterpiece.

The center's block-size Festival Lawn will host the first-ever U.S. performance of Osaka-based Hikeshi Naniwa Tobi, a 14-member troupe that demonstrates traditional firefighting techniques, performing acrobatics atop a 22-foot-tall bamboo ladder. Other highlights include a concert by The Mountain Music Project, featuring Nepalese folk musicians and Appalachian bluegrass performers, an excerpt of The Clever Wife from Houston Grand Opera to Go, and a popular Chinese folktale and Indian classical dance by Shipra Mehrotra (that's her in the photo above).

Lee Ufan's Relatum -- Signal, a site-specific work commissioned for the center's Allen Sculpture Garden, will be unveiled, while "Treasures of Asian Art: A Rockefeller Legacy," a 60-masterpiece exhibition traveling from the Asia Society Museum in New York, will be on display in the center's gallery.

The Activity Zone will keep kids entertained with Taiwanese kites, Vietnamese calligraphy, face painting and dragon puppets. There will also be plenty of Asian-themed snacks on hand from the center's Stone Café.

Be among the first to see the Asia Society Texas Center from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at 1370 Southmore. For information, visit or call 713-496-9901.

Close your weekend out with the Houston Heights Orchestra Season Finale on Sunday. The concert features a world premiere of Bolts of Melody, a chamber opera inspired by the works of Emily Dickinson and written by the orchestra's Composer-in-Residence, Richard Ford. Performers for the new work include soprano Zina Hemingway, tenor Ryan Ford, bass Joseph Rawley and Classical 91.7's Dayton Smith, as the narrator.

Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 and Saint-Saens's Tarantella for Flute, Clarinet and Orchestra complete the program. Stick around after the show for the Musicians' Mixer, a chance to rub elbows with the performers.

The Houston Heights Orchestra Season Finale concert starts at 3 p.m. at All Saints Catholic Church, 215 East 10th St. For information, visit or call 832-407-2824.

D. L. Groover, Allison Wagoner and Abby Koenig contributed to this post.

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Olivia Flores Alvarez