Celebrate Cowboy Culture and Apollo 11 With Houston Cinema Arts Festival

CineSpace 2019 finalist Vindold screens on November 16.
CineSpace 2019 finalist Vindold screens on November 16. Film still by Coleman Mason and Nikole Pryor, courtesy of HCAF
Roll out the red carpet because luminaries from the world of cinema are heading to the Bayou City as Houston Cinema Arts Festival takes over ten area venues this month. Bun B is even in the mix; the multi-talented hip-hop artist is a board member for organizer Houston Cinema Arts Society and is moderating an opening night panel with director Trey Edward Shults, along with the Houston premiere of Shults' film Waves. An afterparty follows (natch) with ethnomusicologist Flash Gordon Parks.

It's just about written into the rule book that visitors to H-Town will be indulging in some barbecue and Tex-Mex, so be on the lookout at area eateries for filmmakers Euzhan Palcy, Adele Pham, Jeff Kanew, Levin Peter, Elsa Kremser, Jacqueline Olive, Ja'Tovia Gary, Kimberly Rivers-Roberts, Michael Witnes Zapata, Andre Benavides, digital artist Kelly Richardson, and Grammy-nominated artist Lisa E. Harris.

This year's fest is arranged under a trio of themes — The Yeehaw Agenda, Moonlanding 50, and arts-themed programming — giving opportunities for partnership with several local organizers.

click to enlarge Yellow Rose makes its Houston premiere on November 15. - FILM STILL BY CINEMATOGRAPHER AUGUST THURMER, COURTESY OF HCAF
Yellow Rose makes its Houston premiere on November 15.
Film still by cinematographer August Thurmer, courtesy of HCAF
The Yeehaw Agenda

The cultural movement of rodeo riders, cowboys and westerns might be taking the rest of the country by storm, but here in H-Town it's already in our blood. But look beyond the boots and cowboy hats and it's really a story of inclusiveness, from black rodeo riders to LGBTQ issues and even immigration.

In a co-presentation with Asia Society Texas Center, Yellow Rose will make its Houston premiere starring Eva Noblezada, a two-time Tony Award nominee for Broadway's Miss Saigon and Hadestown. It's a fictitious film about a Filipino American who wants to make it big in country music. "The film has a lot on its mind, about immigration, about being undocumented, being deported," says Houston Cinema Arts Festival Artistic Director Jessica Green, adding that Noblezada "has the voice of an angel." Look for a scene with Dale Watson at The Broken Spoke, a nod to Brenda Mitchell's documentary Honky Tonk Heaven that made its own Houston debut at HCAF in 2016.

Actual Hall of Fame rodeo riders will be in attendance for Black Rodeo, set to screen at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The 1972 documentary by Revenge of the Nerds director Jeff Kanew features Woody Strode and Muhammad Ali, as well as archival footage of rodeo parades in Harlem and Randall's Island with a soundtrack that pulls from the best of R&B.

Solange Knowles' When I Get Home — an art film that Green labels both beautiful and "just a love letter to Houston" — has been remastered with new scenes and musical arrangements. Look for a pair of free screenings of this extended directors cut on November 16 at The DeLuxe Theater.

click to enlarge Space Dogs  makes its North American premiere on November 15. - FILM STILL BY CINEMATOGRAPHER YUNUS ROY IMER, COURTESY OF HCAF
Space Dogs makes its North American premiere on November 15.
Film still by cinematographer Yunus Roy Imer, courtesy of HCAF
Moonlanding 50

Channel your inner Rod Serling and "imagine if you will" that Laika — the Soviet space dog who became the first animal to orbit the earth — didn't cease to exist when Sputnik 2 met its fiery demise. Filmmakers Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter mined the legend that Laika's ghost returned to earth and in their film, Space Dogs, her descendants live on among the stray dogs on the streets of Moscow. This film isn't a feel-good Disney movie: the husky-spitz mix was selected for the suicide mission in part because of her ability to soil inside a pelvic sanitation device, as well as tolerate weeks inside a pressurized capsule. "It’s a hardcore movie but I love animals. It’s hard, there are hard parts [to watch]; it really shows the hard knock life of these [stray] dogs," says Green. "I feel like I have more empathy now, and that’s a testament to the film."

Perhaps the most amazing aspect about Space Dogs is that the dogs in the film seem to be so oblivious to the camera. Green says the filmmakers didn't use a GoPro, and it will be one of the first questions she asks the co-directors in the Q&A after the screening at Rice Cinema. "It’s kind of an alchemy magic, I don’t know how they did it. It's kind of a growing movement of incredible filmwork that is maybe unsung — documenting animals," says Green. "There’s a lot of really exciting film work happening now, really innovative, really fresh. I’m not even sure how they did what they did."

"It’s kind of an alchemy magic, I don’t know how they did it." — HCAF Artistic Director Jessica Green about Space Dogs.

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Fan-favorite CineSpace returns for its fifth year, when 15 shorts that incorporate NASA images will be screened and winners announced at Rice Cinema on November 16. The finalist entries were made by directors from Romania, Lithuania, Ireland, France, China, Turkey, Morocco, the United Kingdom, Spain, and the United States.

click to enlarge Sugar Cane Alley screens November 16. - © PHOTO BY RENÉ MARRAN/JMJ INTERNATIONAL PICTURES
Sugar Cane Alley screens November 16.
© Photo by René Marran/JMJ International Pictures
Arts-themed Programming

After 1983's Sugar Cane Alley, originally titled Rue Cases-Nègres (Black Shack Alley), director Euzhan Palcy became the first black director to win the prestigious Cesar award, France's equivalent of the Academy Award. It went on to win more than 17 international awards and a newly restored version makes its Texas premiere at MFAH with the director in attendance. "She’s coming from France; she’s a legend. She shattered the glass ceiling like, literally. So many things would not be happening were it not for her. She’s amazing and charismatic."

Green tells us that Sugar Cane Alley is a post-colonial film about Martinique in the post-slavery 1930s, adapted from literature. "It’s also very beautiful and fresh. I’ve heard about it for years. It’s legendary; it’s just got everything. It’s like Anne of Green Gables, a classic coming of age story. It’s an affirming movie about the power of education, and it has amazing performances from young people, children."

The arts theme runs deep in this year's festival, and look for Yuli, a co-presentation with the Houston Ballet, about Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta. It screens at MFAH on November 15 and includes a post-film Q&A with dancers Lauren Anderson and Mireille Hassenboehler.

The relationships between mass media, image circulation, social memory and place will be examined in Four Films on Memory and Place, co-presented by the Blaffer Art Museum and screening on November 15.

The experience of war through the eyes of women will be explored in the Houston premiere of For Sama, co-presented with the Holocaust Museum Houston and screening on November 17.

Longtime readers of The Houston Post and Houston Chronicle will remember Ben DeSoto, who worked as a photojournalist for 30 years. Ben DeSoto: For Art's Sake is co-presented with the Houston Latino Film Festival and will screen at Rice Cinema on November 17.

There's nothing funny about the lynching memes that have been in rotation these past few weeks, and Always in Season explores more than a century of this type of violence against African Americans. The film is co-presented with Black Public Media and the Austin Film Society and there will be a free screening at The DeLuxe Theater on November 18.

Architecture Center Houston is co-presenting the Texas premiere of Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus, a celebration of the utopian design and architecture school. It's only fitting that the November 16 screening will be at MFAH, as its extensions were designed by Bauhaus director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

As co-presenter, Da Camera will perform a special pre-film live jazz tribute before the November 17 screening of the Houston premiere of Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes.

Writer, director and Grammy nominated artist Lisa E. Harris will be in attendance during the Texas premiere of Cry of the Third Eye, The Last Resort, a new opera film about the Greater Third Ward co-presented by Aurora Picture Show and screening on November 17.

Houston Cinema Arts Festival Schedule

Houston Cinema Arts Festival is scheduled for November 14-18 at Asia Society Texas Center, 1370 Southmore; Aurora Picture Show, 2442 Bartlett; Blaffer Art Museum, 4173 Elgin; Brasil, 2604 Dunlavy; The DeLuxe Theater, 3303 Lyons Avenue; DiverseWorks, 3400 Main; Holocaust Museum Houston, 5401 Caroline; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet; Moody Center for the Arts, 6100 Main; and Rice Cinema, 6100 Main. For information, visit cinemahtx.org. Free to $129.
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney