Bring It On: The 2009 Cinema Arts Festival Houston Starts Tonight

The 2009 Cinema Arts Festival Houston is rolling out the red carpet as we speak, for today's opening night screenings.

Over at the Angelika Film Center, the highly anticipated Precious starts at 7 p.m., while over at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the festival's opening night gala starts with a screening of Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles, with Mr. Linklater in attendance (hence the red carpet).

Richard Herskowitz, curator for the festival, spoke with Hair Balls about the five-day, multi-venue celebration of the arts on film.

Hair Balls: The 2009 Cinema Arts Festival Houston is quite an ambitious project. How did it get started?

Richard Herskowitz: Many of Houston's arts organizations got together to come up with a concept for a festival that would be unique to Houston. They discovered that they were the concept. The variety of arts organizations in Houston was so great, and the quality was so great, that it was really worth [showcasing] that. So, we decided to create a festival of films that are by and about visual, performing, and literary artists. One that would be presented at most of the Houston arts institutions -- from the Menil, to the Museum of Fine Arts, to SWAMP, to the Aurora Picture Show.

Earlier this fall, you announced that Academy Award winning Tilda Swinton would be among the directors, writers, and musicians participating in the festival. Who are some of the others?

The actress Tilda Swinton is coming to present, not the Hollywood movies that she won her Academy Award for and is famous for, but the independent films that she cares about the most. On Sunday night, she'll be at Discovery Green park presenting The Red Shoes, which is one of her favorite films and, of course, fits our festival theme because it's possibly the greatest dance film of all time. It's a film that she distributes to children as part of her 8 ½ Foundation that tries to expose kids to the best in cinematic art.

We also have people like the great novelist and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga who is coming to present Amores Perros and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and read from his novel. And then we have the photographer Susan Meiselas. She's coming to present a program of films that were done in partnership with her late husband, Richard P. Rogers.

Some Houstonians have already seen one of the festival's highlights, the H BOX, which opened at the Alabama Theatre several days ago.

Yes, we've brought in the curator from France who put this program together. H BOX is a nomadic screening room that has been at the Pompidou Centre in France and the Tate Gallery in London. It gets disassembled and put back together again in different parts of the world and now it's coming to Houston. The video art on display in it is exclusively seen in the structure; it can't be seen elsewhere. And the curator who commission all the pieces that are in there, Benjamin Weil, is coming to speak about it on Sunday afternoon.

Music is a big part of the festival. Two silent films will be shown accompanied by live music.

The band Dengue Fever composed a score for The Lost World, the 1925 silent film. I love the music of Dengue Fever and [a previous performance] was a big hit at the San Francisco Film Festival in April. They said they were just really sorry that it was going to be hard to do it again, so I said, "No, let's try to do it here." And sure enough, we were able to put the show together and it's at Warehouse Live on Saturday night.

It's the same thing with the [1924]  silent film [Peter Pan] over at Miller Outdoor Theatre because we're involving the children of MacGregor Elementary school who are performing music and sound effects during the screening of Peter Pan. When we show silent films we really try to show them with contemporary accompaniment to draw people in who might not typically go to silent movies.

Of course, one of the film's that's getting lots of buzz is Precious, produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry. It stars Gabourey Sidibe, a newcomer to acting, along with Mo'Nique, and Paula Patton.

Precious won the audience award at both the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals, and that's never happened before. This is one of the films that I wanted the most and I was just thrilled that Lion's Gate said yes. I knew how audiences were reacting to it. One of the emphases in our festival this year is films by and about writers. Opening night has Me and Orson Wells, which is based on a novel and Precious, which is also based on a novel, so it was perfect for us.

The first Cinema Arts Festival Houston hasn't even started yet, and film fans are already looking forward to next year's event ... Any chance you could change it from being an annual event to, oh, say, every six months?

(Laughs) Thanks for asking, but I think I'd be dead in three years. No, we're going to try for annually.

For a full schedule of the 2009 Cinema Arts Festival Houston, visit www.cinemartsociety.org.

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