The 2009 Cinema Arts Festival Houston Features Kids From MacGregor Elementary And Some Weird Living-Computer Thing

Two of the more off-beat events happening this weekend at the 2009 Cinema Arts Festival are Peter Pan at Miller Outdoor Theatre, and Biomodd (ATH'): A Living Game Computer as Social Sculpture at Rice Media Center.

A screening of the 1925 silent film Peter Pan, considered by many to be the best film treatment of the story, is special enough but add to that pianist Donald Sosin, singer Joanna Seaton and founder of Kid Pan Alley Paul Reisler performing a brand new score written by the budding musicians of Houston's MacGregor Elementary School and it becomes a must-see event.

"We're writing ten songs in four days and then we're doing an afternoon concert for the school, then an evening concert for the Festival," Paul Reisler tells Hair Balls.

Sosin joined Reisler for the classroom sessions during which they worked with 10 classrooms, each averaging between 20 and 25 students.

Reisler says that working with 250 kids for four days to produce a new score can be a challenge, but one that he enjoys. "The chaos is where the creative edge is," he says. "But it is hard working sometimes, because the kids get really enthusiastic and they can't contain themselves. In addition to that, you're actually writing a song in two forty-five minute sessions. Plus you're trying to write a song that's actually meaningful to them. That's a lot of work."

Most of the kids had never seen a silent film before (they asked Reisler, "Why isn't it in color?" when he showed them clips). And they had no concept of live music being performed during a screening but they immediately warmed to the idea and quickly started spouting ideas. The results includes songs such as "I Don't Believe in Make-believe," "It's Hard to be a Pirate in a Silent Film," and "New Moon."

Peter Pan will screen at 7 p.m. today. Miller Outdoor Theatre, 100 Concert Drive in Hermann Park. For information, visit www.cinemartsociety.org. It's free.

The documentary Biomodd (ATH'): A Living Game Computer as Social Sculpture, directed by Morgan Riles, is about as off-beat as anything gets at the Festival. Riles follows Belgian artist Angelo Vermeulen, who combines his Ph.D. in biology with his new media skills to produce "experimental devices" which blend science fiction, artificial life and living organisms. For the work of art we see in Biomodd, Vermeulen creates an online multiplayer game and ecosystem. (Translation -- it's a big-ass computer that's part sculpture, part self-contained ecosystem.)

"Essentially it's a large sculpture that the artist collaborated on with four students," Riles tells us. "It encases a living eco-system, as well as five computers with a multiplayer game. The heat the computers generate from the processors helped the plants inside the sculpture to grow. There was also an algae tank that filtered through one of the computer's processors to cool it down. The heat from that was taken to a coil in a fish tank that helps to keep the fish tank warm. It's all about how technology and biology should be fused together in new and different ways."

Riles will present Biomodd (ATH1) at 7 p.m. Sunday. Rice Media Center, 6100 Main. For information, visit www.cinemartsociety.org. Tickets are $10.

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