WorldFest Discovered Steven Spielberg...And Oliver Stone...And Ang Lee...And...

The 43rd Annual WorldFest -- Houston International Film & Video Festival (damn, that's a long name) can claim to have been the launching pad for several major directors; Steven Spielberg, George Lucas (in the same year), Ang Lee, Ridley Scott, Robert Rodriguez, the Coen Brothers, Brian de Palma, Spike Lee, Oliver Stone and David Lynch all got their very first awards at WorldFest.

Hunter Todd, a member of the festival's Directors Committee, spoke with Hair Balls and discussed the festival's history of discovering talent and being the only screening the majority of these films will ever have.

Hair Balls: Because the festival is held in April and that conflicts with lots of the big films' release dates, you don't often have buzz films like Precious on your schedule.

Hunter Todd: We're primarily a discovery festival. For example, Steven Spielberg won his first award here in '72 for a little short called Amblin, and of course, you know the name of his production company -- Amblin Entertainment. A gentleman named Frank O'Connor was at the festival that year, he was vice president of Universal Pictures. He took his big, fat cigar out of his mouth just long enough to say, "Stevie, my boy, you've got a future at Universal Pictures." And [Stephen Spielberg's] made every film since at Universal.

George Lucas won that same year for a short feature called TXH 1138. It was a pretty amazing year.

Unfortunately, that was the one and only film we ever got from Spielberg. For years, he always promised me his next film, but his are big Christmas films and you don't give those to some film festival in April.

HB: Have you stayed in touch with him over the years?

HT: I used to be able to get him on the phone, but that was 20 years ago. Now there are too many layers to get through. It's all "Does he know you?" and "What is the nature of this call?" Although I saw him at a film festival a few years ago in Europe and it was like he was my long-lost brother, all hugs and kisses. But when you get famous, you get separated from people.

HB: With your history of discovering talent, your audience must have high expectations. Do they come to the festival hoping to see the next Spielberg?

HT: I would love to assure the audience that they will see some works by future Spielbergs here, but of course, I can't.

In part, because we often have people that make films better than Spielberg, better than Ang Lee, and they're here for one festival and then you never hear from them again.

The other thing is that the film business is fierce, it's very tough and it's not just creativity, it's also money.

And then, it's just sheer numbers. For instance, we're premiering more than 55 features this year. And that's out of the 500 features that [the selection company] screened, so they are quality films. But maybe ten of them will ever make it to the screen. Some of them might end up on cable, because cable is a hungry beast.

But half of them will never be seen anywhere again. So this is your only chance to see them. Especially the foreign films. We've got some amazing films from Armenia and Japan and all over and for most of those this is the only time you'll see them in America.

The 43rd Annual WorldFest - Houston International Film & Video Festival opens Friday, April 9 and runs through April 18. Screening times vary. AMC Studio 30, 2949 Dunvale. For information, visit Prices vary from $10 (for a single screening) to $500 (for a VIP Platinum Pass that allows entry into every screening, seminar and related festival event).

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Olivia Flores Alvarez