Houston Cinema Arts Festival 2019


What’s good, H-Town?! Are you ready for Houston Cinema Arts Festival 2019? Houston’s best film fest (with all due respect to Latin Wave and QFest) kicks off Thursday, November 14th and runs through Monday, November 18th with screenings at a number of Houston institutions including the MFAH, Rice Cinema, the Asia Society Texas Center and The DeLuxe Theater. As always, the lineup is stacked with an enticingly diverse array of cinematic offerings and unique experiences, and as always, I will be there watching everything I can.

What’s on the menu? A little bit of everything, and nearly everything sounds good thanks to excellent programming by new artistic director Jessica Green. With multiple events happening at the same time in different venues, it’s impossible to see everything, and cinephiles are left with some very tough choices. That’s a good problem to have though, and in my experience, no matter what you choose, you can’t go wrong. There are three themes to this year’s fest; Moon Landing 50, The YeeHaw Agenda, and the festival’s usual arts-themed programming. More on each to come.

Waves kicks off HCAF 2019 on Thursday at 7:30pm at the MFAH

HCAF 2019 crashes into the MFAH on Thursday night with Waves, Trey Edward Shults’ buzzy new feature. The director, a Houston native, will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A moderated by Bun B. At HCAF 2015, I had the pleasure of watching Shults’ impressive directorial debut Krisha, with his family seated in the row directly behind me. It’s an emotional movie and many of them acted in it, and the emotions (theirs, mine, everybody’s) poured out during the screening and made the experience all the more powerful. It was apparent then that the young filmmaker was a force to be reckoned with and I’m looking forward to his latest film, a story about a South Florida family and their experiences navigating the aftermath of a loss. Shults had a much bigger budget and a more seasoned ensemble to work with than he did on the last film he brought to HCAF and it will be cool to hear him speak about his experiences in the four years that have passed.

One of the things unique to Houston Cinema Arts Festival is the annual CineSpace short film competition, a collaboration with NASA. (Space City represent!) Filmmakers of all kinds from near and far use actual footage (available on NASA’s website) to make a variety of space-related short films, and hundreds of submissions are narrowed down to the best-of-the-best and screened at the fest. A winner is traditionally chosen by director Richard Linklater. This year, CineSpace is a part of the ‘Moon Landing 50’ celebration along with screenings of For All Mankind, Al Reinert’s iconic 1989 space doc, and Space Dogs, Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter’s Russian-language doc shot from the perspective of two dogs in Moscow, descendants of Laika, the famous space pup. Beam me up!

Space Dogs plays at Rice Cinema on Friday at 8pm. The screening is followed by a Q&A with writer/directors Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter.

Another theme of HCAF 2019 is ‘The Yeehaw Agenda’, a celebration of rodeo riders, cowboys, and westerns with diverse representation. Internet archivist Bri Malandro coined the term and she will be in attendance for a rare screening of Black Rodeo, a 1972 documentary about a rodeo in Harlem. Director Jeff Kanew will also be in attendance, along with a panel of Black Rodeo Riders. Apparently, Muhammad Ali was at the rodeo in Harlem and he appears in the movie. Giddyup! Other Yeehaw screenings include Brokeback: A Short Film Program on Saturday at Rice Cinema, and Bacurau, a new genre-bending Brazilian flick playing on Sunday at Rice.

As always, this year’s festival features several movies related to the arts, including music (Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes, When I Get Home, Yellow Rose), dance (Yuli), photography (Ben Desoto: For Art’s Sake), painting (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), design (Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus), and filmmaking (Varda by Agnès, For Sama, the Texas Filmmaker Showcase).

Varda by Agnès plays on Sunday at 1pm at the MFAH

As a jazz fan and a fan of the Blue Note label, I’m definitely seeing Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes on Sunday at the MFAH. The screening is co-presented by DACAMERA and it features a performance by the Woody Witt Quartet (Woody Witt, Mike Wheeler, David Craig, and Memo Reza). I’m also looking forward to the Saturday screening of Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus, about the famous German art school. The doc plays in the MFAH’s Brown Auditorium Theater which is a perfect location considering it was designed in the Bauhaus style. Another no-brainer selection is Varda by Agnès on Sunday at the MFAH. Varda is a cinematic titan (recently deceased) and it will be a bittersweet treat to see her reflect on her career’s work in a documentary she directed.

There’s all that and much more to look forward to including a new Terrence Malick film (A Hidden Life), Noah Baumbach’s critically-acclaimed Marriage Story starring Kylo Ren and Black Widow (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson), and a rare screening of Euzhan Palcy’s 1983 gem Sugar Cane Alley, with the director in attendance for a post-screening Q&A.

Festival Passes are available here for $129.

Single tickets and the full schedule are available here.

Fun starts Thursday. See you there!

Sugar Cane Alley
For All Mankind
Black Rodeo
Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes
Marriage Story
Yellow Rose
Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus
A Hidden Life
When I Get Home

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Salty Winters

Salty Winters once said, "Everything I learned I learned from the movies." He was quoting Audrey Hepburn.