Houston Cinema Arts Festival: Meet the Makers

Line of Filmmakers (from left to right): Jack Walsh, Beth Harrington, Patrick Wang, Trey Schults, Katie Cokinos, Elizabeth Giammati, Kidlat Tahimik, Gordon Quinn, Steven Timm, and Dawn Johnson.

Emmanuel Akinola, Writer

At the annual Houston Cinema Arts Festival, art galore was on full display at Café Brasil. Ten filmmakers were invited to a panel discussion about filmmaking at ‘Meet the Makers Brunch’ Saturday morning.

The Houston Cinema Arts Festival Started in 2007 by then-Mayor Bill White and philanthropist Franci Neely to stimulate film culture in Houston. It has brought notable guest artists including Tilda Swinton, Alex Gibney, Guillermo Arriaga, Isabella Rossellini, John Turturro, Shirley MacLaine, Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Fisher Stevens, Robert Redford, Tracy Letts, James Ivory, Julie Taymor, Will Forte and Thomas Haden Church.

In attendance were Dawn Johnson, Gordon Quinn, Steven Timm, Kidlat Tahmik, Elizabeth Giamatti, Katie Cokinos, Trey Edward Shults, Patrick Wang, Beth Herrington and Jack Walsh. All of these filmmakers have screenings of their films playing at venues including Sundance Cinemas and the Museum of Fine Arts – Houston. The event was coordinated by Richard Herskowitz, the artistic director of the Houston Cinema Arts Society.

Walsh is an experimental documentary filmmaker who delves often into autobiographies. His current projects, ‘Feelings are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer’, is a documentary about the renowned dancer, filmmaker and choreographer who was known for minimalist works.

Walsh first became interested in film when he was an undergraduate majoring in English during the ’70s. He later went on to be part of public broadcasting during the ’90s, and spent 10 years in San Francisco making documentaries. A film that inspired Walsh was ‘Meshes of the Afternoon’, a 1943 short film co-directed by Maya Deren which he saw in his first film class. Other influences for Walsh include avant-garde filmmakers like Rainer Weiner Fassbinder, Jean-Luc Godard and Chantal Akerman.

When asked how film itself is different from other art forms in an interview, Walsh responded, “Film and media is everywhere and it allows people to project their own beliefs or identity”. He also sees film in the future making a return to longer-form work – such as two-plus hour films. He said, “The pendulum will swing back.”

For other aspiring filmmakers, including myself, Walsh said, “Follow your passion.” He added that “failure is a good learning opportunity”. He noted that there are “more opportunities for younger filmmakers” than when he first started. The times are indeed changing after all.

The panel discussed how hard it can be for artists to have their films made. Quinn, a well-known figure in independent cinema, recalls considerable hardship in getting one of his films, ‘Thumbs Down’, made during the late ’60s. Due to experiences from PBS, Quinn joined Indie Caucus, a platform for independent filmmakers to ensure that underrepresented voices are given public access to televise their stories.

Similarly, Cokinos recalls back in 1988 when she was producing Richard Linklater’s feature-film debut ‘Slacker’, filmmaker Robert Altman met with them and observed that it was “harder for him to get a film made than them”; Altman had just finished a HBO series, ‘Tanner’ 88’ at the time.

Wang faced similar issues when he wrote and directed ‘The Grief of Others’, a drama about a family reeling from the death of a new-born baby.  Despite the pressures, Giamatti went on to co-direct a “hybrid film” called ‘A Woman Like Me’, a narrative film interweaving the life of a female filmmaker with that of a fictional female character. Cokinos now has written and directed ‘I Dream Too Much’, a drama about a female college student who begins to take care of her great aunt.

Shults directed ‘Krisha’, a drama film where he used his family as actors in Conroe, Texas for a nine-day shoot. The film went on to earn him an Emerging Artist Award. Tahmik, a Filipino filmmaker, directed ‘Who Invented the Yoyo? Who Invented the Moon Buggy?’, a film made in 1979. Timm serves as a co-writer on ‘Reparation’, an adaptation of his play ‘The Activist’ which revolves around a war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Herrington serves a director on ‘The Winding Stream’, a documentary about Johnny’s Cash family while Johnson serves as a producer on ‘Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove’, a documentary about the musician Doug Sahm.

A new addition to the festival is CineSpace, a short film competition that features real NASA footage from over 50 years, which will be included in the works of the contestants.  Contestants will be judged on their creativity, originality and attention to detail.

The Houston Cinema Arts Festival runs from Nov. 12 – 19 and hosts several screenings and exhibits for the public to enjoy. For more information, go to HoustonCinemaArtsFestival.org