In its second year, the Cinema Festival Houston Arts is still a small festival. Strip away the live performances and exhibitions and the marginal films that are included because they fit the festival’s theme – in other words, the stuff that organizers tout for making the festival unique – and there really aren’t all that many movies to see.
At least, that’s how I viewed it until I made a list of the movies I wanted to see.
One of the essential ones is Thunder Soul. The documentary about Conrad “Prof” Johnson and the Kashmere High School stage band, was supposed to screen Thursday at Discovery Green but was postponed until today because of rain.
This is a must-see for me not only because the band was so phenomenal, but because I attended Kashmere in the 1970s, the period covered in the film. Prof, a tiny fella, was a giant on campus when I was there. Guys I was friendly with were in the band and are in the film.
I was glad when Thunder Soul got postponed because i also wanted to see Journey to Italy, Roberto Rossellini’s 1954 movie with Ingrid Bergman that was to be introduced by Isabella Rossellini, the daughter of Rossellini and Bergman.
(Stupidly, I went to a nonfestival preview screening of Unstoppable that night. I say “stupidly,” because – even though I enjoyed it – the film opened the following day and there was no time to write a review. Seeing Journey to Italy with Isabella Rossellini was a once-in-a-lfietime opportunity. )
So now it’s Saturday and I get to see Thunder Soul again. Happy days, and all that. But now I see in the festival guide that Max Ernst Hanging is screening at the same time at the Rice Media Center.
It is a documentary about Dominque De Menil hanging a 1973 exhibition of the surrealist painter’s work. It was shot by her sun, Francois.
This is one of those “marginal” films I mentioned earlier that you wouldn’t see on the schedule at Sundance or Toronto or South by Southwest. It’s screening here because it is a movie “about the arts,” which is what the Cinema Houston Festival Arts is all about, and because it is local. But as a native Houstonian who’s been back in the city for a decade now, I feel it’s important to see this film. The de Menils are a constant presence here, but I feel I know so little about the giant, looming figures. They’re ghosts. I need to see the documentary to help make them real.
The de Menil’s founding of the Rice Media Center 40 years ago is being celebrated this year. The screening of Journey to Italy Thursday was accompanied by a short film that Roberto Rossellini shot about the de Menil’s hopes for the then-in-the-planning Rice Media Center. Since I missed that short, I should make it my business not to miss tonight’s documentary.
One piece of great news that I heard at the festival office the other day is that Thunder Soul has been picked up for national distribution. So if I miss it tonight, I will get to see it again.
At least, that’s my thinking right now. Maybe I’ll flip a coin.