Houston Cinema Roundup
The 15th annual Houston Cinema Arts Festival took place Nov. 9 to Nov. 19, showcasing films from diverse perspectives. Both fiction and nonfiction films from around the globe were showcased across Houston, enriching the city’s greater film community. Here are some of the best films showcased at the festival this year.
“Art College 1994”
Of the films screened at the festival, “Art College 1994” is likely to be the most resonant with those studying at Rice itself. The film follows a group of students at the Chinese Southern Academy of Arts as they are slowly confronted with adulthood, attempting to solidify both their artistic styles and own understandings of themselves.
The film takes a relaxed approach and consists of many slice-of-life vignettes in which the characters make cliched observations about art and their relationship to it.
“In Our Day”
Acclaimed South Korean director Hong Sang-soo’s 30th feature film “In Our Day” was one of the most directly obtuse, experimental and intriguing films that played at the festival. The story switches between two perspectives with common elements: One storyline features an aging actress living with her friend who is visited by an aspiring actress, and the other features an aging poet being filmed by a documentarian who is visited by an aspiring actor.
Nigeria’s submission for the Oscars International Film award this year is “Mami Wata,” a film set in the oceanside West African village of Iyi. The film takes on the structure of a folktale, as the movie depicts an outsider entering the community and directly challenging the village’s religious matriarch.
This premise lends itself very directly to an exploration of colonialism in Africa, and the conflict between ideologies within the village itself. As the outsider slowly corrupts the anti-religious members of the village, it becomes clear that any desire of the village to introduce new medicine or technology has been manipulated and misconstrued.
The Houston Cinema Arts Festival places a strong emphasis on documentary filmmaking, showing films that elevate artists and their creative processes. “Mr. Jimmy” takes an interesting approach to this subject matter by depicting an imitator, rather than an original creator. The film follows Aiko Sakurai, a Japanese guitarist who has dedicated his life to replicating Jimmy Page’s guitar-playing style. The audience follows Sakurai as he takes his intensely accurate Led Zeppelin recreations from small Tokyo clubs to large venues in the United States, providing insight into both his immense perfectionism and his sheer appreciation for Led Zeppelin’s live music.
In the first moments of the film, it is difficult to grasp why someone would go to such great lengths to not create but recreate. Yet, by the end of the film, Sakurai’s ethos becomes incredibly clear — just as great artists want to inspire great emotions in their audiences, he wants to spread the impact that Led Zeppelin’s music has had on him, albeit in a very direct way. Despite the simple subject matter, the documentary unveils a new perspective of the artistic process and channels this message through a very relatable and likable main character.
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“Lisa Frankenstein” is a horror/comedy directed by Zelda Williams and written by Diablo Cody of “Jennifer’s Body” fame. While the film is aesthetic to the max, has interesting cinematography and includes some satisfying performances, it fails to live up to Cody’s previous works. The protagonist is foundationally unlikable, the tonal shifts will give you whiplash and its focus on references of other, better movies just reminds you that you could (and really should) be watching something else.