Houston Film Commission Presents the Texas Filmmakers Showcase at Edwards Greenway, Thursday

UPDATE: It appears we were mistaken about what time the showcase will start; it’s actually at 9:45PM, not 8PM. Sorry about that…

Every year, the Houston Film Commission curates a 90-minute collection of the six best Texas-made short films. The Film Commission then showcases the collection, this year at the Cinema Arts Festival, and formally introduces the artists to producers, agents, studios, and the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles. I’ve seen a preview copy of this year’s showcase DVD, and two of the short films stand out as artists ready to make a feature.

Mnemosyne Rising is a twenty-minute short, shot on 35mm film, about a crisis aboard a spacecraft deep in space. Prior to his return to Earth, a check of his craft’s systems leads to an emergency, and the lone transmitter pilot battles visions while trying to save himself. The understated actor portrays the restrained nature of a deep space astronaut as realistically as I can imagine anyone doing. The production design and set dressing couples with the dimly-lit, claustrophobic direction to create tension that builds literally right up until the film fades to black. I got caught up in this film from the first minute, and my blood pressure was affected by each successive moment of the rising action.

Director Miguel Alvarez deserves this award, and if this were the only short in this showcase, it would already be worth your time. But it’s only one of six excellent short films, all of which exhibit a surprising degree of technical expertise. After watching the 90-minute showcase DVD several times now, I’m stunned each time that even one of these directors is unknown, and in any other era, Alvarez would already be working in network TV drama by now, if that’s what he wanted to do. (www.estebandido.com)

My favorite short from this year’s showcase was San Antonio director James T. Moore’s 15-minute, digital video WW2 thriller Der Vater (The Father). This is a story much like the ones you’ve heard of, or read about, from the desperate times in Germany during the war, but rarely — if ever — has anything so rich and immediate been put on screen. The dialogue is spoken only in German, but perhaps by American actors, and though I sometimes suspected their accents, the sheer ambition, of the dialogue being exclusively in the German tongue was one of the first factors that drew me into the story so quickly. After that, I became lost in the period touches; the uniforms and costumes are impeccable. The fear in the actor’s faces and the hesitation and trepidation in their movements made the tension nearly unbearable at times.

This is the story of a brave German man facing a life-changing decision in wartime. Neither in Tarantino’s cartoonish war film or in Clint Eastwood’s (or HBO’s) scrubbed-up jingoism will you find the bold, human filmmaking that James Moore applies to Der Vater. Like I said about all of the short subjects in this showcase, the degree of technical perfection is astounding. And with the exception of Der Vater, it is really THE story of the showcase. Every director here can work professionally in show business based on the strength of these shorts, but Der Vater is ready to be made into a feature immediately.

As the title character makes his decision, and the action unfolds, you’ll see sequences that you’ll recognize from movies with budgets reported in the $100 million range. Moore used a Canon 5D Mark 2 for the movie, and he seems to have used it to its fullest potential. The edits are quick and informative, the sound effects are crisp, running through a surround-sound system like the most expensive studio films, and generally every production value is perfect. Continuity during the entire 15 minutes is flawless, even though people get shot, shot at, rained on, and muddy. Don’t miss this year’s showcase just for this short movie alone.

The Houston Film Commission presents Texas Filmmakers Showcase screening at 9:45PM on Thursday, November 11th, at the Edwards Greenway. Special thanks to the people at Edwards for continuing to host screenings in their gorgeous Grand Palace even as they’re being asked for more now that Angelika fled town. And thanks to Alfred Cervantes and everyone at the Houston Film Commission for continuing to get better every year at supporting emerging artists.

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