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Houston Cinema Arts Festival Opening Night is a Success!

The 2017 Houston Cinema Arts Festival - which took place from November 9 - 13, 2017 - celebrated the undying resilience of the City of Houston as it played host to over 30 unique programs spread across multiple partner venues, including Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Rice Cinema, White Oak Music Hall, DiverseWorks, Aurora Picture Show, Café Brasil, and more.

On Thursday, November 9, the 9th Annual Houston Cinema Arts Festival rolled out double the red carpet for its annual Opening Night festivities. The actual red carpet took its customary position at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston for Love, Cecil, a documentary tribute to legendary photographer, diarist, and award-winning costume designer Cecil Beaton. At Rice Cinema, a much different premiere screening took place for Bodied, a searing social satire set in the brutal world of battle rap.

Prior to the screening, HCAF Artistic Director Richard Herskowitz, HCAS Board Member and distinguished local attorney Mark Wawro, Tara Khanna of the Texas Film Commission, and filmmaker Lisa Immordino Vreeland provided introductory marks to the packed auditorium. Following the screening, an intimate and thoughtful Q&A session was conducted between Lisa Vreeland and international style icon Lynn Wyatt.

Down the road at Rice Cinema, guests mingled in the STELLA Lounge as they patiently waited for the much-anticipated premiere of Bodied, local Houstonian filmmaker Joseph Kahn's powerful film that has received rave reviews everywhere it has played. HCAS Advisory Board member Charles Dove, HCAS Executive Director Patrick Kwiatkowski and director Joseph Kahn helped introduce the film to the audience. Afterward, hip-hop icon Bun B hosted an insightful and wide-ranging conversation with Kahn about his film. The culmination of the evening was a special performance from local Houston battle rappers Scotty Raps and Liven Learn of H-Town Rap Battle that scintillated the crowd and left mouths agape as guests were able to experience the deft mastery and acute precision of the battle rap art form firsthand. Dough Beezy, the group's creator and host, introduced the battle rap performance.

The following evening, Houston Cinema Arts Festival, in partnership with NASA, screened 13 finalists from 650 entries spanning nearly every continent worldwide at the Rice Cinema in the CineSpace short film competition and awarded top prizes totaling $26,000, which were judged and selected by Academy Award-nominated director Richard Linklater.

The top prize of $10,000 was awarded to Lunar, by Christian Stangl, Austria; 2nd place prize of $5,000 went to Nadir, by Pedro de Filippis, Hungary; and 3rd place prize of $3,000 was awarded to The Invisible Border by Shannon-Leigh Reeve and Chelese Belmont, California.

Award winners for the Special Judging Categories ($4,000 each) went to Apizaco, by Alex Moreno (Mexico) in the category Film Best Depicting the Benefits of Space to Humanity and The New Sea, by Jamie Drew (UK) for Best Film Depicting the Spirit of Future Space Exploration.

Dr. Ellen Ochoa, Director of the Johnson Space Center, NASA representatives Dan Jacobs and Carlos Fontanot, Houston Cinema Arts Society Executive Director Patrick Kwiatkowski, and Professor Carlos Villanueva of the University of Yucatan welcomed attendees at the beginning of the program and spoke to the huge growth in the number of entries in CineSpace, which continues to expand in myriad ways as its global footprint extends.

Prior to the start of the evening's presentation, guests mingled in the STELLA Lounge and enjoyed the majestic views from telescopes provided by the Houston Astronomical Society.

The CineSpace finalist short films that spanned the globe were comprised of Apizaco (Mexico), Eight-Ball (Australia), The New Sea (United Kingdom), The Great Portals of Cyberspace: Doomsday (Sweden/France), I'm Here Now Somehow (Germany), The Invisible Border (United States), Lunar (Austria), Miss Baker's Ride (United Kingdom), Nadir (Hungary), Planet, California (United States), The Space Between Us (Australia), To the Sky (Chile), and Transmitter Receiver (Canada).

On Saturday, November 11th, HCAF17 hosted Singin' in the Rain: A Houston and Cinema Arts Celebration - a love letter to Houston chock full of live performances held at premier entertainment venue White Oak Music Hall. The evening was hosted by FOX 26's Ruben Dominguez and included an all-local lineup of high profile artists performing unique renditions of songs from the Gene Kelly film Singin' in the Rain as it celebrates its 65th anniversary in 2017.

As the film played, legendary blues vocalist Carolyn Wonderland kicked off the performance portion of the evening with a stirring rendition of Fit as a Fiddle. Wonderland's sultry voice proved to be the perfect medium for the song and a decidedly moving start to the event.

Next up Broadway veteran Courtney Markowitz took the stage with a version of All I Do Is Dream of You. Markowitz, who recently relocated to Houston with her family, was thrilled to get to perform in her new city and help support Hurricane Harvey relief efforts along the way.

Stephanie Rice later performed a soul-stirring version of the Singin' in the Rain classic You Were Meant For Me. The Texas-born pop-rock singer-songwriter is no stranger to wowing an audience, having recently impressed judges and fans as a finalist on the hit show The Voice.

Just after Rice's performance, local hip-hop hero, Houston Cinema Arts Society Board Member, and unofficial Houston mayor Bun B brought the house down with his take on Good Morning accompanied by high-energy break-dancers. After raising over $66 million for hurricane relief with the Hand in Hand telethon, Bun continued his pledge to help the city recover by being an integral part of the Cinema Arts Celebration production.

For the final vocal performance of the evening, critically acclaimed jazz singer and actress Kat Edmonson, who came all the way from Brooklyn, NY to be a part of the evening's production, did a solo rendition of the titular song from the film, the true cinema classic Singin' in the Rain, which was ranked #3 on the American Film Institute's list of 100 Years... 100 Songs.

The final act of the evening was a high-energy rendition of the Glee cover of Umbrella / Singin' in the Rain by Houston Ballet dancers choreographed by Oliver Halkowich.

All of the artists then took the stage together, and Bun B thanked the crowd for attending and invited them to stay and continue the celebration. DJ Ramalama - Matt Johns - spun rain-themed hits throughout the evening in between performances and took over for the after-party portion of the evening, which went until midnight.

Upstairs, VIPs mingled and watched the performances from the Amegy Bank of Texas Lounge, which featured Stella Artois beer, wine, and tacos courtesy of Tacodeli.

The event came together through collaboration with Gulf Coast Entertainment, which assisted in the procurement of several of the artists who performed.

In support of local artists impacted by Hurricane Harvey, White Oak Music Hall donated the use of the venue to Houston Cinema Arts Society a portion of the proceeds from the event to the White Oak Music Hall Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

Alley Theatre's Brandon Weinbrenner, in conjunction with the Houston Cinema Arts Festival and White Oak Music Hall, directed Singin' in the Rain: A Houston and Cinema Arts Celebration.

Other Notable HCAF17 Highlights

Archivist Michael Zahs showcased early silent films and slides from the Brinton Collection at Rice Cinema, including what is purportedly the first news reel footage ever shot, which was captured in the aftermath of the Galveston storm of 1900. This special presentation followed the screening of Saving Brinton and concluded with a Q&A with Zahs and filmmaker Andrew Sherburne.

A retrospective on Abigail Child took place over the course of HCAF17, including two screenings at DiverseWorks and a Closing Night screening of Child's new documentary Acts and Intermissions at Aurora Picture Show.

Filmmakers Wayne Slaten and Cressandra Thibodeaux were joined by the subjects of their films Ash: The Art of Wayne Gilbert (Wayne Gilbert) and Jesse Lott: Artist in Action (Jesse Lott)

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