Houston Cinema Arts Society (HCAS) has put the nation’s fourth largest city on the map among film industry professionals, artists, and film aficionados as a premier showcase for the moving image and the creative process. Although the Society is still working to expand public awareness, its founding illustrates how Houston’s cultural entrepreneurship is taking off along with our diverse population and economy.

In 2007, then-Mayor Bill White asked arts philanthropist and former trial attorney Franci Neely to head a task force to stimulate film culture in Houston. She and a team of cultural leaders came back several months later with the recommendation that Houston sponsor cinematic programming that celebrates the visual, performing, and literary arts. This unique focus on films “by and about artists” accomplished two goals: It filled a niche in the broader film festival world that was sorely underrepresented and it identified Houston, nationally and internationally, as a thriving arts town that celebrates innovative films, media installations, and performances.

HCAS received 501(c)(3) status in September 2008 and presented a weekend Film Festival at Rice University and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. HCAS launched its inaugural five-day Film Festival in 2009. In addition to its now-annual Houston Cinema Arts Festival (HCAF), held in November, HCAS presents a variety of initiatives and programs, including a growing schedule of year-round screenings, events, performances, and guest lectures.

Houston Cinema Arts Festival is the most ambitious of the HCAS programs. This eight-day, multi-venue festival includes over 50 narrative and documentary films, an interactive video installation gallery, live multimedia performances, panel discussions, Meet the Makers workshops, and free outdoor and student field trip screenings. In its relatively short history, HCAS has brought notable guest artists, such as Tilda Swinton, Alex Gibney, Guillermo Arriaga, Isabella Rossellini, John Turturro, Shirley MacLaine, Rick Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Fisher Stevens, Robert Redford, Tracy Letts, James Ivory, Julie Taymor, Will Forte, and Thomas Haden Church among many others, to the Festival.

The most recent initiative related to the Festival is CineSpace, a collaboration between NASA and Houston Cinema Arts Society, that offers filmmakers around the world a chance to share their works inspired by and using actual NASA imagery. CineSpace is a new short film competition that premiered at Houston Cinema Arts Festival, November 2015. Short films featuring real NASA footage collected from over 50 years of its history will be judged on the creativity, innovation, and attention to detail that are the hallmarks of space exploration.

HCAS is proud to collaborate on many of its programs with a number of Houston’s finest arts, cultural, and other nonprofit organizations. Partners have included The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Inprint, Blaffer Art Gallery, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, Houston PBS, Houston Ballet, HGOco-Houston Grand Opera, Aurora Picture Show, Southwest Alternate Media Project, Texas Children’s Hospital, and others. Current initiatives in progress include expansion of educational outreach with HOUSTON CINEMA ARTS FESTIVAL ON THE ROAD to take films about the arts to Houston area high schools and internship programs Houston-area colleges and universities.