Jessica Green is the new artistic director for the decade-old, arts-themed Houston Cinema Arts Festival, replacing Richard Herskowitz who exited the position after the last film festival in November. The Houston Cinema Arts Society made the announcement Wednesday.
Green most recently was the cinema director at Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem, a non-profit founded by noted non-fiction film director Albert Maysles (“Gimme Shelter,” “Grey Gardens”) devoted to the documentary form. Her programming included collaborations with a variety of New York arts institutions including the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Museum of the City of New York, and the Apollo Theater among others.
She wants to bring some of that cross-disciplinary approach to Houston.
“The (Houston) festival is all about the arts, all about artists and using film as the main connector and over the first decade of the festival, that foundation has been put into place. It’s about expanding on that mission, on that model,” Green says in an interview. “Getting more into the edges of that idea, exploring more inter-disciplinary programming, really tapping more into the local scene around visual artists, music artists, performing artists, everybody’s who’s in Houston and really marrying that with the films that are being shown with the filmmakers. Bringing people together and doing mash-up programming.
“Also, expanding the partnerships and looking to grow around Houston’s incredible global diversity, incredible growth and opportunity here and tapping into that,” she continues. “There are so many layers to what is happening here. It’s just really inspiring.”
She sees part of the festival’s mission is to cultivate more of a local filmmaking community. “It may involve baby steps (but I want) to further support film production in Houston and support filmmakers and finding ways for talent to be retained here and grow here,” she says. “And that’s also about bringing back the talent, people that grew up in Houston, bringing them back…to inspire the folks that are here who look to do what they’ve done and figuring out ways to maybe see how that can be done without people having to leave.”
Green, who had not been to Houston prior to applying for this position, said she was aware of the festival and its reputation.
“The festival has a reputation of being an international level, fine film festival,” she says, noting Houston itself was also a draw. “I’m totally an urbanist. The festival is amazing but it’s about the festival being here. It’s about Houston and that twin attraction of a very strong festival with a really strong theme and a really fluid theme around the arts and artists with this incredible place with a diversity that’s unparalleled.”
Between now and the next festival, running Nov. 14-18, Green will be shuttling back and forth between Houston and New York City but says she’s putting her New York interests on the back burner.
“I am going to be doing some curation in New York. Around the Maysles Documentary Center, my work is in the process of transitioning from there so I can focus on this…I hope to continue doing some curating in New York, especially in Harlem. I want to continue to be involved in Harlem but this is going to be the major focus, the baby that needs to be fed and clothed.”
She will also be visiting several film festivals this year, including the Toronto International Film Festival, in search of programming.
In addition to the Maysles Documentary Center, Green has been a programmer for Films by Firelight, a series featuring works from Stanley Nelson’s Firelight Media Documentary Lab.
Previously, she had worked as a post-production coordinator on the indie movies “Married Life” from director Ira Sachs and “Margot at the Wedding” by Noah Baumbach. Also, she was an executive editor at BET.com and a co-founder of the hip-hop magazine, Stress.
“Jessica impressed us so much with her extensive and diverse career in film programming,” said HCAS board member and search committee head Marian Luntz in a statement. “The committee also appreciated her creative ideas about community engagement and her enthusiasm for putting those into action in Houston.”
Herskowitz, based in Oregon but with the Houston festival since its inception, left the post to concentrate on his home state’s Ashland Independent Film Festival where he is now executive and artistic director.
“For years, I was able to juggle. I called myself a carny; I would pitch a tent and show movies in many cities, and I tried to keep that going,” he told the Chronicle last year. “But, in Ashland, my job grew from just artistic director to executive director. It just became impossible for me to keep leaping across different cities.”