School may be out for the summer but students are very much on my mind these days. Houston Cinema Arts Society launched a new education outreach initiative this spring, which grew directly from the Film Festival Field Trip (FFFT) program that has been a part of the annual November Festival since 2011. I thought it might be interesting to share with our readers, members, and sponsors how FFFT started and more about its new sister program that reaches out to schools year-round —“HCAS on the Road”.
In 2011, we realized that we had an opportunity. Most of the Festival screenings were presented in the afternoons and evenings, leaving the theaters unused in the morning. So we started thinking about the best way to make the highest and best use of that down-time to serve the HCAS mission.
I know from my years of experience teaching theatre at Rice University before I came to HCAS in 2010 that it is never too late for the arts to make a difference in people’s lives. HCAS is dedicated to presenting films about the visual, performing, and literary arts. My colleague HCAS Artistic Director Richard Herskowitz, who teaches film at University of Oregon, and I are both passionate about arts education. All these factors came together to inspire Film Festival Field Trip as a free education outreach program for area high schools.
From the first screening of Shakespeare High with producer Brad Koepenick, attended by 200 in 2011, to the four screenings and nearly 900 in attendance in 2014, we know that students respond to opportunities to talk to filmmakers. We have watched with great excitement as students interacted with guest artists, from those behind the scenes to the actors on the screen, like they were rock stars.
We discovered that many schools could not bring their students to the Festival for a variety of reasons from budget for buses to limitations on the number of off-campus events. Teachers began asking us to bring the films to their campuses. We listened and launched “HCAS on the Road” this spring with a screening of Thunder Soul at Chavez High School.
Thunder Soul is a Houston story about bandleader Conrad “Prof” Johnson, who inspired his students in the late 1960s and early 1970s to become the legendary Kashmere High School Stage Band. He taught his students that through dedication and commitment anything is possible. It is a story about students just like the ones in the audience at Chavez.
If you haven’t seen the film, the students of Chavez High School highly recommend it with a five-star rating. We were convinced when we heard them cheer, whoop, and applaud as four former band members, who appeared in the film, joined us for a Q&A after screening that “HCAS on the Road” had made an impact. When former band members Reginal Nelson and Timothy Thompson, took to the piano with an impromptu performance and the students gathered around to take selfies — we knew that there is a good chance that the film made a difference in how those students saw the world and their own place in it.