I sat alone on a small bench just outside of the door of Folklore Films this past weekend. A few minutes passed and I noticed a young man coming up the steps. He looked around a bit, helped himself to a cup of popcorn and a drink, and before long he joined me on the bench. We exchanged hellos and formally introduced ourselves over the chatter that was building as a steady stream of new faces arrived. His name was Michael.
I asked Michael if he’d ever been to a Folklore Films Festival before.
No. Have you been before?
I have. Since I’ve been before I’ll make you a deal. I’m not going to tell you anything about it or what to expect and if you’re still here at the end of the night I’ll interview you as part of an editorial piece I’m writing and you can tell me your thoughts. Deal?
He explained how he was meeting a friend and they didn’t really expect to stay around for the entire screening, but if they did, we had a deal.
The Folklore Films Experience
In order to visualize what took place at the Folklore Films Experience, one would need to imagine an oversized living room full of people from a variety of different backgrounds, cultures, ages, races and ethnicities, laughing together, some crying together, tapping their toes to live music by local artists and held captive by the visual poems that are Folklore Films. Founded in 2013 with the help of a grant from the Houston Arts Alliance, the nonprofit collaborated with The HEB Family Foundation and Leadership Education at Duke University on the current round of screenings.
Marlon Hall, who directs and edits the films, described them as…
Visual anthropological studies that unearth what’s most human about who we are.
One of the intentions for the films, as explained by producer Danielle Fanfair, is to…
Tell better stories to the city (of Houston) about the city, one folkloric resident at a time.
On this particular night, four residents were the focus.
First up was Jed Foronda, a self-described artist and maker who transforms magazines into unique visual mazes through the careful use of X-ACTO knives. Foronda attended the festival in spite of his current battle with cancer. He’s a neighbor of Folklore Films, with an art studio located across the hall. At one point during the evening, Fanfair shared that 100 percent of the funds donated during the event would go toward the rent required to keep Foronda’s studio current.
Mentally, I’ve already beaten it (cancer). It’s just the physical part now.
The next resident in focus is no stranger to cancer either. Staci Davis, former owner of Radical Eats, is taking the story she told through her restaurant, one about our food supply and the environment and how it affects our bodies, and committing it to print as a writer. Davis, coincidentally, has been cancer free for 15 years.
The third screening put the camera lens on Jawaad Taylor. Taylor is an improvisational musician who says,
Music is part of my DNA and that improvisation opens you up, makes you vulnerable and forces you to get through based on your experience.
The final film concentrated on Robert Hodge, an interdisciplinary artist who understands his multiple talents can lead to confusion for some. He’s fueled by history and the need for great-looking art, and he enjoys that his art and talent create that confusion.
Make Yourself at Home
Early on in the evening, the space officially reached standing-room-only status, and some festivalgoers were passed floor cushions with the help of associate producer Shelly Travis, along with an invitation to move in close and find a spot on the floor. Willing and eager attendees found their places sitting, scattered along the front of the room.
Folklore is the important unofficial knowledge that we all carry around in our heads that isn’t acknowledged (publicly). It’s our customs and cultures. It’s why your grandmomma uses a cast-iron skillet.
In addition to telling better stories to our city about our city the goals of Folklore Films are to inspire each person to personally consider their own folklore and to cross-pollinate silos of communities who share values and heart.
Part of that inspiration and sharing of values came in the form of one rhetorical question that each film subject was invited to ask the audience at the conclusion of their screening.
Who do you need to tell ‘I love you’ to tonight? Not tomorrow. Tonight.
On your deathbed, what are you going to be the most proud of? What are you worrying about now that you shouldn’t be?
Do you take the time to enjoy your triumphs and successes?
What is stopping you from that next thing?
We’ll Probably Leave Early
As the crowd started to say their goodbyes, I looked for Michael, the young man I met before the films. Several minutes passed, and I found myself in a conversation with one of the few remaining attendees. A quick glance up revealed Michael making his way to me from across the room.
Why’d you come tonight and what did you expect?
I expected a really enthusiastic guy to talk about his work, we’d all watch it and then judge him. I received a ton of optimism and positive energy. I came in expecting to just watch some art, and instead I found a community of appreciation, respect for the city and the process of creation. Tonight has reinforced that I’m on the right path and I can’t let anything stop me. I was actually considering leaving Houston before tonight. Now I’m considering staying.”
Welcome to Houston, Michael Patterson.