DALLAS: Come one come all! See 22 North Texas film festivals come together for four days with the best of their work! Nowhere else in America has this ever been done! Join us for North Texas Film Festival’s BEST OF FESTS Film Festival.

BEST OF FESTS opens on January 10 and runs through January 13. The films, which include features, shorts and documentaries, are showing at venues across Dallas including: Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas, Studio Movie Grill, and the Texas Theatre.

How BEST OF FESTS was born

Bringing North Texas film fests together to showcase their work in a four-day festival was an idea that began at last year’s Art House Convergence, a conference for film festivals and people who run art houses, says Dallas VideoFest Founder Bart Weiss. “I was there, and so was Emily Hargrove with EarthxFilm Festival. We were talking and thought it might be a good idea to do this in Dallas. Then Emily said let’s do this, and she got the ball rolling. Emily really has spearheaded this and done an incredible job.”

photo credit: theaterjones.com

This is an important event according to Weiss. “In every other city that I’ve been to that runs a film festival, the festivals don’t really get along very well, or at best, they tolerate each other, but they don’t work together the way that we do here. So it’s a different kind of spirit here [in North Texas] that says a lot about the people who are running our festivals, and I think that is something really worth celebrating as much as the films themselves.”

Another point worth noting, according to Weiss, is how many festivals are involved. “When we thought of this, we thought maybe there would be 10 festivals, and then, we ended up with 22. So just let that sink in. This is Dallas-Fort Worth, and we have 22 festivals working with us. I mean the breadth and depth of the different kinds of festivals that we have is truly astounding. So in a world where we celebrate diversity, we are really covering interests all over the place.”

While many of the festivals are showing more recent work, Dallas VideoFest is showing a film from its archives: The Big Buy: Tom Delay’s Stolen Congress. “I felt it was important because given where we are politically; this is, in part, about how we got there, and it’s also important to support Dallas filmmakers, like Mark Birnbaum and Jim Schermbeck.”

The southernmost North Texas Film Festival: Deep In The Heart Film Festival

Best of Fests Film Festival covers an area in Texas much like a diamond. It starts with Denton to the North, Fort Worth to the West, Dallas to the East, and Waco to the South. And Waco is home to Deep In The Heart Film Festival. Its co-directors, Samuel

(l to r) Lewis Hunter and Samuel Thomas
photo credit: deepintheheart.com

Thomas and Louis Hunter, created the festival three years ago. “We feel blessed to be included in BEST of FESTS, and it’s definitely a benefit for us,” Thomas admits. After all we’re just and hour and a half down the road from Dallas! BEST OF FESTS has allowed us to meet other filmmakers in the area that we weren’t familiar with; and as filmmakers, we are all in this together.”

Thomas says he and Hunter often think of themselves as the Cohen brothers, as they unite their visions. Deep In The Heart is all about the stories; deep, heartfelt stories. Moreover, the directing duo doesn’t mind if the film is lacking in production value, what matters most to them is that the story is strong.

“For us, it’s got to be about the heart so the essence of the film is the story itself,” Thomas says. “It’s cool that Waco is smack in the middle of the heart of Texas, that makes us feel distinctively Texan. We wanted to have a feel and a vibe; we didn’t want to just be a Waco film festival just based on a town; we want to be the essence of the story and the town. So it all comes together like that.”

During Deep In The Heart’s first year, Thomas and Hunter looked for a feature film that would bring in audiences. Then they found it, thanks to their partnership with Baylor University’s film and media department, which lead to a film produced by the department head, Chris Hansen. “I watched it. I showed it to my wife, then I showed it to Louis, and then things started to come together.” Blur Circle, which was shot in Waco, is a story about a woman who loses her son, and she stays in a state of stasis for years until she comes to a place in her life that brings her to redemption. “It actually premiered at the Dallas VideoFest and went on to win some nominations and awards. So when BEST OF FESTS popped up, we knew this film would best represent Deep In The Heart because it’s a high-quality, local film that has had an impact not only around the nation but around the world.”

photo credit: pixel.com

And for the audiences

Most people don’t know how many film festivals there are in the area. BEST of FESTS gives everyone the opportunity to see all kinds of films and learn about the many festivals North Texas offers.

“If I asked you about the Pegasus Film Festival, you may not know that this is a festival for high school [short] films from around the area. So you can go from film to film and see all kinds of work from all kinds of festivals and that gives you a taste of what every festivals does and when these festivals are coming,” Weiss summarized.

“And from the festival’s point of view, we get access to audiences that didn’t know about us and that makes us stronger as we reach more people and all of us will do better because of it.”

Participating film festivals include:

3 Stars Jewish Cinema, Asian Film Festival of Dallas, Crossroads Film & Music Festival, Czech That Film, Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF), Dallas Jewish Film Festival, Dallas Video Fest, Deep in the Heart Film Festival, Denton Black Film Festival, EarthxFilm, Festival de Cine Latino Americano, Flicks By Chicks, Fort Worth Independent Film Showcase, Frame4Frame, Lone Star Film Festival, Oak Cliff Film Festival, Pegasus Film Festival, Q Cinema, Sons of the Flag Film Festival, South Asian Film Festival, Thin Line Film Festival, and Women Texas Film Festival.

For information on the line up or to purchase tickets please go to: www.bestoffests.org.


Dallas VideoFest’s PAWFEST: Come Experience the Fun and Connective Power That Animal Videos Can Create


Photo credit: pixabay

By Eunice Nicholson

Dallas – Whether it’s the technical details of shooting or the meticulous process of editing, Will Braden has always loved making films. He also loves cats. As creator of the Henri, le Chat Noir video series and curator of the original CatVideoFest, Braden continues to bring cat lovers around the world the opportunity to delight in watching more than a hundred professionally curated cat video clips in one showing. An added bonus: Nearly half the ticket proceeds of all of his shows go to local animal shelters.

And, because of his love for animals and community, Dallas VideoFest Founder and Artistic Director Bart Weiss is teaming up once again with Braden to showcase PAWFest (Formerly CatFest) at The Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff Thursday night, August 23. This year dog videos are also included in the show, which starts at 7:00p.m. sharp. The doors open at 5:00 so you can come early to get to know some of the local animal welfare folks and check out the pets available for adoption.

The Texas Theater. Photo credit: The Texas Theatre

How Weiss and Braden Connected

The original idea of doing a festival of cat films says Weiss, comes from Braden, who at the time was curating the CatVideoFest reel for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

“I’d heard about it for a few years, then it sort of struck me, why isn’t anybody bringing this to Dallas? I thought this would be a really great thing to do so we called the Walker, we asked for the touring package and to add a local component, we asked local filmmakers to contribute.” Weiss says.

Weiss’s PAWFest, which is part of VideoFest, falls under the same video umbrella that all the festival events do, so in other words, cat videos have also evolved from video culture. But most media, Weiss says, is crafted in a different way.

“If you think about how most media is created and consumed; you bring a crew together to make a documentary or narrative film, you bring in actors and you tell a story. Now that’s a good thing and we show a lot of that, but there’s also this other place for people to have a much more direct relationship with their worlds where the technology is not really important. Many of these [cat clips] are shot with a mobile device and they are not edited with the fanciest of editing software, yet they have the ability – mostly through the performance of animals and the love of the person who’s doing it – to transcend technology. And if you think about what we stand for as an organization, its people making images that connect with audiences that can make you feel better about the world. This is the core of what we do.”

When Will Met Henry

Will Braden with Henry. Photo credit: Will Braden

Braden took over the reigns of running the business side of CatVideoFest a couple of years ago when the Walker was ready to move on. CatVideoFest is a Social Purpose Corporation (SPC) says Braden, which translates to bringing great cat videos to the world and at the same time, raises money for local animal welfare organizations.

Braden is also an award-winning filmmaker for his series, Henri, Le Chat Noir, which he started shooting in 2007. After completing Henri 2 Le Paw Leux in 2012, he got some attention from late film critic Roger Ebert when Ebert wrote on one of his social media channels that Henri 2 was the best Internet cat video ever made.

Who is Henry? He is a beautiful 14-year-old tuxedo cat who was adopted by a member of Braden’s family  from an animal shelter in Seattle. Henry is sort of retired now, says Braden.

“There is something very special about Henry. I attribute so much of the success of the video series to him because he would sit there very politely with hot lights and cameras going all around him. He was so easy-going. He made it work.”

In 2012, people started coming out of the woodwork when Braden made a Facebook page for Henry’s character. Then the Henri video went viral really quickly.

At right around the same time, the Walker was doing its first Internet cat video festival. When they made a call for submissions, Henri 2 was submitted over and over, and it got the Walker’s attention. Since it was clear to them that Braden had real talent, they reached out to him and asked if he would help with the festival reel. So he did and 2012’s CatVideoFest was a big success. He even won their top prize for Henri 2: the Golden Kitty award!

Braden remained involved with CatVideoFest, putting the reels together for the next two years. In 2015, when the Walker decided to move on, Braden decided to step up and took the festival under his own wing, with a continued focus on raising money for cats in need.

“From the beginning, every show had a partner, a local animal welfare organization doing something to benefit animals, specifically cats. Dallas is a great example of that.”

According to Dallas VideoFest Managing Director, Raquel Chapa, nearly 50% of the ticket proceeds are donated to Dallas shelters. This year, a portion of the proceeds will go to: MADE in Texas Assistance Dogs, The Spay Neuter Network, Cat Matchers and the Straydogs Inc.

When the Dallas VideoFest team reached out to Braden and told him about their idea to do a dog and cat festival, he saw it as a great opportunity and immediately said yes.

“There is a stark contrast to what kind of cat videos you can show and what kind of dog video you can show, so I have to be sensitive to that,” Braden admits. “It has to do with how we see cats and how we see dogs. Cats are sort of aloof and think they’re better than everybody else and so we like to see videos of them falling off a chair or slipping into some water. Dogs on the other hand, are so obedient and loyal, if you see a dog fall off a chair, you go, is he ok?”

Each year Braden puts together a new reel of 100 to 110 clips.

“From August to August, I go through tens of thousands of cat videos and find the best and put them all together on a reel that is about 70 minutes long. I sort them into categories and into montages; add music and things like that.”

Careful attention is paid to how the clips are grouped together so that it creates an experience that is organized in a deliberate way. The finished product is a professionally curated and edited reel that will be watched and enjoyed by a ‘sea of cat lovers’, as Braden puts it.

“And the idea that we are doing some good too, raising money and awareness for shelters. That will always be a component of CatVideoFest. It is very gratifying to have a job I enjoy and know that I am doing something good at the same time.”

Back to Bart


Bart Weiss. Photo credit: TheaterJones

“What I really didn’t understand, until we did it [CATFest] the first time, is how important it was, Weiss admits. “I thought this was just a fun summer thing to do. For the Dallas Video Festival, we take ourselves very seriously. We talk about the deep and dark issues of the world and how to make the world a better place and this is certainly a different kind of event. I distinctly remember the first time we did this, we had a packed house at the Texas Theatre, which is a very large theater [645 seats], and not an easy thing to fill up.”

When the lights went down before the first video came up, people were making cat sounds all over the theater and Weiss realized what they had touched on, was exactly what they were trying to accomplish with VideoFest.

“We try to find work that connects to an audience at a very deep emotional way. Say you are at a Latino festival or say a LGBT or African-American festival, what you’re doing is you are connecting an audience with films they don’t see in the real world and they don’t have the chance to connect as an audience, together. That film has this sort of connective tissue that helps create community and makes you feel that you’re not alone.”

That is particularly true since most people watch cat videos on their computer alone, and then they share them with someone else who watches them alone.

And just so you know, Bart and his wife Susan live with and share their lives with four cats and one dog.

“The animals we have in our house are very important to me. They help me put the world into perspective and PAWFest celebrates my personal relationship to them just like the ideas that I think about or am concerned about. How wonderful it is that I can bring people together to have a good experience watching cat and dog films and to feel better about their love for their animals. That’s what this is really about.”

Photo credit: Dallas VideoFestWhere:
Texas Theatre
231 W. Jefferson Blvd in Oak Cliff

Thursday, August 23, Doors: 5 p.m., Show: 7 p.m.



The Blood Wedding painting by Armando Sebastian. Photo courtesy of Cara Mia Theatre Co.

The Blood Wedding painting by Armando Sebastian. Photo courtesy of Cara Mia Theatre Co.

DALLAS: Blood Wedding, presented by Cara Mia Theatre Co., opened Saturday night at the Latino Cultural Center at 2600 Live Oak Street in Dallas.

It was a grand experience: the audience was first treated to spicy food, then to fiery human appetites on a cold Texas night. The play, written by one of Spain’s most beloved poets and playwrights, Federico García Lorca and directed by David Lozano, is about a tormented young bride who abandons her groom on their wedding day then flees into the forest with another man.

There was a gripping, elemental quality to the play, raw passions surfacing once and again, reminiscent of southern European or South American culture. Death and bloodshed make this an old world tragedy, and it is well portrayed by the ensemble in this very moving and emotional play.

The majority of the dialogue was performed in English, but mixed throughout with Spanish. The mixture of the two languages seemed to mirror the nature of the audience, many of whom have identities rooted in two cultures.

The simplicity and boldness of the stage sets gave a classical feel to the evening. They consisted of caramel colored stone walls intersecting at angles. In one particularly striking moment, an old woman came on stage for the beginning of Act 2, dark fabrics rose behind her, gradually taking on the appearance of gnarled trees in the midst of winter.

The other tragedy that occurred Saturday night was that the theater was only a third filled. Blood Wedding is a performance worth experiencing and Cara Mia Theatre Co. is a Dallas treasure worth supporting. The play runs through December 13. Please click here to learn more about the play, Cara Mia and for ticket information.

(Look for my full-length feature celebrating Cara Mia’s 20 years, coming in May.)

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Janeil Engelstad, founder of Make Art with Purpose, speaking at TEDX SMU, “Individual Expression to Community Transformation: The Evolution of Public Art”: click here. Photo courtesy of Make Art With Purpose

DALLAS: On November 14, artists, musicians, art lovers and supporters gathered for ArtCon11, Art Conspiracy’s signature fundraiser. It’s a unique event, where this year’s beneficiary, Make Art with Purpose, was honored.

Make Art with Purpose (MAP) is an artist-led non-profit that has been developing and producing inter-disciplinary projects that bring communities together to work for the greater good, all around the globe. Under the guidance of its founder, Janeil Engelstad, MAP is making its mark on Dallas.

Introducing Ms. Engelstad

After graduating from New York University with an MFA in the 1980s, artist, writer and educator Janeil Engelstad took, as she calls, “a big left turn” in her career. Over the next two decades – she immersed herself into the world of social practice (community engaged art). Here’s how it happened.

It began with her volunteering for The Education Project (TEP), teaching photography to youth at a homeless shelter in East New York. It was the dead of winter when she walked through the neighborhood to get to her classroom. What she saw during those chilly walks moved her.

“I saw homeless people trying to keep warm with fires in old oil containers,” Engelstad recalls.

Volunteering after school at the homeless shelter, and other locations that produced programs for at-risk youth, Engelstad experienced the positive impact that art can have on people. “Whether using art as a tool to investigate social concerns, or working directly through arts education. So I took a left turn away from my studio practice where I was producing work for exhibitions and devoted my career and practice to working with communities, and over time that grew.”

Next, she co-created ART WORKS, which attracted some of the most celebrated artists of the 1980’s into the project. A TEP project, ART WORKS was produced in partnership with The Polaroid Corporation and included creative input from Stacy Fischer, the then manager of Polaroid’s 20 x 14 studio in lower Manhattan. The list of participating artists included: Chuck Close, Andreas Serrano, Félix González-Torres, William Wegman, Laurie Simmons, John Reuter, John Divola, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Jean Vong, and Carla Weber.

Arieana R. + Felix Gonzalez Torres, Polaroid 20” x 24”, 1993, for the project Art Works: Teenagers and Artists Collaborate on the Polaroid 20” x 24” Camera, created by Janeil Engelstad with The Education Project, NYC. Photo courtesy of Make Art with Purpose

Arieana R. and Félix González-Torres. Polaroid 20” x 24”, 1993, for the project Art Works: Teenagers and Artists Collaborate on the Polaroid 20” x 24” Camera, created by Janeil Engelstad with The Education Project, NYC. Photo courtesy of Make Art with Purpose

For the project, each artist was paired with a youth from one of The Education Project’s outreach programs. The collaborating teams met in groups and in one-on-one workshops, designed by TEP and the professional artists. Then each team created photographs on the renowned Polaroid 20 x 24 camera, which was hand-made by Edwin Land, the inventor of Polaroid. The photographs were exhibited at museums around the country including New York City’s International Center of Photography, Photographic Resource Center in Boston, Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, and California Museum of Photography. At each location, The Education Project produced a local media arts program for at-risk youth. In New York, The Education Project placed many of the ART WORKS youth into internships at companies such as Sony Music.

As a result, their lives changed. One of the participants, Engelstad reports, was accepted at the prestigious High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. But at first, his mother wasn’t open to the idea.

“Initially his mother was not supportive because she felt that he needed what she thought would be a more structured environment of a parochial school, but by the end of the summer, when she saw the impact the program was having on her son, she agreed that he should go to the High School of Art and Design.”

Next Engelstad moved to Los Angeles where she established the West Coast headquarters of The Education Project and began to produce independent projects. “That was the beginning,” she says.

To accomplish this she has partnered with several organizations over the years. “We’ve created projects that I felt art could respond to, or where I saw the voice of different people missing,” Engelstad says. “For example, creating access to the media for people who often do not have a public voice. In 1999, when the massacre in Columbine happened the media reported on the event, and other school shootings, without asking the students why they thought this was happening and what the impact was on their lives. No one was talking to students. “So, in partnership with New York City based World Studio Foundation, We created a national project where students worked with professional designers to create billboards and bus shelter s in San Francisco, L.A., D.C., New York and Chicago. In each city where the project was produced we worked with local arts organizations and social service non-profits, building local networks as we went.”

After building these coalitions in the U.S. and around the globe, in 2010 she decided to create her own non-profit, and Make Art With Purpose was born.

"Together We Stand, Divided We Fall" MAP mural produced by students at Billy Earl Dade Middle School, Dallas, 2014 as a part of MAP's "Dialogues on Race," a national project that uses art and design to jump start conversations about race. Photograph courtesy of Make Art with Purpose

“Together We Stand, Divided We Fall” MAP mural produced by students at Billy Earl Dade Middle School, Dallas, 2014 as a part of MAP’s “Dialogues on Race,” a national project that uses art and design to jump-start conversations about race. Photograph courtesy of Make Art with Purpose

Many MAP projects have taken flight under Engelstad’s direction. MAP 2013, MAP’s inaugural social practice triennial, was a successful undertaking. MAP activated local artists, schools, museums and galleries to work with people from around the world. Together, the teams produced 30 projects and public programs that investigated environmental and social themes, deep-rooted in art. Other recent projects include Dialogues on Race, a nationwide initiative created to advance racial justice in communities was started in Dallas with the support of the Embrey Family Foundation. Through this project, local artists created billboards and students in South Dallas and Oak Cliff created murals that investigated themes connected to racial and social justice. A community conversation that explored the themes brought about in the work was held at UTD Centraltrak.

One of the Dialogues on Race murals was produced at Billy Earl Dade Middle School. “Dade had gone through so much turmoil in the previous year for various reasons and the students were eager to participate in meaningful work, so it was a rewarding school to work in,” she says. “In the summer of 2014, Hispanic and African-American students created a mural centered on the theme of racial justice, which featured civil rights leaders, including Caesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King, Jr.” Under the guidance of MAP Program Manager, Alpha Thomas, the students studied social justice and civil rights history and learned how the ideas and work of these leaders have lifted up the entire country.

She has dozens of projects in the works and big ideas for North Texas.

“MAP is working with artists, business leaders, foundations, universities and others to create dialogues about what’s going on here [in Dallas] and how can we understand each other better. Together we want to learn ways to make our city a more equitable place to live and work.”


Early this year, Anne Bothwell, director of Art and Seek introduced Engelstad to Art Conspiracy’s Executive Director, Erica Felicella. Art and Seek is a service from KERA providing North Texans a comprehensive guide to the local art scene.

“The work MAP does continues to set them apart, from the students involved to internationally know artists, says Bothwell. “Whether students decide to have a career in art or not, they are learning self-expression and learning to do it authentically, a skill that has to be developed.”

Janeil Engelstad at SKEWED, Art Conspiracy's summer fundraiser. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

Janeil Engelstad at SKEWED, Art Conspiracy’s summer fundraiser. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

To make the cut for Art Conspiracy funding, interviews had to be completed. When the AC team arrived, Engelstad was ready. “It was fun. They came over and we sat and talked,” she says smiling. I believe in what I do and I like to talk about my work because often, it is in the talking to people where I actually hear what it is that I am doing or thinking about and sometimes ideas are worked out in the process. The Art Conspiracy team liked what they saw and heard.

“Looking at MAP’s previous projects, we were impressed by the dialogue they foster, and the issues they face,” says Todd McCaulay, Beneficiary Chair and Art Conspiracy Board Member. “Our choice to award MAP our 2015 beneficiary will allow the organization to not only engage the communities of Dallas and Fort Worth in a dialogue, but also invite volunteers of all ages and local artists to have a hand in creating some truly beautiful, if not thought-provoking art.”

Being the 2015 ArtCon beneficiary is a huge honor Engelstad admits. “Some of the money we received from Art Conspiracy will be directed to a project looking at the Trinity River and climate change. “The river is going to take its natural course. It’s going to expand, flood, and create wetlands, she says. “Questions to be answered: how are we as a society going to help people relocate? Can we turn some of the impacts of climate change, in this case the flooding of a river, into new jobs? Such as creating fish farms in wetlands where there were once houses and other infrastructure.”

How MAP does it

First, Engelstad says, many artists are taking the skills they’ve developed and leaving their studios “They use creative thinking and problem solving skills to move the bar, create community, and positive change.” Second, artists have a knowledge base. “They’re coming out of school with BFAs and MFAs and often they understand social concerns from a place of empathy. They are able to develop ideas that can create productive platforms.”

MAP is a collaboration of many. Associate Director Oto Hudec helps with projects on a global level. He has been with MAP since its founding, designed the organization’s logo and worked with Engelstad to design MAP’s website. Program Associate Matthew Horton helps with everything from social media to the production of Dallas projects. Artists lead the various projects. It can be a project that an artist or teams of artists have conceived of, or one that is initiated by MAP. “And our funders are also a part of our team. We all come together and bring skills and strengths to accomplish things that we could never do alone.”

Janeil Engelstad with MAP Associate Director and artist Oto Hudec in front of installation of MAP megaphone project produced by youth at MAP residency at ARTMill Horažďovice, Czech Republic. Photo credit: Alex Katis

Janeil Engelstad with MAP Associate Director and artist Oto Hudec in front of installation of MAP megaphone project produced by youth at MAP residency at ARTMill Horažďovice, Czech Republic. Photo credit: Alex Katis

Engelstad and her teammates are doing just that. The dedicated individuals who make up Make Art with Purpose are changing the face of North Texas, literally, with amazing artwork that highlight social concerns. By bringing awareness to North Texas, MAP is creating positive change for all of us who live here.

(Click here to read my feature about Art Conspiracy.)







Dallas Summer Musicals President and Managing Director, Michael Jenkins. Photo credit: Dallas Summer Musicals

Michael Jenkins. Photo credit: Dallas Summer Musicals

Dallas Summer Musicals  has been delighting audiences of all ages since the Roosevelt administration—from its first production of Blossom Time at the Fair Park Band Shell in 1941 to the closing of its 75th season in July at the Music Hall at Fair Park, a tour of Pippin. And while entertaining has been significant to its longevity, DSM President and Managing Director Michael Jenkins knows that there is another component that has contributed to the organization’s success, a principle that was introduced in the 1940s by Charles Meeker, the first managing director of Dallas Summer Musicals. Having worked alongside Meeker in the 1950s, Jenkins has never forgotten this principle:

Customer service is not everything; customer service is the only thing.

“Those words have carried with me through my entire career,” Jenkins says with pride. “People loved Meeker, as I did. He really understood the theater business and he gave me a great deal of opportunity that I would never have had.”

Jenkins developed an early interest in the world of musical theater, including investing in it. At 14 he was hired as an usher at the Music Hall. At 17, he was promoted to Meeker’s assistant. One day while in Meeker’s office he spotted an ad seeking investors for a new Broadway show. He had a hunch, so he spent the summer working three jobs to earn the $5,000 he needed to invest.

“That summer I worked from 6 a.m. to noon mowing lawns, then Meeker took me over to the Cotton Bowl to paint numbers on the seats and then I’d help out in his office.”

Impressed with her son’s perseverance, Jenkins’ mother loaned him the additional $2,800 he needed, when he fell short of his goal. The show, My Fair Lady, was a hit and so were the returns. With his earnings he bought his mother a new car, studied theater design at Baylor University in Waco and architecture under Ray Hoeiben.

That initiative has paid off for him and for Dallas Summer Musicals. Across seven decades, DSM has become the largest producer of live theater in the Southwest and a recipient of numerous honors, including some two-dozen Tony Awards due to Jenkins’ increasing role as a Broadway producer.

As DSM begins its 76th season this week with The Sound of Music, directed by three-time Tony Award winner Jack O’Brien, lets look back at some of its remarkable 75-year history through the eyes of Jenkins, who is remarkably only the third leader of the organization and has had some kind of involvement under the previous two.

The new tour of The Sound of Music opens Dallas Summer Musicals' 76th season. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

The new tour of The Sound of Music opens Dallas Summer Musicals’ 76th season. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

The callback that came 30 years later

In 1993 Jenkins was working in Europe when out of the blue he got a call from Don Spies, Board Chairman of Dallas Summer Musicals. “He told me Tom Hughes [DSM’s managing director from 1962 to 1993], had passed away and they were having some difficulties.” Spies asked Jenkins if he could return to Dallas immediately. Having stayed connected to the summer musicals as a member of the executive committee, Jenkins got back to Dallas as soon as he could.

On his return, he headed to the Music Hall office for a meeting with the board. Within minutes they told him that the union contracts had expired and there were no shows. “I’ll never forget my dear friend Charles Pistor saying to me, you’re the only one who knows how to do these shows, you have to do this.”

At the time Jenkins was managing 17 projects at Leisure and Recreational Concepts (LARC), a successful design and consulting firm for theme and waterparks he founded in 1971. When he realized the musicals might close, Jenkins stepped up. After all, this is where he’d gotten his first job.

“I said I’ll do it for one year.”

Now with two full-time careers to manage, he returned to the Music Hall office with assistant Wanda Crow and the two got to work, first working on some very unorganized files. When Jenkins discovered a box of complaint letters in a hall closet he vowed to answer each one.

At the time he was raising three small children alone and even with a busy travel schedule, he made it a priority to be home every evening. So he took six of the complaint letters home each night, read them, and then called the people who wrote them. One night, one of the women he called shared something that prompted him to make some changes to the areas surrounding the Music Hall.

She told Jenkins that she loved coming to the theater, but when her husband passed away, she was afraid to go alone. He thanked her and invited her to return. Then he got to work.

That first year he had the security guards dress in red jackets and he put them on horseback in the parking lots. “Red jackets so they could be seen, on horseback so they could see,” he says.

“And from my life at Six Flags, I put twinkle lights on the trees, and a guest relations attendant to open the door for her, what we call a blue jacket.” Jenkins also hung large lights in the parking lots. The woman did return and later she told Jenkins that she felt secure and thanked him for inviting her back.

What she didn’t know, Jenkins admits, was that there were actually two less security guards on the grounds than before, but instead of dark blue jackets, red jackets up high, where they could be seen. From then on ticket sales began to rise.

From the top

In the early 1940s the summer musicals were held at Fair Park’s Band Shell under the name Opera Under the Stars. The first show was an operetta inspired by Franz Schubert titled, Blossom Time. Crowds, dressed in their Sunday best, came out like the stars to enjoy the live musical productions. The season was a hit and so were the ones that followed.

“In those days people came out to see the show dressed up in long sleeves and ties, no matter how warm it got,” Jenkins fondly recalls.

Realizing they were on to something, in 1944 the State Fair Association hired show business legend Charles Meeker to be the summer program’s first full-time Executive Director. A native of West Virginia and graduate of Southern Methodist University, Meeker had stayed in the area honing his show business skills. The summer musicals, now non-profit, also acquired a new name: Starlight Operettas.

Charles Meeker

Charles Meeker. Photo credit: Dallas Summer Musicals

Once on board, Meeker made technological changes to the Band Shell, including a moving platform system. And after persuading Mary Martin and her national tour of Annie Get Your Gun to come to town in 1947, it was clear, his “star system” was a success, attracting big names and setting box office records.

In 1951 Meeker moved the musicals into the newly air-conditioned Music Hall, making audiences happier and more comfortable. Because the shows were now inside, he was able to create further innovations to stage shows. Then the summer program was renamed again to The State Fair Musicals. The next year Meeker revived Porgy and Bess, George Gershwin’s opera featuring an all black cast, on the Music Hall stage. It was quite a risk in those days, but audiences loved it. The opera toured worldwide, and the performance put Dallas on the map as a real musical theater contender.

Throughout the 1950s Meeker brought big stars to the Music Hall, including Debbie Reynolds, Jose Ferrer, Gisele MacKenzie, Jeanette McDonald, Jack Benny and Judy Garland.

Then in 1961, he left State Fair Musicals to produce shows at the new Six Flags Over Texas. When he left, he took Jenkins with him.

“I was always interested in stage design, not in being an actor,” Jenkins says. “When Meeker left I was studying architecture and that took me to Six Flags with him.”

There, they created all the shows. Meeker trained the staff and created a program that had no employees, only hosts and hostesses and no customers, only guests. A program Jenkins would implement when he returned to Dallas Summer Musicals.

“It was very effective,” Jenkins says.

They called him Mr. Summer Musicals

In 1955 Dallas native Tom Hughes headed for New York hoping to launch an acting career but when it was clear that was not going to happen, he returned to Dallas and began working as Meeker’s assistant at the State Fair Musicals. With the experience he had gained staging shows in high school, at Denton’s North Texas State University, and in Japan during the Korean War, Hughes knew he was back where he belonged.

As he learned the ropes, he was promoted to the Music Hall’s house manager and replaced Meeker as managing director when he left for Six Flags. The summer musicals split from the State Fair of Texas that year and became an independent non-profit organization, called Dallas Summer Musicals.

During the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, under Hughes’ leadership, several shows were produced by DSM and toured nationally, including Peter Pan starring Sandy Duncan, and Hello, Dolly! starring Carol Channing. Other stars that graced the Music Hall stage during his tenure were Pearl Bailey, Angela Landsbury, Rock Hudson, Carol Burnett, Gene Kelly and Tommy Tune.

“Tom loved the theater and loved to go to New York to audition the actors,” Jenkins recalls. “He would rent a place at the Plaza (Hotel), bring in a grand piano and sit for days auditioning them for new shows coming to Dallas.”

Throughout his 30 years with the Dallas Summer Musicals, Hughes developed into one of the most successful musical theater producers in the country.

Tom Hughes. Photo credit: Dallas Summer Musicals

Tom Hughes. Photo credit: Dallas Summer Musicals

Places everyone

“When I came back there were no shows and not to take anything away from Tommy, he produced several shows, but quite honestly there weren’t that many national tours at that time,” recalls Jenkins.

The price today to tour and to produce a show is very expensive. According to Jenkins, it costs between $12 and 15 million to put a show on Broadway and about $1 million per week to bring a show to Dallas from New York.

“There are 17 unions on Broadway,” he reports. “When you buy a ticket, when someone scans your ticket, and when someone hands you a playbill—you’ve already dealt with three of those unions and you’re not even to your seat.”

DSM stopped producing shows for a while but now they’re back in business: In 2014 it was The Little Mermaid (returning in 2016), in 2015 it was The King and I.

Major investments in Broadway shows are how Jenkins secures them for the Dallas market. As a producer, Jenkins’ 135th show on Broadway, An American in Paris, won four of the 12 Tonys it was nominated for. The tour will come to DSM in 2017.

When it comes to promoting DMS produced shows, Jenkins’ system, he says, is similar to the NFL football draft.

“I remember Jekyll and Hyde (1995) had gone to Tempe, Arizona but they didn’t really want it,” he chuckles. “But they were trying to fill their season so I called them up and they told me they wanted Cinderella and Singin’ in the Rain. So I said, ok I’ll give you Cinderella and Singin’ in the Rain in a future season if you take Jekyll and Hyde this season.”

“So that’s how I got that show and the same with Stage Door Charlie with Tommy Tune and several others, so if was kind of like the draft, and we eventually produced and toured Singin’ in the Rain, so that’s how it all got started.”

More hats

Jenkins’ role as DSM’s President and Managing Director doesn’t stop here. He also manages the Music Hall, the Majestic Theatre for the City of Dallas, and negotiates DSM-produced tours with others cities. He also oversees the DSM’s Academy of Performing Arts as well as some of the other community outreach programs associated with Dallas Summer Musicals, which includes bringing younger audiences to the Music Hall, many for the very first time.

“Bringing more than 2,000 children into the theatre every year, who have never seen a live theatre production is one of my greatest thrills.”

In 2014, Jenkins formed a partnership with Performing Arts Fort Worth, bringing the best of Broadway not only to Dallas but to Bass Performance Hall in Cowtown.

“Since Dallas can get shows for two weeks and Fort Worth for only one week, sometimes the one-week venues have to wait a year or two before they can get the bigger shows,” he says. “But by partnering with DSM, Fort Worth is able to get the bigger shows sooner. And from DSM’s point of view, we can market our shows together in the various publications for both cities. This is an extreme advantage.”

It’s become especially strategic since a third presenter of Broadway tours arrived in North Texas when the AT&T Performing Arts Center opened in 2009, and often bids against DSM for the tours.

Performing Arts Fort Worth President and CEO, Dione Kennedy, couldn’t agree more. Kennedy, who has known Jenkins for years, took over the reigns at Bass Hall in early 2009 after serving 18 years as President and CEO of Dayton, Ohio’s Victoria Theatre Association and the Arts Center Foundation. She and Jenkins are both members of the Broadway League as well as Tony Award voters.

“Right now it’s working really well,” Kennedy says. “The two organizations are saving money by pooling their marketing efforts. Presenting live musical theater is challenging when there is less product, as shows have become more expensive.”

“Michael is an incredible force who’s made a mark on the industry,” she adds. “He’s one of those people who help insure that there is new product coming along because creating new shows is critical on Broadway and Broadway on the road. I have complete trust and faith in him.”

Kennedy also believes that customer service is the only thing, and says that Fort Worth patrons are pleased with the partnership. “They love the idea of two non-profit organizations working together for the betterment of both.”

Another showman who has also collaborated with Jenkins on several business projects, and starred on Broadway and at Fair Park Music Hall, is former Olympic gymnast and Tony Award nominee, Cathy Rigby. She’s best known for her role as Peter Pan.

“He’s a pro and that is a given within the theater community,” Rigby says. “The shows he produces in Dallas have the same quality as the shows he produces on Broadway.”

Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan. Photo credit: Craig Schwartz

Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan. Photo credit: Craig Schwartz

The secret of his success

So how does he manage two very demanding and successful careers?

“When you surround yourself with better people you make your life easier,” says Jenkins. “I’ve seen situations where people would hire employees so they would always be on top, the king, so to speak. But I’ve never believed in that. I believe in hiring people much better than myself.”

While he is very involved with DSM’s operations, Jenkins gives his team freedom and flexibility to do their jobs, and says that 99 percent of the time they exceed all expectations. “I think that creates loyalty. So I am very proud of our team, our DSM family.”

And that kind of loyalty, which works both ways, includes the Music Hall ushers and a certain fountain on the lower level of Fair Park Music Hall.

A few years ago an usher told Jenkins that he was convinced his job would be the best job he was ever going to have. But Jenkins told him no, that he would go to college, get an education and a better job. The usher, knowing he could not afford it, was convinced it would never happen.

But the young man was given a scholarship from the coins dropped by patrons into the white, circular fountain in the Music Hall.

“We sent him to Oberlin College and he’s the youngest oboe player in the Memphis Symphony today. “It all started from that fountain, which yields between 8 and 13 thousand dollars a year.”

Two Americans in Paris

One night in 1959 Meeker had put Jenkins in charge of assisting legendary actor Maurice Chevalier, who was preparing for his show in his dressing room on a rainy Monday night. When Jenkins suggested he turn down the lights and close the doors of the Music Hall in preparation for the entertainer’s first number, Chevalier said “no,” that the people would be late making their way through the rain. “It’s the audience that is important, not me.” He repeated it, as he gently guided Jenkins to a seat by placing his right hand on his left shoulder. This was truly a defining moment for young Jenkins.

And then it happened again, nearly 39 years later when Jenkins and his wife Wendy were walking down the main street of Paris. It was a Monday evening and suddenly, it began to pour down rain. They quickly headed for cover under the red canopy of a café, and then ducked inside hoping to find a table.

Jenkins told the maître d’ they did not have a reservation but because it was raining they were hoping they could get a table. The maître d’ told the couple the only table he had open was a bankett, so they gladly took it. At the time, Wendy had an issue with back pain, so she sat on the outside of the booth facing Jenkins, and, happy to oblige his wife, he sat with his back against the wall. Suddenly Wendy said to her husband, “You’re not going to believe this, look over your right shoulder.” When he did, he saw a plaque on the wall that read: “This was the personal table of Maurice Chevalier.”

The 2015 tour of Pippin was shared by Dallas Summer Musicals and Performing Arts Fort Worth. Photo credit: Terry Shapiro

The 2015 tour of Pippin was shared by Dallas Summer Musicals and Performing Arts Fort Worth. Photo credit: Terry Shapiro

Some things never change

Something that continues to inspire Jenkins is seeing young children mesmerized by what they see on the stage. Perhaps they remind him of his own childhood, of attending musicals with his mother or riding the streetcar to Fair Park to watch the performers rehearse at the Band Shell from high atop the Ferris wheel.

And while new technologies in scenery and lighting are changing the way theater is presented and experienced—something that also inspires Jenkins—he still remains focused on the component that has been important throughout his entire career: taking care of his customers.

“Every time someone comes through the doors of the Music Hall, it’s like we are inviting them into our home and we want to treat them as good as we can. Sometimes we don’t get it right but we try to fix it. Without the customer we’re out of business.”

(This feature is also published on Theater Jones. Click here to view it there and to read more news about the Dallas performing arts scene.)



Bart Weiss. Photo by Robert Hart. Courtesy of Theater Jones

Bart Weiss. Photo credit: Robert Hart/Theater Jones

DALLAS: What do Bart Weiss, co-founder of Dallas VideoFest, and a polka band have in common?

A lot.

Let me explain. When Weiss arrived for our interview in Oak Cliff to talk about his background and the 28th annual VideoFest, which runs Oct. 12-18, he asked me about my drive down from Denton. Having been reminded of Denton, he began talking about a well-known polka band based there: Brave Combo, a Grammy-winning polka/rock/world beat band—and self-described “nuclear polka”—that has been part of the North Texas music scene for more than 35 years.

“I’ve known about the band almost as long as I’ve been in Dallas,” Weiss says. “They take all these songs and play them up-tempo and they attract a lot of people. They are really reviving the art form and keeping it alive.”

When he asked the band if they had ever had a film made about them, their response was “no.” He thought there was something wonderful about them so he said, “Let’s do it.” Now, Weiss has nearly 75 hours of performance footage of the band and is working on a documentary about them.

“When the group formed they could make money selling records. But now they have to survive on touring, these guys are not young and are constantly on the road. It could go away easily.”

“This is one little part of everything else I do,” Weiss says, modestly.

That’s an understatement, considering that like Brave Combo, Weiss is never lacking for things to do. When he’s not producing, programming, teaching or involved in some aspect of filmmaking, he’s spreading his infectious love for film wherever he can.

Bravo Combo. Photo credit: Jane Finch

Bravo Combo. Photo credit: Jane Finch

How he got his (film) groove on

Weiss grew up in Philadelphia and chose Beloit College in Beloit, Wis. to study psychology. Being a quiet town, he soon discovered that Beloit had a flourishing film society that showed two films every night. He went as often as he could.

“These were films that I’d never seen before—foreign films, independent films—a totally new world for me,” he admits. Then one night someone in the dorm was showing experimental films and projecting them onto the dorm room walls. The films were like nothing he had ever seen before and he thought, “this film world should be really fun.”

When he had taken every film class that Beloit offered, he knew he wanted more. So he returned to the city of brotherly love and enrolled at Temple University, which had a reputable film department. There he earned a BA.

Weiss says his family was totally supportive of his desire to study filmmaking.

“My father’s idea of a good movie was a James Bond film,” he chuckles. “But my mother was more into the arts so she understood a bit more. They significantly helped me through graduate school, and going to graduate school at a relatively young age (right out of college) allowed me to teach as I was developing all the other things that I was doing.”

Next, Weiss studied documentary and narrative film making at Columbia University and earned an MFA in Film Directing in 1978.

After Columbia he began teaching at Manhattan College and College of Mount Saint Vincent. “I realized teaching was a really good thing, something I could do very well, and it’s remained very much a part of my life,” says Weiss, who teaches film at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Three pillars

Everything he does professionally comes from one core philosophical point of view: “The world can be changed by people watching good films.”

To him, film is an important medium because films have a transformative quality. Movies can cause audiences to have empathy for people they don’t know, help them understand things they don’t, and alter their moods.

There are three pillars in Weiss’ life that support this viewpoint: Running VideoFest, teaching aspiring want-to-be filmmakers, and making his own work.

“I want to teach people how to have a positive impact,” he says. “I want to show films that present different ways of dealing with the world and I make films as well.” The security of teaching allows him to pursue all of his passions with the sense of vigor that he might not otherwise be able to.

Photo credit: Google photos

Photo credit: Google images

In 1979, Weiss was offered his first tenure-track position at Charleston State College in Charleston, W. V. After a couple of years, he realized that he wanted more from his life and his work. So when he told a colleague, Don Pasquella, that he was ready for a change, Pasquella told him he had a job for him, teaching at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas.

At the time Pasquella was the head of SMU’s film program. While it wasn’t a tenure-track job, he told Weiss the position could be become one after he started teaching. So in 1981, Weiss gathered up his possessions and drove down to Texas. He excelled at his craft at SMU, but the tenure-track job never came and within two years he was without a teaching job. The quality of his work at SMU was validated in 2002, when one of his students, John Davis, was nominated for an Academy Award for his work in Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.

The video bar scene

“One of the great things about being in Dallas is that opportunities are everywhere if you look for them,” Weiss says.

One night while having dinner in a restaurant, a man struck up a conversation with him about how popular music videos had become in New York nightclubs.

“So he called me up, while I was still at SMU and said: ‘I just got this place on lower Greenville and I could either turn it into a gym or do that video club thing we were talking about. Do you want to do that?’” Weiss said yes and began working at On the Air in 1983.

It was a small place with a large TV screen in the front, and a DJ booth upstairs. In no time, the club became very popular. People would show up before and after going to other places.

“It was one of the few totally integrated clubs in Dallas, meaning: black, white, Latino straight, gay—every kind of people. It was an amazing place,” Weiss recalls.

Now that he was in the music business, he soon discovered that every major record label had an office in Dallas. So once a week he would go over to Warner-Electra-Atlantic, Polygram, and CBS records and ask for the latest VHS or Beta hi-fi copy of their music.

“We always had the newest material for all these records. People would dance to Devo, Talking Heads, and Michael Jackson videos. This was a big deal, a major cultural force.”


Michael Jackson's Thriller. Photo credit: Google images

Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Photo credit: Google images

To add to the club’s music video collection, Weiss would take the 7-minute records and 3-minute videos and re-edit them to make dance versions. If a piece of music didn’t have a video, he would shoot one and reedit and recut it so people could dance to it.

As far as he knows, Weiss and his crew were the first DJs in Dallas to do record scratching. They also had VHS Beta decks wired through cable that allowed them to switch live and play images from all over. It was an incredible experience, he says.

Weiss had come from a long established tradition of making film, where you work on it a long time, and when it was finished, you had a print.

“At the club, I could easily cut a video to make it quicker or slower and then watch the audience’s response. It was like a gift to get a really difference sense of audience. Most filmmakers never get to do that, so it worked out really well,” Weiss says.

Weiss as a video columnist

When On the Air closed its doors, Weiss helped open The Video Bar in Deep Elum. While he worked there he met a lot of people, including writers for the Dallas Morning News (DMN).

“One day I said to one of the DMN writers, it would be nice to write a story about music videos and she said ‘good, work on it.’ ”

He was working on it when he got a call from the same woman, Ellen Kampinsky, now Senior Editor at Glamour Magazine, asking him if he would like to write a regular column on music videos.

“I’m not a good writer, it’s a struggle for me, too much ADD to focus to write well,” he laughs. “Ellen worked with me for about a month and helped develop me into an almost acceptable writer.”

Photo credit: Googles images

Photo credit: Googles images

Then came budget cuts.

Next, he literally went across the street, to the Dallas Times Herald, and they picked up his column. At about a month into it, Weiss discovered an emerging new home video business and told his editor he wanted to write a column about what was new in music video. So he would find out what was renting and selling and in his column, list what was popular.

Then came more budget cuts.

Next, he traveled to New York and sold his column idea to United Features Syndicate and that worked well for a year and a half.

“I was in hundreds and hundreds of newspapers and paid $50 per week,” he chuckles. “My column was included in these slick packets filled with horoscopes, ads and all kinds of junk that went out with a lot of newspapers.”

“That was an exciting time in my life when I was writing.”

While he was writing, Weiss continued to teach part-time at the University of Texas at Dallas, Northlake Community College, the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Texas at Austin.

The birth of VideoFest

One day, John Held, a friend who managed an alternative gallery in town, asked Weiss if he would like to produce a video art program at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA). It sounded like a great idea to him, so they created an event called Video as a Creative Medium. It was a two-night event that showcased local and international work and it attracted a lot of people.

“It went way better than we had expected,” Weiss admits.

Yes, the event went better in more ways than one because during one of the two evenings, he met the woman who is now his wife, Susan Teegardin. Little did she know, the next year she would be working side-by-side with him on the first Dallas Video Festival.

Later when Held and Weiss met with Elizabeth Berry back at the DMA to discuss further plans, Held decided he was not interested in doing more. Suddenly, Weiss had an idea. “What if we do a video festival for four days? Berry said yes and instantly became the festival’s co-founder. “When do you want to do it?”

They looked at the calendar and scheduled the festival over four days in the fall of 1987.

“I had no idea what I was doing but there were a few things that I did know.”

One of which was to get a good video projector. Good projection was a challenge at that time and very expensive. Luckily, he had a contact in Las Colinas who owned a high quality projector. They made a deal and he had his projector.

Next he had to get the word out.

“I was still writing for the Dallas Times Herald, so I called the programmer at the USA Film Festival and asked how much they charge for an ad. He told me ‘$650 for a full page.’ ”

Then he called his contact at Warner Home Video and told him about the festival and sold him an ad for $650. Weiss sold three ads that day and had the funding to pay the festival’s projectionist and from there, he found interesting works and created the programs. He’s been producing the evolving festival ever since. Weiss never sold another ad beyond the first festival. As the festival’s programmer, it could be a perceived as a conflict of interest.

The nitty gritty about film and video

In 1987, there was an incredible difference between film and video, says Weiss.

“Right now people use the terms interchangeably, back then there was a lot of difference. Video was inexpensive and people were doing edgier documentaries. Artists (music, painting, sculpture) were using it but there were very few places to have their videos screened. Film festivals out there were screening films and did not know how to show video.”

At the time, other video festivals around the country were aimed at small niche audiences, but Weiss’ reach was broader, hoping to attract a more diverse audience. So it was important to have good projection, a classy program and good design elements. As a result, people responded positively.

He also had this idea: instead of individual tickets for each program, they would sell day and full festival passes.

Photo credit: DallasVideoFest.com

Photo credit: DallasVideoFest.com

“I wanted people to come because of a film connected to a political or a social issue or a cultural identity issue they are interested in. But my hope was that they would come to see a particular program, then wander around and find other things to see that were interesting.”

Over the years Dallas VideoFest has covered a large body of work including the history of video art and documentaries, just in terms of media. And each year they have programs about how media affects all of us. Weiss believes it’s important to understand the media’s role in our lives.

At this year’s festival, one of the films that will be screened is called The Brainwashing of my Dad, directed by Jen Senko. It’s about her father, who starts watching Fox News and listening to Rush Limbaugh. She soon notices a change in him. The film covers the history of how right wing media has evolved.

Weiss says we are at the intersection of art and technology and as different technology emerges, he wants to showcase the many ways art can be made from it, from video walls to virtual reality, to high definition.

“We do show films like other festivals, but there is a total difference in what we do…every year we drastically try to change and do something we’ve never done before,” Weiss says. “I tell my board, if there isn’t a possibility of failing I’m not interested in doing it.”

He is serious about that.

A triple hit

This year Weiss has included two new works that he says are radical. Last year, The Lodger, a 1927 silent Hitchcock film was set to a musical score performed by the Dallas Chamber Symphony. This year they’ve added a third dimension: dance.

On opening night, VideoFest will present the 1927 silent film, Metropolis, along with an original musical score by composer Brian Satterwhite and again performed by the Dallas Chamber Symphony. Making this a triple collaboration is dance, choreographed by Christopher Dolder and presented by SMU’s Meadows Dance Ensemble. The dancers will perform on two platforms at the Dallas City Performance Hall while the film rolls and the musicians play.

Photo credit: DallasVideoFest.com

Photo credit: DallasVideoFest.com

Dallas Chamber Symphony Artistic Director Richard McKay is very excited about this year’s alliance.

“What’s so special about the program is that we are pioneering a new day of digital collaboration,” McKay says. “We’ve created a cohesive experience between film, music and dance so nothing seems separate. And working with Bart, who is an expert in silent film, makes this a wonderful partnership. He is great working with people and a good influence on all of us.”

That’s the number one new thing. The number two new thing happens during the weekend evening programs of the festival. Before each of the film screenings, percussionists, poets, and performance artists will perform. The purpose, Weiss says, is to bring the entire artistic community into the festival.

There’s something about Big D

Like most things in his life, producing a television show for KERA was not something he sought out or planned to do. But friends at the station suggested he create a show, called Frame of Mind, which features independent films produced by Texas-based professional filmmakers. So he did. And a few years later, when both producers left the show, he in 1995, he became the sole producer.

“It started out being on the air once a month, then once a quarter, then whenever I had time. Then last year we got together and made this a real TV show with a regular season.”

It’s incredible he says, that someone who doesn’t work for KERA is able to program for the station.

“There is something about the Dallas community that will let me do this and it’s really rare,” Weiss admits. “Most cities, most film festivals don’t talk to each other or help each other.”

Weiss serves on festival juries (watching and evaluating films), and does Q&As in Dallas and beyond. This year he worked with the McKinney Classic Film Festival and the Asian Film Festival of Dallas as well as many others.

“He a funny guy,” says Alicia Chang, Executive Director of the Asian Film Festival. She serves on the board of the Video Association of Dallas, which Weiss is president of. The two support and help each other. “He has so many interests and projects he’s involved with and still offers to help each year. He’s what you think of when you think of an artist—extremely passionate and cares about people.”

“It’s the personalities within the art community,” Weiss says. And in the same vein, people who teach film and video work together. Whether it’s SMU or UTA or UNT. “There’s a real spirit of cooperation.”

Downtown Dallas. Photo credit: Googles images

Downtown Dallas. Photo credit: Googles images

Finding a home at UTA

Weiss joined the film program at the University of Texas at Arlington 17 years ago. It’s a place, he claims, where students don’t make student films, they are students making films.

“We don’t let our students make films that don’t mean anything or don’t have the potential to change the world. We are really hard on our students, if they bring something in and it isn’t right, they do it and again and again.”
Most of his students don’t come from privileged backgrounds. Many are first generation college students, so making it in the film business is a really big deal, Weiss says. “Sometimes it’s fighting their parents to let them do this.”

As we were wrapping our interview, he tells me a story about a student named Iris Lopez. Having made some nice films in his media class, he asked her if she had shown them to her father. She said her father was not interested and didn’t support her decision to study filmmaking. In her next class with him, she made a beautiful Spanish film about two kids who were broke and hard up. At the film’s screening, Weiss was facilitating a Q&A and said, “I understand there is someone special here tonight.” Iris responded, “Yes, my father,” then motioned to the back of the theater where he was seated. Unexpectedly, her father stood up and in front of everyone, told her how proud he was of her. In that moment, the entire dynamic of their relationship changed.

“We do things like that at UTA,” he said as he wiped the tears from his eyes.

Bart Weiss believes that the world can be changed by people watching good films, whether they’re about the media or a polka band.

Listening to him passionately speak about his life’s love, there’s no doubting that he’s right.

For information about the more than 200 films that will be screened during the festival beginning Oct. 13, click here.


Photo credit: Google images

Photo credit: Google images

The Brainwashing of My Dad
This feature is also published on Theater Jones. Click here to view along with full coverage of the festival.



Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Photo courtesy of McKinney Classic Film Festival

“Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”. Photo courtesy of mckinneyclassicfilm.com

MCKINNEY, TX: Dena Hill, founding director of this coming weekend’s inaugural McKinney Classic Film Festival, has been passionate about preserving and sharing classic films since she can remember.

“This is a life long dream for me,” Hill says. “This brings back all those happy memories of times when my parents and I watched films together, and I want to promote that.”

Together, Hill, a journalist and arts and entertainment writer with a background in theater, and executive producer, actor and lawyer Bert Pigg, are excited about bringing the classic film festival to McKinney’s Performing Arts Center.

McKinney Classic Film Festival Founder and Director: Dena Hill. Photo courtesy MCFF

Dena Hill

The McKinney Classic Film Festival begins Friday, September 11 at the McKinney Performing Arts Center at 111 N. Tennessee Street and runs through Sunday, September 13. A total of five classic black and white films that span the 1930s to the 1960s, will be screened throughout the festival.

“I think it’s important to preserve the legacy of classic films,” Pigg says. “Current films own much to classic film and modern audiences don’t understand that.”

The five films that will be screened are: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Inherit the Wind (1960), 12 Angry Men (1957), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), and Adam’s Rib (1949). The films connecting theme – the issue of justice – is more than fitting, when you consider that the McKinney Performing Arts Center is located inside the Historic Collin County Courthouse. The theme is also one that we can all relate to on a human level.

McKinney Classic Film Festival Executive Director: Bert Pigg. Photo courtesy MCFF

Bert Pigg

“We thought for the first festival, justice would be the perfect theme,” Pigg says. “It’s a way to honor the Performing Arts Center since it was a courthouse for many years. It’s a beautiful building. What a great way to preserve it rather than turning it into restaurants or tear it down.”

Hill admits that they hope to create a family friendly trip back in time.

“Going to the movies used to be an event. People used to dress-up. We want to recreate that.”

“We want to create a community and build something special for people who love classic films. I hope we get 16-years-olds who say, ‘Wow I didn’t know there was a big to do about evolution and wow that Spencer Tracy is a really good actor.’”

The festival’s inaugural guest of honor will be Mary Badham who portrayed “Scout” in the 1962 film To Kill A Mockingbird. Badham will discuss her career and life during an onstage interview prior to the evening’s screening of the movie on Saturday evening, Sept. 12.

“Mary will walk the red carpet, then there will be a pre-show and VIP reception with her,” Hill says with excitement in her voice. “Anyone can come and walk the red carpet and have their picture taken!”

To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo courtesy of McKinney Classic Film Festival

“To Kill a Mockingbird”. Photo courtesy of mckinneyclassicfilm.com

And, there’s a closing party after Adam’s Rib on Sunday with the McKinney Community Band playing music from the eras the films were made.

“We’ve encouraged people to dress up, in 1920s glamour style, Hollywood style, or in other ways that they would like!”

McKinney is #1 on the list of Best Places to Live in America, (Money Magazine) and is located 30 miles north of Dallas and is the county seat of Collin County.

“We’re getting support from locals putting our posters in their windows,” Hills, who also lives in McKinney, says. “The concessions are all provided by local vendors and businesses on the square are very supportive. People in the community are very excited.”

Pigg says there are two things that set the McKinney Classic Film Festival apart from other film festivals: there are no other classic film festivals in North Texas and the film selections are based on genres. Hill and Pigg have already selected net year’s genre – screwball comedies.

“We’ve got to see how this year goes,” Pigg says. “We’re not trying to become TCM but we want a base hit. If we get that, maybe next year we’ll hit another. So we’ll see what works, what doesn’t, and what can we do better because it’s a learning process.”

Pigg adds that if this year’s festival is successful, he’d like to add an educational element, perhaps an hour session on what screwball comedy is, for example.

12 Angry Men. Photo courtesy of McKinney Classic Film Festival

“12 Angry Men”. Photo courtesy of mckinneyclassicfilm.com

So this weekend, let’s go back in time to a special place and watch some great classic films. Let’s go to the McKinney Classic Film Festival. For tickets, screening times and directions, please click here.

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