Franci Neely, Co-Founder of Houston Cinema Arts Society, Gears Up for HCAF 2022

It will be a November to remember for Franci Neely and cinephile Houstonites: Neely, who heads up the Houston Cinema Arts Society, is counting down the days to the 14th Annual Houston Cinema Arts Festival. The popcorn will be plentiful: HCAF 2022 is slated to take place Nov. 10-17 and feature more than 60 films. The festival is so hotly anticipated, it has more than once landed on MovieMaker magazine’s The 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World list.

“Year after year, The Houston Cinema Arts Festival really invigorates and inspires the film community in Houston,” says Franci Neely. “I love watching the city come together to enjoy such a fascinating selection of films.”

Festivalgoers can enjoy a lineup of films centered around the diversity-rich culture of Houston including The Inspection, about the experience of a gay, Black man joining the Marines. There will be a highly anticipated showing of Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands, a documentary about the African American international singing star who became an inspiration for America’s civil rights movement. Other films that will be shown include a 25th anniversary screening of Selena, about the life of the late performer Selena Quintanilla, and the drama Women Talking, starring Rooney Mara, Frances McDormand, and Claire Foy portraying women attempting to survive in an oppressive religious community. The festival also promises to push cultural barriers, highlighting documentaries such as Sirens, which offers a front-row seat to see the Middle East’s first female heavy metal band, Slave to Sirens, whose founding members happen to be lesbians.

Neely has confided that, in past years, a few of her festival favorites include the documentaries Dior and I and Art and Craft — about art forger Mark Landis — and City of Your Final Destination, starring Anthony Hopkins and Laura Linney and directed by James Ivory.

There will also be virtual festival opportunities for those who can’t travel to Houston for the event, including short films that spotlight Houston, an Environmental Shorts Program, and Object Permanence: An Experimental Shorts Program.

HCAF is the brainchild of former Mayor Bill White, who asked Franci Neely to head a task force to build up the film industry in Houston. As a result, the Houston Cinema Arts Society was officially formed in 2008. Franci Neely says one of her latest contributions was a challenge grant to the Houston Cinema Arts Society that was rapidly matched.

The Stars Come Out for the Houston Cinema Arts Festival

In previous years, the festival has hosted stars such as Shirley MacLaine, Robert Redford, Tilda Swinton, Ethan Hawke, John Turturro, Isabella Rossellini, and many, many others.

If Neely and the Houston Cinema Arts Society have their way, even more stars will flock to the Lone Star State to make buzzy feature films. Box office hits like Terms of Endearment, Reality Bites, Urban Cowboy, Pearl Harbor, RoboCop 2, and Armageddon are just some of the many movies that were shot entirely or partially in Houston.

Houston has also been in the headlines lately for the film Conception, about a couple struggling to conceive. According to Fox 26 Houston, the film was fully shot in the city. “You can make a whole film here without leaving the Houston city limits,” Jena Moreno, co-owner of Houston-based production company The Storyhive, told Fox 26 Houston.

HCAS’ website,, states that this year’s film festival will feature the return of CineSpace, an annual short film competition in collaboration with NASA, and the return of regional short film competition Borders | No Borders. shares that Borders | No Borders is returning “for the third year to celebrate the rich narratives of the South,” adding that “Borders | No Borders invites residents of Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Mexico, as well as filmmakers with meaningful ties to these areas, to submit narrative and documentary short films.”

In addition, HCAF will present the third annual Black Media Story Summit, a collaboration with Black Public Media and the Austin Film Society. This all-day conference provides a vital networking and education opportunity for Houston-area content creators. This year, filmmakers, activists, community organizers, and stakeholders will meet to share information on ideas on how to address the impact climate change is having on Black and other communities of color.

Franci Neely: HCAF 2022 Is More Than Just Films

Franci Neely told Houston Business Journal that a “huge misconception about the festival is that it only showcases films,” especially since the event features live performances, celebrity appearances, and other original programming.

This year, the main attraction will have a slightly different vibe.

 The Houston Chronicle reported that artistic director Jessica Green, who had been with the festival since 2019, left in August. While the quest for a new artistic director remains underway, Austin Film Society programmer Jazmyne Moreno helped assemble this year’s Houston Cinema Arts Festival film schedule.

“It was so great to have this opportunity to program for an audience that’s incredibly different [from Austin],” Moreno said during a phone interview with The Houston Chronicle. “And I wanted to reflect that in the programming and reflect all of those diverse interests and to showcase the full range of Houston. It’s multicultural, it’s queer, it’s young, it’s mature, and it’s money.”

Franci Neely on Why the Arts Matter More Now Than Ever Before

While Franci Neely continues to support the arts in a variety of ways, she says COVID-19 made her realize just how much of an impact the arts have on everyone’s lives.

“Living in the time of pandemic taught us a great deal,” Neely says. “The arts community learned how to reach broader and more diverse audiences through streamed performances and curated tours and lectures. Those will continue even as we again experience the electricity of live performances and up-close views of original works of art.”

Neely says she hopes her involvement with the Houston Cinema Arts Society will not only bring more support to the Houston Cinema Arts Festival, but also help solidify Houston as a major movie hub.

Neely has shared that she cherishes her lifelong fascination with the arts that sprouted when she was just a small child, and she fondly recalls penning her own plays and stories to perform for neighborhood children.