Rice Media Center to close Friday with film made in Houston



Cowboy (Sonny Carl Davis), legendary local hero and regular patron of “The Alamo”, a small Houston bar, flirts with Lisa (Amanda LaMar), in a scene from “Last Night at the Alamo”. From Cinecom International Films.

Photo: Cinéma International Films.

Brian Huberman is currently disappointed.

The longtime Rice University documentary filmmaker and film professor bids farewell to a building he has called his home base for years: Rice Media Center. “For me it’s a moment of mourning,” says Huberman. “I’m 72, you know. My involvement in all of this is starting to fade. It’s someone else’s job. I took care of it for 46 years. When the building dies, so do I.

After this weekend, the Center, which for five decades has been a premier destination in Houston for eclectic film programming – whether it’s indie films, foreign films, covers, or puzzles from avant-garde – will be closed for business and demolished by the end of the year. (Rice Cinema programming will continue, as future screenings will take place at Sewall Hall.)

The Center has had its problems over the years; Five years ago there was a mold problem that required renovation. Over the past three years, $ 800,000 in maintenance and repairs have been carried out. But the Center has continued not only as a repertory movie house, but as a place where students can learn more about the visual arts. He has also organized screenings for local festivals such as the Houston Cinema Arts Festival and QFest. “It was built as a temporary structure in 1970,” says Charles Dove, Rice Cinema programmer and professor of film studies, “so it’s remarkable that it lasted as long as it did.

On June 4, the Center will be released with a long-awaited bang. His last feature film will be “Last Night at the Alamo”, a 1983 low-budget black-and-white film made right here in Houston. It’s also a movie about the last business night at a Houston dive bar.

The Rice Media Center presented on Thursday April 1, 2021 in Houston will be replaced by a building dedicated to the visual and dramatic arts. Rice University has announced an expansion of its student body and campus. The physical expansion across the college’s 300 acres will include a 12th residential college, a new engineering building, a visual and dramatic arts building, and a new student center that will largely replace the Rice Memorial Center.

Photo: Melissa Phillip, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer

“Alamo” was scheduled to be screened in March last year, as part of the Centre’s 50th anniversary celebration. But that’s when COVID cases started to explode, forcing so many things – including the “Alamo” screening – to be called off. Said Colombe, “[The 35mm print has] been in a sealed plastic tub since last year when we got it.

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“Alamo” was directed by Eagle Pennell, the Houston-based independent filmmaker whose 1978 debut feature “The Whole Shootin ‘Match” has long been known to have inspired Robert Redford to launch the Sundance Film Festival. The man was a bit of a wild card, as Huberman, who was the director of photography for “Alamo”, can attest.

“It was not easy to work with him,” recalls Huberman. “He was an alcoholic. It wasn’t that bad then. It would be worse. “

Huberman says writer Kim Henkel (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) must have stepped in and finished the last two nights of filming when Pennell went on a bender. (Henkel will also be at the screening of “Alamo” for a question-and-answer session, with actor Sonny Carl Davis.)

“The last night at the Alamo”

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Or: Rice Media Center, 2030 University Blvd.

Details: Release; vada.rice.edu/riz-cinema

Nonetheless, Huberman will always remember Pennell (who died eight days before his 50th birthday in 2002) as a true maverick. “The films that Eagle made, this type of cinema, I think, is often overlooked and forgotten – a kind of independent voice in the wilderness,” he says. “Very often cinema centers are dominated on the east and west coasts by the east and west coasts. At least at that time, it was something that I think was pretty special. And it was great to be a part of it. “

The day after the “Alamo” screening, the Center will organize an open house (3pm to 6pm) where people can visit the facility one last time before it is locked. There may be designs for the new center, a building that reports will be operational in three years.

Still, it’s still a shame that another local arthouse institution – let’s not forget the much-publicized Landmark River Oaks formwork in March – is soon to disappear.

“I’m not overly happy with this,” Dove said, sounding just as mournful as Huberman. “I enjoyed working there. I think that’s the best possible situation, where they’re going to build us a new building, you know – a really good building – and it’s going to be some really good stuff in it. And I think it will work very well.


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