YOU HAVE SEEN THE FIFTH WARD. it appears in a standard photograph that accompanies stories about Houston. In the foreground there are miserable row houses, so peeling and dilapidated that they practically crumble before your eyes; in the background the gleaming, majestic skyscrapers of downtown loom over the pathetic houses and glisten against a clear sky. The photograph is intended to show the extremes of wealth and poverty that exist so close together in Houston.
The Fifth Ward is the subject (and the title) of a film written, produced, and directed by Nestor Gregory Carter, 31, that was entered recently in the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin and received generally positive reviews. Carter, who once lived in the Fifth Ward, risked $80,000 of his own money as well as $40,000 from investors to produce Fifth Ward, the first feature film from his company, Nexus Films. “Every time I got a paycheck,” Carter says, “I had to decide whether to buy film or buy food.” Actors worked for deferred salaries, and he still has to raise $80,000 to finish a 35mm print of the movie. Even so, he has been invited to show Fifth Ward in the Acapulco Black Film Festival in July. (“Plus,” he told me, “they’re going to pay my way to Acapulco!”)
While discussing what should be included in the package of articles about the Texas film industry that appears in this issue, I saw various films about Texas or set in Texas, but Fifth Ward was the one that I couldn’t get out of my mind. It has all the faults of a shoestring production by someone who is making his first film. The technical quality is erratic, and the acting, which is never completely polished, ranges from generally effective to incompetent. But Fifth Ward is genuine, the work of a green but talented man with a clear artistic perception. Its realism elbows its way into your consciousness and stays there.
Carter directly addresses one of the most controversial issues in black America—black