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Jack Attack: Superior bone structure and mad sex appeal couldn't stop Jack Kerouac from unraveling after the success of 'On the Road,' a process documented in 'One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Jack Kerouac's Big Sur.' Highlights of the film will be shown this Friday at the Santa Cruz Film Festival kickoff party.

Sneak Peek

The Santa Cruz Film Festival gets ready for its May shindig with a preview party.

By Traci Hukill

The film Ripple Effect is not like anything you'd expect to see coming out of Hollywood. Superb performances by Forest Whitaker, Minnie Driver and Virginia Madsen notwithstanding, it's an outsider's project. Writer/actor/director Philippe Caland's script, about a designer in the midst of a spiritual and marital crisis, explores themes of interconnectedness, forgiveness and karma with unabashed sincerity and at a human pace no big studio would tolerate. It seems to have been a labor of love for the three marquee actors, who signed on as the film's executive producers.

One can only imagine the telephone conversation the L.A.-based Caland had with Whitaker, on location in Uganda shooting The Last King of Scotland, the first time he called the actor to sell him on his vision for the project. Caland recalls that the lights went out in Whitaker's hotel room, so Whitaker lit a candle; the two spoke "very quietly and deeply" across the miles, and Ripple Effect was born.

Both the film and its backstory are uniquely suited to Santa Cruz audiences, who will have the opportunity to talk with Caland and view his film Sunday, May 11, as one of 148 films on offer by the Santa Cruz Film Festival.

This Friday, the festival's organizers host a party for people who just don't want to wait that long. Highlights from 10 of the festival's featured films will be shown, interspersed with appearances by directors and actors (not of Ripple Effect, alas). Nibbles and sips, plus a silent auction for items including Bridge School Benefit tickets and dinner with Councilmember Mike Rotkin, will help raise money for the 7-year-old festival, which saw a precipitous rise in costs this year.

Executive director Jane Sullivan describes a financially strapped operation, but one which, she likes to point out, benefits the community as a whole. "The festival has brought $1 million over six years to Santa Cruz," she says. "

That's a lot of money." She adds that a quarter of festivalgoers are from out of town, and that figure could rise this year.

As for this year's theme, "The Big Picture," Sullivan says that came from two quarters. One, the festival is showing more feature documentaries, which help contextualize our lives. And two, she says, the festival is implicitly stepping away from the smaller screens that hold many of us daily as if by tractor beam. "We're inundated by media, especially computer-related," she says. "But this is about film in the theater. On the big screen."

The snippets to be shown this Friday will span a wide variety of subjects. The documentary One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Jack Kerouac's Big Sur, chronicles the Beat writer's alcohol-and notoriety-fueled breakdown during six weeks in Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Big Sur cabin. Interviews with Ferlinghetti and counterculture figures Tom Waits and Patti Smith give the film its boho cred, though many viewers will no doubt be more charmed by the Big Sur local who recalls that, as a 6-year-old, she found Ferlinghetti silly and Allen Ginsberg "the most ridiculous of all," but thought Kerouac was pretty all right. Pageant shows the drama and humor behind the annual contest for the Miss Gay America title, while Tru Loved takes a look at lesbian families (director Elaine Hendrix will be on hand). Highlights from Sundance Audience Award Winner Fields of Fuel, starring Larry David, Woody Harrelson and Julia Roberts, will screen. And Tween, starring Good Times arts editor Christa Martin, will get screentime as well.

Those are just tastes. For local film buffs, the real fun begins May 9, when the eight-day festival takes off in earnest.

SANTA CRUZ FILM FESTIVAL KICKOFF PARTY is Friday, April 11, at 7pm at The Mill, 131 Front St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $10;

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