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February 1-7, 2006

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Thank You for Smoking

Photograph by Dale Robinette
And Then Tom Said What?: Aaron Eckhart quizzes Katie Holmes in 'Thank You for Smoking,' the opening-night film at this year's Cinequest.

Reels of Fortune

Cinequest floods local screens with indie features, maverick marvels and hot-button docs this March

By Richard von Busack

CINEQUEST No. 16, March 1-12, is many things to many people: a motion-picture festival, a filmmaker's boot camp, a chance to buttonhole people usually either seen on big screen or bitty podcast.

The first-night film promises to be the best Cinequest opener in about 10 years. Screening at the California Theatre: Thank You for Smoking, an uproarious, heartless look at the art of flacking tobacco. Aaron Eckhart gives a career-best performance, leading a cast that includes William H. Macy and Maria Bello.

After a new documentary on Sergio Leone, Cinequest will screen the negative-space-crazed Western Once Upon a Time in The West. Also tentatively slated is a revival of Fritz Lang's Metropolis at the California Theatre. And guest maverick Edward James Olmos will be on hand, having survived death threats for his gangster opus American Me.

Year 16 includes rejiggering the parking passes and rigging up an Omnion system so that the varying formats of DVD projection will work without a hitch. Cinequest's Jens Hussey and Kristy Wolk explain that the Cinequest DXD section has been folded into the "Day of ..." workshops on filmmaking: Day of the Writer, Day of the Producer, Day of the Cinematographer, Day of Post and Day of Distribution. Finalists in the screenwriting competition will be announced March 2 at the "Day of the Writer." Guests include deputy public defender/screenwriter Robert G. Phelps discussing crime movies and SJSU writing profs Scott Sublett and David Kahn.

Documentaries are always a highlight at the festival. This year's roster includes The O Tapes, a study of the female orgasm. My Child: Mothers of War is the world premiere of Angeliki Giannakopulos' study of the American mothers whose sons and daughters have gone to fight in Iraq. Santa Cruz's Luane Beck brings her documentary God & Gays: Bridging the Gap. Similarly, Lee Feigon's The Passion of the Mao has something to offend everybody. The film looks at the chairman in his many incarnations: messiah, dental-hygiene-challenged dictator and nation-building icon.

While Cinequest is representing Scandinavia and Mexico as always, this year's harvest also spotlights Indian films, including Kavi Raz's The Gold Bracelet about Sikhs caught in the crossfire after 9/11. The closing-night film is Water by Deepa Mehta. It's another controversial work by that Jezebel of the Indian film industry; in this 1930s-era story, a widow escapes a miserable life in an ashram to court a follower of Gandhi. "There was trouble as usual when she was making this," Hussey comments, "one of those go-get-the-filmmakers riots."

As fascinated as he is with trying to chart out the future of small-film distribution, Hussey is even more excited by the geek side of Cinequest. "We were the first film festival in the world where you could download feature-length films for free. Video podcasts begin around Feb. 27-28 and will be running every day through the festival." The online presence at Cinequest is expanding. This year, 200 films are available for download through Cinequest—twice as many as last year.

The Cinequest online section also helped program last year's festival. "It was like American Idol," Hussey said. "We had two slots left for features and two slots left for shorts, and the viewers decided who get the last two slots." Cinequest's DVD label is "chugging along," and its films can be ordered through Cinequest or

Hussey continues, "We're so far ahead of the curve. There's the DVD label, the online content, the actual film festival, and again we have the deal with the Palm pass: a package that includes admission and a free Palm Trio 650, so you can watch shorts and content from Cinequest while standing in line for a movie. Almost makes my head want to explode, thinking about it."

Cinequest runs March 1-12 at the Camera 12, the California Theatre and San Jose Rep. See the program in this issue or for details. Full disclosure: Metro is one of the sponsors of the festival.

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