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BEAUTY BEHIND BARS: 'La Corona' chronicles an unusual beauty pageant at a Bogotá prison.

Rim Shots

Santa Cruz's Pacific Rim Festival lets movie fans travel thousands of miles, absolutely free

By Richard von Busack

PACIFIC BY NAME, nonspecific by nature, the Pacific Rim Film Festival, now in its 20th year, began as a series concerning Hawaii and now encompasses films from Korea to Columbia. The festival, which runs Oct. 17–22, remains free and uses several venues in Santa Cruz County. Highlights this year include the touching and intelligent La Corona. Annually, the main woman's prison in Bogotá hosts a beauty pageant, and directors Amanda Micheli and Isabel Vega were on hand to film the rivalries between cell blocks. They enjoyed first-rate access to the contenders among the inmates: Angela, a robber with African roots, is the short-list favorite against Maria, a convicted hit woman serving out an eight-year sentence. Brief but affecting, this documentary isn't the horror story you'd anticipate. The living conditions in the prison aren't that harsh. The coming together of the prisoners in the contest is counterpointed by the racial and other rivalries the contest brings out. You can understand why the warden—a beleaguered but maternal woman—didn't want the show to happen. The 15-minute Dancing Into Bali by Sasha Friedlander takes the fest's cuteness award for watching girl children training to become trad dancers in Bali. Friedlander will appear at the Oct. 21 screening to perform a Balinese dance piece live. Producer Long Nguyen and director/writer Ham Tran of Journey From the Fall financed their epic about the Vietnam war from donations from Vietnamese-American businessmen, some of who used pseudonyms to protect their current business interests in Vietnam. The feature film contrasts the horrors of Communist labor camps with life in 1981 Orange Country, where we see the problems of a boy growing up without his father; his mother is still distant and traumatized from being the victim of pirates at sea.

All in This Tea is a welcome return to ethnographic documentary by the East Bay's Les Blank (working with partner Gina Leibrecht). In 70 minutes, Leibrecht and the director of Burden of Dreams, Chulas Fronteras and so many other invaluable films profile the Marin County importer David Lee Hoffman. Hoffman is a man dedicated to showing the West that there's more to tea than Sir Thomas Lipton was letting on. Bringing heirloom teas to the United States, Hoffman is also trying to revive ancient methods of producing the drink in China. There, modernization is wiping out old methods of farming and preparation. Keep an eye out for longtime Blank friend Werner Herzog, who gives the film its title.

Myriad Chinese films will be screened: the documentary Family Inc. has Emily Ting recording her calamitous one-year stretch taking over the family business in Hong Kong. The black-comedy hit by Zhang Yang is Getting Home: a decrepit pal tries to fulfill an old friend's dying request to be taken back to his village even as the buddy starts to ripen along the journey. The closer, The Drummer, is the story of a man fleeing urban crime in Hong Kong for a monastery of Zen drummers in mainland China; San Jose Taiko will perform live at the benefit for the festival. If you don't see them, you'll hear them.

Movie TimesTHE PACIFIC RIM FILM FESTIVAL plays Oct. 17–22 at a variety of venues, including the Del Mar and Rio theaters. Admission is free. See for complete schedule details.

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