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[whitespace] Kevin Spacey More Than Just a Usual Suspect: Actor Kevin Spacey shows up Jan. 31 at Cinequest.

Festival salutes independent-minded filmmakers

By Richard von Busack

CINEQUEST, the film festival that prides itself on its roster of maverick filmmakers dedicated to personal expression, returns for its eighth year (Jan. 29-Feb. 4), with a group of rather well-known directors and actors. Talented yes, but is "maverick" the right adjective? Maybe "Maserati" would be closer to it.

Coming to Cinequest this year to receive the Maverick Film and Technology Award is Barry Sonnenfeld, director of one of last summer's biggest hits, Men in Black, which followed The Addams Family and his hardly unnoticed camerawork on Raising Arizona. All three will be screening. Similarly, the renowned sound editor Walter Murch will stop by for screenings of some of his work, including The English Patient, which made a little bit of a splash last year at the Oscars. And Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey, most recently seen in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, will talk Jan. 31 at 3pm.

Some 21 films at this year's festival are revivals: The Magnificent Seven (a tribute to the noted composer Elmer Bernstein, who will be in attendance) and Midnight Cowboy (in honor of the visiting John Schlesinger). Though unquestionably worth a second look, these movies hardly suffer from neglected reputations.

Even the selection of some of the neglected films is troubling. Trespass by Walter Hill was released recently enough (1992) that it may not yet be time for a reappraisal, whereas Hill's much better Johnny Handsome (1989)--not to be seen at Cinequest--bombed almost a decade ago, was much less thoroughly promoted than Trespass and includes Morgan Freeman in a rare acting duet with Forest Whitaker.

FORTUNATELY, the cache of revivals includes a few movies that nobody's seen and everybody ought to. One of the highlights of the festival is a group discussion (Jan. 31 at 8pm) titled "Produced and Abandoned," after a volume of essays about overlooked films. The panel includes Hill, Phil Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) and Ron Shelton (Bull Durham). Work by all three will be revived, including Kaufman's splendid Henry & June, reviled by puritanical critics nationwide.

While sound editor Murch is being honored with The English Patient, what's really worth celebrating is his unfairly panned directoral effort, Return to Oz (1985), a little-seen gem that genuinely deserves a second chance.

Cinequest's program also highlights the usual sidebars: a phalanx of films from South America and a technology showcase with representatives from Pixar, Jim Henson's Creature Shop and Pacific Data Imaging.

The festival is particularly strong on documentaries this year, but then again, the South Bay is always strong on documentaries. Jan Krawitz of the graduate-school documentary program at Stanford is one of the judges at Cinequest, along with Paul Bartel and Sally Kirkland. If a South Bay-made film is worthwhile, the chances are very good that it was made by one of Krawits' students.

Opening night showcases a promising new documentary. Trekkies, as the title suggests, is a profile of awe-stricken fans of the starship(s) Enterprise. Roger Nygard directs; he also directed High Strung, which appeared at the 1992 Cinequest. The film co-stars ex-Star Trek: The Next Generation crew member Denise Crosby, who will show up in person.

Other documentaries to look for include The Story of X, a history of pornography by Chuck Workman, the editor responsible for those stunning film collages seen on the Academy Awards broadcasts; Perfect Moment, which asks everyone from Larry King to Maya Angelou about the peak moment in their lives; and Gutter Punks, which examines the lives of street people in New Orleans.

Cinequest runs Jan. 29-Feb. 4 at the Camera Cinemas and UA Pavilion San Jose; tickets are available at 408/295-FEST. Check next week's Metro for capsule reviews of the festival's more notable entries.

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From the January 22-28, 1998 issue of Metro.

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