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Shell Game: Katja Schuurman and Egbert-Jan Weeber live the high life in 'Oysters at Nam Kee's,' one of the many foreign features scheduled for this year's Cinequest.

Reels to Reels

Cinequest 13 announces full slate of mavericks, indies, docs and shorts for film festival

By Richard von Busack

DOMESTIC terrorists, Asian American bike messengers, Albanians yearning for a better life, and the one-and-only Dolemite, ready to kung fu the funklessness out of San Jose. Such are some of the elements promised for Cinequest 13, which announced its schedule today.

San Jose's longest-lived film festival has brought luminaries ranging from Russ Meyer to Spike Lee. This year's list of guests has not been finalized yet. As always, though, Cinequest is dedicated to what it deems "The Maverick"--the independent, the unbranded and sometimes even the local filmmaker.

The first celeb announced is animator Ralph Bakshi, whose predilection for sex, violence and political discourse led him both to trouble with distributors and the de facto censoring of his full-length cartoon Coonskin, which will be screened at Cinequest. Bakshi did the first version of The Lord of the Rings, back in 1978. And R. Crumb was ready to kill him for what he did to Crumb's Fritz the Cat. Still he's lasted long enough to see his style of cartooning triumph everywhere from South Park to this spring's Li'l Pimp.

Also picked for a Maverick Spirit Award is Lupe Onitiveros, who came to everyone's attention in last year's hit film. Real Women Have Curves. She will be honored at a Latino Celebration March 5.

Several local feature films of note will be shown. Want is Michael Wohl's drama about a computer-addicted programmer riding high right before the crash in 1999. San Jose director Sung H. Kim's Book of Rules, a drama/comedy about a San Francisco bike messenger, features a romantic rivalry with a yuppie pal. San Jose State University professor Luane Beck's feature film Intentions is based on her play about a romance between a female academic and a female student.

"These films will give perspectives about what's going on in San Jose," said Mike Rabehl, Cinequest's programming director at the kickoff breakfast.

Cinequest has had its hands full trying to carry on a film festival in the current nigh-depression. "Very difficult, but we're still doing it," Rabehl said. Citing just one example of the obstacles, he noted that "airline sponsorship is down for Cinequest."

Still, thanks to the festival's growing reputation, Cinequest had more films to pick and choose from. "We have 22 world premieres, the most we've ever had," Rabehl said, "not counting the premieres among the nearly seven series of short films." New-media "films" have increased in number this year. "We've never had so many digital and video films."

Portable-filmmaking technology has helped Cinequest's single best facet: the high quality of its documentaries. "Last year, we had 150 documentaries submitted," Rabehl said. "This year, it was 250." Brother Outsider, co-directed by San Francisco's Nancy Cates (1,000 Pieces of Gold), profiles Bayard Rustin, an influence on Martin Luther King Jr. On a less pacifist front is The Weather Underground, which, according to Rabehl, "explains a lot of their issues and outlines why they did what they did." Sam Green and Bill Siegel's documentary focuses on the last group of really troublesome terrorists the United States faced before the advent of Al Qaeda. Spellbound has been a longtime word-of-mouth favorite on the film-festival circuit. Jeff Blitz's documentary follows a national spelling bee championship--at last, a Hoop Dreams for nerds.

Clown in Kabul chronicles the journey of a group of doctors/clowns volunteering in Afghanistan, one of whom is the nonfictional Patch Adams himself (who is supposed to be a lot less emetic in real life than he is in the Robin Williams movie).

For those who'd prefer something a little more robust, Cinequest is also showcasing a documentary that ought to be titled The Bad Mofo Stays in the Picture. Locally raised director Ross Guidici's The Legend of Dolemite: Bigger and Badder profiles the amazing Rudy Ray Moore, blaxploitation actor, comedian and R&B singer. The film includes interviews with Eddie Griffin, who certainly sourced Moore for his satire Undercover Brother.

Of the foreign films on Cinequest's schedule, Hukkle ("Hiccup" in Hungarian) drew considerable praise from Rabehl: "It's a visual study of a small town, except that there's much more going on." The Invisible is a sort of ghost story from Sweden. Also look out for the Romanian export Every Day God Kisses Us on the Mouth, about a man who becomes a serial killer. There's even an Albanian film this year, Tirana: Year Zero.

Violin (Xiao Ti Qing) is Jiang Cheng's story of an unemployed man in Shanghai who finds a new life and love through playing the violin. And Song of the Stork (Vu Khuc Con Co) is the U.S. premiere of a film about five different Vietnamese rookie soldiers about to join the war on the South Vietnamese side in 1968. Watch this space for more details about program.

Cinequest runs Feb. 27-March 9 at the Camera Cinemas and San José Repertory Theatre in San Jose and the Camera 7 in Campbell. Call 408.295.FEST for details.

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From the January 30-February 5, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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