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Team Meeting: The Norwegian soccer film 'United' opens Cinequest on March 3.

Maverick Motions

Cinequest announces premieres, politics and Peoples for annual film fest

By Richard von Busack

CINEQUEST is back, March 3-14 this year. This edition of the film festival represents 22 countries, 12 feature documentaries and 73 short films, a selection picked from an estimated 1,400 submissions. "We've doubled the United States and worldwide premieres," says publicist Jens Hussey, brother of Cinequest founder Halfdan, "and we're aggressively trying to be the best discovery festival in America."

Expect, as always, controversy. There may be a tussle or a walkout over Arakimentri, a documentary about Nobuyoshi Araki. The art photographer--though endorsed here in an interview by Björk herself--has to censor his depictions of genitalia in his native Japan.

The Last Horror Movie, from England, was refused a rating by the MPAA. The shock mock documentary is billed as a "Blair Witch Project for serial killers," by programming director Mike Rabehl. "The most violent movie I've ever seen," Hussey adds.

The subject of sex and violence is bound to divide an audience, but what could be more divisive than a Cinequest fundraising appearance by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger? "He won't be honored for his film work," Hussey explains, "but his work exemplifies our theme of going against the grain, in bodybuilding, film and politics."

While Cinequest's celebrity guest list hasn't materialized yet, ski-movie tycoon Kurt Miller (president of Warren Miller films) is one of the named headliners. But for local flickers, the fest is more important as a chance to air their work.

On schedule is Big Enough, a new film by Stanford proof and longtime Cinequest guest Jan Krawitz. Her study of 20 years in the lives of little people boasts a certain cachet now that The Station Agent has turned up on so many 10-best lists. The made-in-San Francisco IPO is a fictional tale of the doctor bust. San Jose State University graduate Lawrence Hilton stars in 30 Miles. The festival has snagged the U.S. premiere of San Francisco's Christopher Coppola's new film, The Curse of Bloodhead. And Ex-Cupertino resident Phi Leirness, of The Party Crashers, returns with a new ghost story, Specters, starring Marina "Counselor Trio" Sirtis and Dean Haglund ("Ring" of The X-File's Lone Gunmen).

Feature films--what we think of when we think of a movie, 90 minutes long and meant to be seen in a theater--will compete for the top honor: the Maverick Spirit Award. The judges for the narrative features include Scott Sublett, assistant professor at SJSU, and Timothy Near of San Jose Rep.

The Emerging Mavericks and New Visions series have provided the best--and some of the worst--offerings in previous years of Cinequest. This year's selection includes: The Bread Maker, a romantic comedy from Newfoundland; A Bus Came ..., a Hungarian round-robin film, co-directed by the director of a favorite from last year, Hukkle; Fine Dead Girls, a dyke noir by Croatia's Dalibor Matanic; and San Francisco's Benjamin Morgan's documentary about white graffiti taggers from Baltimore, Quality of Life.

It's a peculiar fact of the cinemagoer's life that nations have boom and bust years. Cinequest 14 weighs in with a whole subsection on Norwegian films; 2003 was apparently a banner year for Oslo cinema. "Mike Rabehl noted a real slew of quality films, like China had a few years back," Jens Hussey explains. "We decided do focus on it. It's got nothing to do with the fact that Halfdan and I are from a Norwegian background."

Among the six Norwegian entries is the Scandinavian nation's answer to Bend It Like Beckham. United is Magnus Martens' story of small-town Norwegians whose lives are warmed by their obsession with Manchester United. The film opens the festival on March 3 at San Jose Rep, with a following gala at the San Jose Ballroom at the San Jose Marriott.

Cinequest also includes special series on Pacific Basin and Latino films. Sylvia Perel, founder of the Latino Film Festival, has selected the six Spanish-language features and nine shorts, including Caballé Beyond Music, a documentary about the famed Spanish soprano Monserrat Caballé. Mexico's Bedtime Fairy Tales for Crocodiles is a Death of Artemio Cruz-like ancestral memory trip through Mexican history with magical-realist touches.

Traditionally, writers are the most expendable persons on a movie--"a necessary evil," Irving Thalberg called them. For the first time, Cinequest is giving a Maverick Award to a pair of professional screenwriters. On March 12, the festival hosts the afternoon with David and Janet Peoples, former documentary makers (The Day After Trinity) who successfully made the transition into Hollywood with scripts for Twelve Monkeys and Blade Runner. The Peoples are also the reason why Clint Eastwood has one unqualified great movie on his resume: they wrote Unforgiven.

As always, Cinequest presents a hodgepodge of movies so good you can't understand why they're under the radar--and so bad, you can't understand why they were made. The torrent of movies begins shortly.


Cinequest runs March 3-14; see www.cinequest.com for schedule.


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From the February 5-11, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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