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[whitespace] Old mavericks and a new generation converge at Cinequest

By Richard von Busack

AT 9 YEARS OF AGE, Cinequest San Jose Film Festival has outlasted all the other film festivals that have tried to take root in the Silicon Valley. Outside of Mill Valley and San Francisco, then, Cinequest must be the oldest film festival in the Bay Area. The effort to put on such a festival is perhaps as great as the toil needed to make a movie.

Halfdan Hussey, executive director of the festival and a longtime filmmaker himself, organized Cinequest as a showplace for what he calls "maverick" films and filmmakers. The word "maverick" originally meant an unbranded steer. And any given film festival contains a few bum steers, dogies that would gladly be rounded up and branded by whatever studio would corral them.

Despite some disappointments, the audience's belief in the goodness of all independent film survives. Cinequest tries hard to justify that faith, offering dozens of films you'll never see anywhere else. Unlike Sundance, Cinequest has survived growing popularity with its intimacy intact. The current movie-distribution system chokes off foreign films, with exceptions like Life Is Beautiful. But a festival like Cinequest offers more foreign films in one week than I've seen in a year. The festival is full of nooks and crannies, with an Asian night and a Latino night.

A subfestival, the Maverick Film & Technology Showcase, explores digital film and some of the other turn-of-the-millennium technologies that are changing not just the look of films but the way in which films are conceived and made. Consider, for instance, cover boy Pete Anderson of San Jose, whose feature Hope was shot and edited the digital way. Lynn Hershman Leeson's Conceiving Ada uses a radical new process to convert still photos to video.

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Inside Cinequest '99:

Director Pete Anderson
Movie Conceiving Ada
Opening weekend reviews

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In addition to myriad screenings of independent films, Cinequest has always carved out blocks of times for special guests with lengthy résumés. This year's name guests include cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and actors Rod Steiger and Gabriel Byrne--dedicated artists whose work has enlivened cinema.

Now if Steiger isn't a grand old man, there's no such animal. The menacing actor may be a creature of cameos lately, but beguilingly he still attracts the attention of the tabloids (for all the most honorable reasons; supposedly he's courting Elizabeth Taylor). He shared Marlon Brando's most famous scene in On the Waterfront for Elia Kazan; later he worked for Sam Fuller, David Lean, Tony Richardson, Francesco Rosi and Sergio Leone.

Somewhat surprising is the addition to the above roster of Jennifer Beals, who is better remembered for a distinctive wet sweatshirt than for her acting. But Beals forsook the movies after Flashdance, went to Yale and married Alexandre Rockwell, an indie filmmaker--thus she too is counted as a maverick.

This week's coverage of Cinequest includes a critical guide to the films of the opening weekend; next week, we'll catch up with the best of the rest.


Details: Cinequest runs Feb. 25-March 3, with screenings and workshops at Camera 3 and the UA Pavilion Theatres in San Jose. Full festival passes are available for $180-$195. The opening-night gala is $40; closing night is $30; the workshops and tributes are $10-$25; regular screens are $7.50/$6.50. Tickets are available through TicketMaster, or call 408/295-FEST.

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From the February 18-24, 1999 issue of Metro.

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