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Cinequest 2005
Cinequest's 15th anniversary
Capsule reviews (part 1)
Capsule reviews (part 2)
Capsule reviews (part 3)
Ben Kingsley
Harold Lloyd
Suzanne Lloyd Q&A
'Charlie the Ox'
'Missionary Positions'
Festival schedule


The Reel Deal

Cinequest celebrates 15 years of independent filmmaking

By Richard von Busack

AT 15, Cinequest has survived many local film festivals—all the other attempts in San Jose and Palo Alto and elsewhere to bring together valleyites and hard-to-fit, hard-to-find films.

During the early years, I got to be a judge at a small-scale Palo Alto festival in which Harrod Blank's first film In the Land of the Owl Turds turned up, years before Blank became the Spielberg of the art car. Sometime in the late 1980s, I attended a marathon of science fiction films at the theater that later became the Naz. And at one early version of an event called the San Jose Film Festival, I even got to introduce my favorite horror film, Dead of Night (1945).

Fifteen years ago, Cinequest co-founder Halfdan Hussey invited me over to his rented house downtown to watch Tesmistocles López's Chain of Desire on videotape. It was a New York independent movie based on Max Ophuls' La Ronde and starring Malcolm McDowell. A few years later, one of the highlights was High Strung, Roger Nygard's indie featuring an unbilled comedian playing Death—a rubber-faced minor TV star named Jim Carrey.

It wasn't just clever choices that kept Cinequest going. It was also a question of being there at the right time and right technology. The 1990s turned out to be the decade of independent cinema, thanks to a matrix of factors. The United States was flush with money, and cable and home video required scads of product. And locally, the area had finally became large enough and cosmopolitan enough to support an annual film festival.

It also seems that Cinequest has survived because of its component parts, its ability to fill so many needs and its very early heralding of the digital cinema. The festival is like a temporary film school, with film writing, technology and film marketing seminars. Its focus is less on classic film—as at many other film festivals here and elsewhere—and more on independent filmmakers in all of their variety.

Often the films of such independents remind you of the famous anecdote about the dog standing on his hind legs—it's not how well the independent moviemaker does it, it's just that he does it at all. However, among the teetering bowsers, there's enough talent to make it clearer that Francis Ford Coppola might have been right. Maybe the future of filmmaking belongs to some unknown girl with a hand-held camera in Michigan. And why Michigan? Why not Belarus or Cameroon?

Our coverage of this year's festival, like Cinequest itself, sprawls over two issues. This week, we examine in depth Missionary Positions, one of the festival's most thought-provoking documentaries.

In addition, our crack team of staff and independent reviewers—their eyes propped open like Malcolm McDowell's in A Clockwork Orange in order to see all the screener tapes and DVDs—provide a critical guide to a cross-section of the more intriguing offerings at this year's festival. Plus: A day-by-day guide to every screening and event for the harried movie fan on the go.

Next week: the reviews keep coming, a look at local filmmaker Scott Smith's Charlie the Ox and a preview of some of the special events and panels at the festival.

As always, amid all the screenings, the festival takes time out to honor some maverick filmmakers. The big-name award winners are Ben Kingsley and Jon Polito. These two forceful character actors are skilled at playing east-of-the-Danube types, although they're also good when grounded in their own turf: Kingsley (a Yorkshireman, despite his best-known part as Gandhi) has excelled as many an unreadable Englishman with flat black eyes and knotted guts. Polito might be the raspy spirit haunting any American large enough to have collection agents, used-car lots or an outlet of the Hair Club for Men.

In addition to these two skilled utility actors are two new additions for this year's Maverick Spirit Awards: Blanchard Ryan, the marooned female vacationer left bobbing in the Open Water (she appears on Sunday, March 6, 10:30am, at San Jose Repertory Theatre) and Ghana's Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah—the subject of the inspiring documentary Emmanuel's Gift, who will appear in person March 6 after the 7:30pm screening of the film at the Rep.

This year Cinequest's website will be handling a hoard of last-minute additions and scheduling changes, as well as allowing those with the appropriate broadband technology to sample the trailers of a hoard of independent movies. And as always, watch Metro for more information on the festival, running until closing night, March 13.

Full Disclosure: Metro is a media sponsor of Cinequest.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

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From the February 23-March 1, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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