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Postal Paramours: Lucy Lehmann chronicles long-distance love in the film short 'The Etiquette of Letter-writing.'

Road Movies

The Ann Arbor Film Festival makes its annual stop at Foothill College

By Richard von Busack

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Disraeli once commented about how centuries of Christian love have made the Jews nervous. The highlight of this year's road-show selection of the annual Ann Arbor Film Festival, hosted annually at Foothill College by KFJC, is the 18-minute-long "King of the Jews." San Francisco director Jay Rosenblatt's collage-film is about his uneasy feelings and uneasier reconciliation with images of Christianity. Rosenblatt starts out his film, screening July 22, with a blunt statement: "When I was a little boy, I was scared to death of Jesus Christ."

Rosenblatt describes the libel on the Jews for the responsibility for the death of Jesus. And we learn of the filmmaker's dawning realization that Jesus, as a Jew, was an early victim of the same forces that would murder Jews all through the next two Christian eons. The recognition of Christ's Jewishness enables the director to free himself of his childhood horror.

Rosenblatt also has a one-minute short on the July 22 program, "Restricted." (A title pregnant with meaning to a Jew, "restricted' was the old euphemism that meant that a hotel, an apartment, a country club or a housing tract was forbidden to non-Christians.) In it, the buzzing of a tape loop in the background, taken from loud brash television commercials as Rosenblatt connects random images of indulgence, tempting and forbidden.

Many experimental filmmakers use the found-footage form to tell the stories of their lives, through scraps of celluloid--old TV commercials, educational films and newsreels. But the range of Rosenblatt's appropriations matches the intelligence with which he uses this found-footage method.

Other excerpts from the 38th Ann Arbor Film Festival, which is at this point the oldest continuing 16mm fest in the U.S.: Luke Jaeger's "Out the Fire" (July 23), a merry film about immolation. This four-minute retro-animation about apartment fires in Brooklyn is scored to the calypso artist Lord Invader's 1946 songs. "Serenade" (July 22) is Nadia Roden's elegant sumi ink and charcoal cartoon about the meeting of two lovers--both women, unless my eyes deceive me--with Parisian hot violin jazz of the '30s (especially the music of Jacotte Perrier). "Confederation Park" (July 22) by Bill Brown, an attempt to capture the meaning of Canada--the vast distances connected with an idea of nationhood--from the piquant forlornness of Newfoundland street-corners to abandoned wooden houses in the Saskatchewan plains. Like Canada, Brown's film is more interesting in part than whole. "The Etiquette of Letter Writing" (July 23) by Australia's Lucy Lehman is a brilliant experimental film about the essential hopelessness of carrying on a romance by mail. As in the work of Peter Greenaway, "The Etiquette of Letter Writing" is a film by numbers, a series of lessons (narrated dryly by Wendy Hiller) in the art of correspondence. The examples shown are the fervent love letters between a girl in Australia and a boy in North Pole, Alaska; and we see the relationship decay by reading between the lines in the letters, through elisions and omissions. Will Lehmann be another one of those great female film directors the antipodes gives us now and again?

The Ann Arbor Film Festival takes place July 22 and 23 at Foothill College Campus in Appreciation Hall, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills, both nights at 7pm. A $5-$10 floating donation is suggested; bring 8 quarters for parking. Check the film festival's website at http://aafilmfest.org or the KFJC radio website at www.kfjc.org for more information. )

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From the July 20-26, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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