Cinequest has always been a reliable purveyor of international cinema, so it's appropriate that, this year, the festival will open and close with foreign-film selections. Cinequest 15 rolls out March 2 with a gala screening and reception of the Brazilian romantic comedy Manual for Love Stories. The U.S. premiere will play at the newly restored California Theatre in the heart of downtown San Jose; following the screening, nosh and mingle with filmmakers and special guests at the party hosted by Paragon Restaurant and Bar, just down the street from the theatre. The March 12 Closing Night features the Norse comedy My Jealous Barber (also at the California), followed by another happenin' party, this time at neighboring Blake's Steakhouse and Bar and O'Flaherty's Irish Pub.
Between these gala events, Cinequest has lined up a host of familiar events (eight short-film programs and the cutting-edge Cinequest DXD—Digital by Digital—forums, showcasing what digital cinema can do now and in the near future), resurgent educational forums (on screenwriting and producing), and new ideas for the festival (a silent film arm programmed by beloved film-lover David Packard of the Stanford and California Theatres). This year's venues include not only the glorious California Theatre, but also the Camera 12, the San Jose Repertory Theatre, and two theatres on the San Jose State University campus (the University theatre and the Hal Todd Theatre).
This year's Maverick Spirit Award tribute events "Jon Polito: American Dynamo" (March 5th at 5:15pm in the San Jose Repertory Theatre) and "An Afternoon with Sir Ben Kingsley" (March 5th at 2:00pm at the California Theatre). Jon Polito is beloved to film fans for his roiling supporting turns in the films of the Coen Brothers (Barton Fink, Miller's Crossing, The Hudsucker Proxy, The Big Lebowski, and The Man Who Wasn't There) and his memorable turn as Steve Crosetti on Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana's television series Homicide: Life on the Street (one of the best series of the 1990s), though his other work ranges from the Dustin Hoffman Death of a Salesman on stage to the role of a landlord on smash sitcom Seinfeld.
Sir Ben Kingsley took home the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Mohandas K. Gandhi in Sir Richard Attenborough's Gandhi. Three more nominations followed (Bugsy, Sexy Beast, House of Sand and Fog), but Kingsley's varied career encompasses storied theatrical productions (like the RSC's Nicholas Nickleby) and every genre of film: comedy (Without a Clue, What Planet Are You From?, Dave, Sneakers), drama (Searching for Bobby Fisher, Schindler's List, the upcoming Oliver Twist), thriller (Suspect Zero), science fiction/horror (Species, the upcoming A Sound of Thunder), family films (Tuck Everlasting, Thunderbirds), and multiple Shakespeare adpatations, including Trevor Nunn's Twelfth Night: Or What You Will.
The festival has since added two special Maverick tribute programs. The inaugural "Emerging Maverick" Award will go to Blanchard Ryan, star of last year's digital video shark teaser Open Water (Sunday, March 6th at 10:30 a.m. at the Camera 12 Cinemas). Ryan will accept her award and particpate in an onstage Q&A, to be followed by a screening of Open Water. Also, Cinequest has announced the presentation of a "Life of a Maverick" Award to Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah. Yeboah, who has only one leg, took to the streets his opposition to prejudice against the disabled when he rode his bicycle across Ghana. Yeboah will accept his award after a screening of Emmanuel's Gift (Sunday, March 6 at 7:15pm at the San Jose Repertory Theatre). Cinequest has been known to announce some tributees closer to the festival date or even during the festival, but we shall have to wait and see.
84 feature films will be screened over twelve days. As of now, I've only seen a few, but I can recommend one (mostly) sight unseen. Nick Redman's A Simple Adventure Story: Sam Peckinpah, Mexico, and the Wild Bunch screens March 6 at the Camera 12. Redman conceived the 40-minute doc as a follow-up to Paul Seydor's terrific 34-minute The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage (Cinequest 1996), which will screen on the same bill. Redman's 23-minute A Justified Life: Sam Peckinpah and the High Country will round out the program. Collectively, the documentaries construct a picture of filmmaker Peckinpah and his work on the seminal Western The Wild Bunch out of rare footage, outtakes, and interviews. Film buffs won't want to miss this one, or Packard's programs: a Harold Lloyd double-bill (1923 silent Safety Last! and 1932 talkie Movie Crazy) with granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd in attendance, and a double feature of Cecil B. DeMille's Carmen (1915) and King Vidor's La Bohème (1926), starring "first lady of silent screen" Lillian Gish. If you've never seen Safety Last, you haven't truly lived.
For complete information about Cinequest or to order tickets or festival passes, visit www.cinequest.org.
"Raging Cyclist" (screens, with Ray Arthur Wang's "Compartment," the evening of 3/4 *midnight* at the Camera 12) Here's a chance to support a local filmmaker who's in it for the long haul. Sean McCarthy's half-hour "Raging Cyclist" is a gonzo blend of Pee Wee's Big Adventure and Evil Dead, pitting a bike-riding naif against a sinister Devil Hunter or, perhaps, himself. The Cyclist's trials on the trail change him with dark knowledge of a harsh world and his own capacity to face it. But McCarthy refreshingly plays much of the film for laughs: the Cyclist—in his bright yellow "Live Clean, Bike Mean" T-shirt (back side: happy face) is no match for a trio of nasty playground grrls. Incipient filmmakers will want to take note of the editing and use of after effects to create disorienting mood on a limited budget, with limited resources. McCarthy has his Bruce Campbell in amiably goofy star Ephraim Joseph and good support from orchestral composers Jon & Al Kaplan. Though the final confrontation lacks the clear-lined composition of earlier sequences, McCarthy makes terrific use of location and punctuates the piece expressively. Recommended.
Safety Last! (screens 3/4 at the California) Besides being a hugely popular perennial at Palo Alto's Stanford Theatre, Safety Last! is an essential of screen comedy and of silent cinema. Directed by Sam Taylor (The Freshman, The Taming of the Shrew) and starring beloved silent comic Harold Lloyd, this 1923 film is equally adept at staging crisp domestic sight gags (Harold and his roommate hiding from their landlord) and grand-scale, jaw-dropping stunts (the infamous, hair-raising finale). This is the one with the famous sequence performed on the ledges of a downtown office building: in one of the indelible movie images, poor Harold finds himself dangling from the face of a clock. Lloyd's "The Boy" is a department-store clerk trying to keep his girl on the line until he can make enough money in the big city to bring her in from their small hometown; when she shows up to surprise him, it's not long before he's risking life and limb. Knowing that Lloyd performed all of his stunts here with only eight fingers (after losing two in an earlier movie-set accident) only makes his work all the more impressive. Though there's some movie magic at play here, Safety Last! is one of the all-time nailbiters and, therefore, an amazing experience with a packed house, who invariably gasp and giggle on every cue. Highly recommended.
Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party (screens 3/5 and 3/7 at the Camera 12 and 3/6 at the San Jose Rep) You probably don't know it, but you know Stephen Tobolowsky. One of Hollywood's hardest-working character actors, Tobolowsky has appeared in eighty feature films and numerous television series as a regular and a guest star. He was Bill Murray's annoying daily acquaintance in Groundhog Day and folk healer "Tor" in a memorable episode of Seinfeld. His film credits include Memento, The Insider, Basic Instinct, Sneakers, Thelma & Louise, and The Grifters. In this literally homey Spalding Gray-esque monologue film, Tobolowsky proves that his greatest role is himself. Cinematographer friend Robert Brinkmann (The Rules of Attraction, U2: Rattle and Hum) directs the film, which purportedly follows the actor through his day as he prepares for one of his celebrated birthday parties in Los Angeles ("It's like hell, but with good restaurants"). The artifice is, at times, apparent, but those who love movies and raconteurs won't care. Tobolowsky begins, appropriately, with a big fish story and continues with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of great and often shapely stories, involving a kidney stone, unexpected pregnancy, pot and LSD experiences, the death of a friend, and the films Mississippi Burning and Bird on a Wire. Recommended.