- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2006

Now venerable enough to leave its teens behind, the Washington, DC International Film Festival celebrates a 20th anniversary this month. Comedies begin and end the 2006 festival programming, which starts Wednesday with an advance showing of “Wah-Wah,” the first feature directed by the English actor Richard E. Grant, typed to some extent as a peerless snob in such pictures as “The Player” and “Hudson Hawk.”

The latest edition of Filmfest concludes April 30, with a French import, “Housewarming,” perhaps a timely morale booster for the “amnesty” faction in our own immigration dispute. The heroine, played by Carole Bouquet, is an attorney who champions illegals so passionately that she has also hired an assortment to remodel her Paris apartment.

Gabriel Byrne, the leading man in “Wah-Wah” — the chronicle of a failing marriage among English residents in Swaziland, in the 1960s, rather than a biopic about Barbara Walters — is scheduled to attend the opening-night gala, scheduled for Lisner Auditorium. He will be introduced by an Academy Award-winning producer-director Sydney Pollack, who will himself be the subject of a career self-appraisal on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the East Building at the National Gallery of Art.

Mr. Pollack will discuss his work during a free program enhanced by excerpts from several movies; the Pollack inventory dates back about 40 years to “The Slender Thread” and “The Scalphunters” and includes such major hits as “Tootsie,” “Out of Africa” and “The Firm.”

Filmfest organizers usually like to showcase a national film industry every year. Brazil returns to the spotlight on this occasion, represented by 10 titles that peak with an early melodic treasure, the exceptionally graceful and evocative documentary compilation “This Is Bossa Nova,” booked for a single showing on April 23 at 5:30 p.m. at Regal Gallery Place.

If the movie should elude you, the album looms as a satisfying alternative. Roberto Menescal and Carlos Lyra, two of the musicians whose careers flourished with the popularity of bossa nova stylization in the late 1950s and early 1960s, serve as tour guides to the topic, which they associate with living, studying and performing around the Copacabana district of Rio de Janeiro.

While sharing recollections at old stomping grounds, the hosts also strum a lot of songs and account for numerous musical influences, augmented by other surviving colleagues. The participants seem an enviably happy and sophisticated tribe of samba balladeers.

Mr. Lyra at one point compares their vocation to Provencal troubadours in the 12th century: privileged to travel with their lutes while whispering tender sentiments in the ears of attractive women. Joao Donato gives the argument an autobiographical emphasis: He recalls improvising his first love song for a girl at the age of 7; in the aftermath there were “other girlfriends and other songs.”

The format devotes interludes to a number of key figures who are now deceased, from the vocalist Nara Leao, whom Mr. Menescal regards as the original bossa nova muse, to the indispensable songwriter-arranger-pianist Tom Jobim, recalled by his son Paulo.The archival material includes beguiling excerpts of an Antonio Carlos Jobim-Gerry Mulligan duet from a bygone television show called “Gerry Mulligan’s Apartment.”

The only vintage performer whose mystique looks suspiciously shaky is Joao Gilberto, glimpsed taking Mr. Jobim’s “Desafinado” at a near-comatose tempo in some TV appearance.Mr. Gilberto is also posed rather too often with adoring starlets at his feet, and one of these poses seems to be from a Brazilian beach musical of the early 1960s that might be an irresistible rediscovery.(Mr. Menescal claims that many of the musicians of his generation were also surfers.)

Another bloc of 10 Filmfest selections deals with rap music, domestic and foreign.One documentary, “East of Havana,” claims to have discovered diamonds in the rough in Cuba. Additional outposts include Belgium and Tanzania. One of the American surveys, “Beyond Beats and Rhymes,” boasts the most top-heavy subtitle of the festival:”A Hip-Hop Head Weighs In on Manhood in the Hip-Hop Culture.”

Martha Reeves is expected to attend the screening of what should prove the happiest nostalgia entry for Washington-area old-timers: “Dance Party:The Teenarama Story,” a documentary featurette recalling the local counterpart of “American Bandstand.” Telecast on a UHF channel, “Teenarama” survived from 1963 to 1970.

Miss Reeves, one of the stars who did guest appearances on the show, will be joined at the screening on April 28 at 9 p.m. at the Regal Gallery Place by the film’s producer, Beverly Lindsay-Johnson.

One of the Brazilian entries, “Pele Forever,” a documentary biopic about the great soccer player, overlaps with a film series at the Goethe-Institut that anticipates another World Cup competition by collecting several films that celebrate the sport.

The presumably authoritative “Pele” will be shown April 26 and 27 at 8:30 p.m. at Regal Gallery Place. The series, “Soccer Connects the World,” is a Monday-evening fixture at Goethe-Institut (812 Seventh St. NW) through June 12.(The one exception is a Brazilian feature, “Boleiros,” which dates from 1998 and gets a revival Tuesday at 4 and 6:30 p.m.)General admission for Goethe-Institut film programs is $6.

EVENT: 20th annual Washington, DC International Film Festival

WHEN: Wednesday through Sunday April 30

WHERE: Principal sites are AMC Loews Wisconsin Avenue, Avalon, Harold and Sylvia Greenberg Theatre, Landmark E Street Cinema and Regal Gallery Place; selected programs at Lisner Auditorium, the National Gallery of Art, the Embassy of Canada,the Embassy of France and Busboys and Poets

TICKETS: Most programs are priced at $9. Opening night, an annual benefit, elevates to $40. Closing night is $15. Ten-admission discount packages available for $80.Advance tickets are available through Tickets.com, at Olsson’s Books and Records and CD Game Exchange stores, or by calling 800/955-5566

PHONE:202/628-FILM

WEB SITE: www.filmfestdc.org

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