- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

The first feature to be directed by John Malkovich and the latest to be directed by Alan Rudolph have been chosen to bookend the new edition of the Washington, DC International Film Festival. Familiarly known as Filmfest DC, the annual showcase has reached its 17th year.
Mr. Malkovich will attend the showing of his movie, a romantic-political thriller titled "The Dancer Upstairs," Wednesday. Lisner Auditorium is the site for this 7 p.m. premiere, which will be followed by a reception for first-nighters in a nearby tent. Screenings abound for the subsequent 10 days before the festival concludes with Mr. Rudolph's film, "The Secret Life of Dentists," May 4 at 4 p.m. at the Lincoln Theater.
The source of "Dancer," scheduled for a regular commercial opening May 9, is a novel by Nicholas Shakespeare, influenced by the 1992 manhunt for a member of the Shining Path terrorist group in Peru. The principal characters, a police detective and a ballet instructor, are portrayed by Javier Bardem and Laura Morante.
Mr. Rudolph, whose "Equinox" wrapped up the festival a decade ago, drew on Jane Smiley's ominous comic novel "The Age of Grief" for "Dentists," which co-stars Campbell Scott and Hope Davis as married dentists, the parents of three young girls, in New York's Westchester County. Dennis Leary plays an intrusive patient.
Mr. Rudolph will attend the final program. Another eminent producer-director, Sydney Pollack, has agreed to appear at two programs. May 1 at the Avalon Theater, he will introduce an 8:15 p.m. revival of his 1990 romantic-political thriller "Havana," which co-stars Robert Redford and Lena Olin in a lushly misbegotten variation on "Casablanca." He will join fellow director Thomas Schlamme the next day at 6 p.m. for a discussion of political subject matter and motion pictures, a free program at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs (1957 E St. NW, Room 213).
Although something of a culture hero for having directed Mike Myers in "So I Married an Axe Murderer" 10 years ago, Mr. Schlamme was recruited for this event because he has been associated with "The West Wing" as a producer-director in recent years.
Indeed, the theme "Politics in Film" links about 20 percent of the programming assembled for the festival, which represents 22 countries and exceeds 100 titles. The organizers aren't even counting "The Dancer Upstairs," although they do include both "Havana" and a new film from Costa-Gavras, "Amen," derived from a Rolf Hochhuth play about an SS officer who suffers pangs of conscience while participating in the installation of poison-gas facilities at a concentration camp.
Documentary features dominate the category, and many of these reflect the preoccupations of left-wing activists. A bundle is backloaded into the final days of the festival. For example, "The Weather Underground," a generation-after portrait of the homegrown terrorist organization of the late 1960s and 1970s; "Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election," which targets Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris as bete noires; and the compilation "11/09/01," a French brainstorm that recruited several filmmakers to contribute 11-minute impressions of the significance of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The principal American contributor was Sean Penn.
On the other hand, there is a pictorially impressive wildlife documentary, "Winged Migration," that recruited contributions from hundreds of naturalists and cameramen around the world. The survey of bird migrations, augmented now and then by computer graphic simulations, was one of the recent nominations as best documentary feature at the Academy Awards. It's a pity it didn't win instead of Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine." If only he would take wing and migrate.
One entry also evokes Havana in a novel and amusing way. Called "Yank Tanks," it celebrates the resourceful car owners and mechanics who have contrived to keep vintage American automobiles running in Cuba since the advent of Fidel Castro. The director, David Schendel, will attend screenings April 30 and May 1 at Loews Georgetown.
An ongoing and often gratifying Filmfest DC category called "Global Rhythms" is devoted to far-flung popular music idioms. An especially ambitious example in the upcoming festival would appear to be "Sound of Brazil," a German-Finnish-Brazilian co-production that attempts to touch base with singers, dancers and musicians across the entire country in 108 minutes.
The Indian musical will be represented by a Toronto-based facsimile called "Bollywood/Hollywood," directed by Deepa Mehta, and an indigenous feature, "Waves," directed in Tamil by Mani Ratnam.
The career of jazz percussionist Chico Hamilton, whose quintet added some nightclub authenticity to "Sweet Smell of Success" in 1957, will be recalled in a documentary biopic, "Dancing to a Different Drummer," the work of German filmmaker Julian Benedikt. A former band member, David Levy, has agreed to introduce the film at showings from April 28 through 30 at Visions Cinema.
An independent feature shot in Loudoun and Clarke counties in Virginia, "Crazy Like a Fox," gets a single performance Thursday at 8:45 p.m. at the Avalon, which is hosting several Filmfest programs before resuming activities as a first-run theater under the management of the Laemmle chain of Los Angeles. As a matter of fact, the Avalon gets a jump on the entire festival while hosting free programs of children's shorts Tuesday and Wednesday morning.
"Fox" alludes to a wily eighth-generation Virginia farmer played by Roger Rees who is seeking satisfaction from crooked land speculators. Director Richard Squires will introduce his movie.
Lina Wertmuller rejoins the festival roster with "Francesca and Nunziata," a co-starring vehicle for Sophia Loren and Giancarlo Giannini, cast as a well-to-do couple of the late 19th century with troublesome children on their hands. An earlier Wertmuller-Loren project, "Saturday, Sunday and Monday," derived from a vintage Neapolitan stage comedy and co-starring the late Marcello Mastroianni, was a happy addition to Filmfest many years ago.
Juliette Binoche and Jean Reno sound like a promising romantic match for mature art-house customers. They're the co-stars of "Jet Lag," a French film that exploits the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris as a backdrop. Miss Binoche plays a makeup artist fleeing a caddish boyfriend. She keeps bumping into Mr. Reno, also waiting for a flight. He proves helpful and then irresistibly companionable. Miramax has acquired the film, directed by Danielle Thompson, but sometimes its inventory fails to circulate extensively in the country at large. If you're fond of either performer, it might be prudent to catch the Filmfest shows, May 2 and 3 at Loews Georgetown.
The most auspicious free attraction is a revival of Douglas Fairbanks' "The Black Pirate" May 3 at 3:30 p.m. in the East Building of the National Gallery of Art. Released in 1926, the film was shot in the two-color Technicolor process, then a technical novelty. It required almost another decade before a full spectrum was possible in three-strip Technicolor. This performance will be augmented by a new orchestral score composed and performed by the three-member Alloy Orchestra of Boston. An early arrival is advisable because seating at the East Building is on a first-come basis.


EVENT: Washington, DC International Film Festival
WHEN: Tuesday through May 4
WHERE: Several participating theaters and institutions, principally the Avalon, Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle and Wisconsin Avenue, Loews Georgetown and Visions Cinema
TICKETS: $8.50 for most programs. Selected programs free for children or seniors. Opening-night premiere and gala: $40. Closing-night premiere and party: $15. A "director's pass," a 10-ticket package, is discounted to $75. These admissions cannot be applied to the opening or closing programs. Advance reservations can be booked through Tickets.com at 703/218-6500 and at Olsson's Books and Records stores.
INFORMATION: For general information about the festival, call 202/628-FILM. The festival Web site is www.filmfestdc.org.

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