"We must learn very well each other, must see each other, to speak to each other," the man with the shiny silk suit and thick Russian accent said. "The cinema can be creating bridges between peoples."
Yevgeny Yevtushenko, a poet-hero in his own country, was waxing philosophical on the subjects of Soviet-American relations, Art and Life. His directorial debut film, "Kindergarten," had just screened at Filmex, and now he was conducting the first of many toasts at a cozy Westwood cafe.
But two hours and several glasses of wine later, Yevtushenko pulled out a bound sheaf of typewritten pages and revealed to his luncheon guests "my second and probably most important" reason for the trip to Los Angeles. "I brought my script," he said. "I'm looking for a producer."
The script is "The End of the Musketeers," about the final days of Dumas' characters as they realize they have been mere "puppets in the Establishment's hands."
"In my dream I saw Jack Nicholson as D'Artagnan," Yevtushenko said. "I think it could be great thing for him." Yevtushenko has interviews set up with several producers and "most of the major majors," according to Filmex spokeswoman Ilene Richmond.
Those meetings began Monday, and it is Yevtushenko's hope to raise production money before he returns to the Soviet Union when Filmex concludes at the end of the month.
He wants to produce the film in his homeland and believes that American backing and distribution of Soviet films can be advantageous. There are "wonderful films we are making in my country," he said. "I swear by it that Americans would love them."
He also noted that Hollywood could learn a thing or two from Moscow's state-sponsored film agency. "You commercialized too much your cinema; you destroyed the mind of your audience.
"Our tickets are very cheap. People putting money into production don't think too much about the cash register."
Following the impromptu socio-political lecture, Yevtushenko returned to the Mann Westwood Triplex for Sunday's second screening of "Kindergarten." The 143-minute film is Yevtushenko's largely autobiographical tale of his childhood during World War II.
Filmex artistic director Ken Wlaschin noted that Yevtushenko, best know for such poems as "Babii Yar," created "Kindergarten" primarily to demonstrate that he could work in film and thereby get his "Musketeers" opus financed.
"Kindergarten's" reception at Filmex suggests that the demonstration was a success. "His film was sold out to the rafters," Richmond said. "Hundreds of people in the theater for a 2-hour and-20-minute film, and not one got up to go the bathroom."
"GHOST" JINXES THEATER: First, Saturday's 12:30 p.m. selection was to be "The Ghost Writer," part of Filmex's tribute to PBS' "American Playhouse" series. But the film arrived in a 16-millimeter format that Filmex can't show.
Filmex next attempted to schedule a documentary on civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Officials quickly were informed that the film maker had gone into seclusion--along with the only print.
The third possibility also turned up in the unusable format.
Filmex Artistic Director Ken Wlaschin next located the film "Haunted" and determined that it was, indeed, the correct format. The cans of film were shipped via air express to Filmex . . . on two separate flights. Only half the film arrived in time.
"It's a jinxed slot," Filmex Executive Director Suzanne McCormick said Saturday.
As of 12:45, four people sat comfortably in the 500-seat Theatre C, the largest at the triplex, to see an advance showing of "The Homefront," Steven Schechter's documentary on American life during World War II. As a last resort, the film was slipped into the "jinxed slot" in addition to its already scheduled screening Sunday.
OPENING REMARKS: Programming appeared to be a stronger selling point than location and convenience, patrons of Filmex's opening weekend said.
The biggest plus this year, a number of Filmex-goers told The Times, is the scheduling of most films twice in one day--once in the afternoon and once in the evening.
"Before, even though you had a bigger selection to choose from, if you worked during the day you'd miss a lot of them," said Kathy Tanaka of Anaheim, who came to see "Kerouac" on Friday night and "Onimasa" on Sunday.
Weekend attendees also gave high marks to this year's selection of films.
But Filmex's much-touted under-one-roof arrangement received more put-downs than praise.
"The lines weren't well organized," said Sandy Craig of Redondo Beach. She noted that people holding tickets for two or three different Filmex films were mixed together on the busy Gayley Avenue sidewalk. That made it easy for newcomers to cut into line and difficult to enter the theater.
Another drawback is the lack of a separate line for Filmex Society members, as there has been in the past.
Regulations in Westwood prohibit Filmex from creating an additional line on the sidewalk, executive director McCormick said. Filmex volunteers were attempting to single out Filmex Society members in line and escort them into the theater, she added.
Other complaints focused on difficulties parking in Westwood on a weekend night and the shape of the theaters themselves. Seating at the Mann complex, one Filmex-goer noted, is tiered at less of a slant than at the Plitt Theaters, site of an earlier Filmex. As a result, it can be difficult to read subtitles if a tall person is seated in front of you.