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Student Films From Both Coasts


Audiences anxious for a peek into the work of future film makers will have had samplings of student work from both coasts this week.

Five prize-winning works from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts will be shown--today at the Director's Guild (a private screening for industry people) and then, open to the public, Thursday at Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex. And 18 films--from the first year of UCLA's graduate Pilot Program--were screened Monday at Melnitz Hall. The NYU selection is slightly more polished but the UCLA series, not quite as picked over, is more unpredictable and volatile.

In the consistently skillful NYU potpourri, the two lesser films are both short-story adaptations: Mark Fitzgerald's "The Snake, the Fox and the Fisherman" (based on Gilbert Ralston) and James Gladstone's "Fifty Grand" (based on Ernest Hemingway). Both have their points, but each is a little too sub-"American Playhouse" chilly and staid. "Fifty Grand" in particular treats Papa as he shouldn't be treated, weighting his dialogue with portentous pauses (to suggest all that white space on the page?). The best strategy for Hemingway on screen--as Hawks, Siodmak and Zoltan Korda have proved--is to take him briskly, without fat.

Anthony Poll's "Snow Angel" is better, a showcase piece for two actors--an aging prostitute (Sylvia Miles) and her neurotic client, two drifters whose persistent romantic fantasies finally crisscross (it needs more Cassavetes-style nakedness). Better still--though more lightweight, ordinary and derivative--is Todd Solondz's "Schatt's Last Shot," which brings an amusing slant to the plight of an inept high school basketball player.

And best of all is Tia J.T. Lemke's "Ain't No King Coming," a fine drama--warmly observed and humane--about a family triangle on the New York's Lower East Side's half-mean streets. The participants: a Latina, her macho little boy and his rival--a long-absent ex-convict father. The story is thoughtful, the construction tight, the acting occasionally beautiful. Here is a young woman who is ready, right now, to write and direct feature films. Is anybody watching?

The 18 UCLA films--products of a curriculum that jointly emphasized movie, video and critical studies--are all 15 minutes or less, each directed and written by one student, with other class members as crew. The films are various, but they share a certain liveliness and iconoclasm; the more chances the young film makers take, usually the better the result.

The pick of the eight pre-screened was Chris Wood's "Tape Me, I'm Yours," a witty little satire about a media-obsessed romance (beginning with a video dating service and continuing through phone-answering machines and taped lovemaking). The style is amusingly precise, and there's a slight Albert Brooks edge. "Tape Me" is good enough, as is, for short-subject bookings at "regular" theaters.

David R. Meiselman's "A Dog's Life" is more ragged but more powerful. Meiselman stars (and indulges) himself as euphoric-rapping bum who's mistaken for a rabid dog and locked up in the pound. Gaucherie and brio mix here, but Meiselman has a good storyteller's vital trait: He takes his premise all the way, without flinching.

John DiMinico's "Three" and Pamela Briggs' "Elegy" are the art films of the bunch. "Three" is a wordless, near-abstract nightmare, building suspense through cryptic imagery and insistent visual and aural rhythms; "Elegy" is a lyric of sisterly ties based on an Adrienne Rich poem.

Current American movie trends are mined. Lisa Peterson's "Maybe, Baby" is a standard nerd-date-to-the-prom teen farce. Paul Yates' "Sheila" is a problem melodrama about insanity and its supposed cures. And Donald Bull's "Culture Crash" is, naturally, a cross-cultural comedy about an insistently friendly French emigre. Zeinabu Irene Davis' "Crocodile Conspiracy" is about an old woman's troubled attempt to visit Cuba (John Jelkes, here, gives the series' best acting performance).

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