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Kcet Feast Before The L.a. Fest

August 21, 1987|STEVE WEINSTEIN

The Los Angeles Festival, a monthlong celebration of adventurous theater, dance and music from around the world, commences Sept. 3. On Monday, public television station KCET Channel 28 will begin airing what it calls a "mini television festival" that will preview filmed performances and rehearsals--most never before seen on Los Angeles television--of many of the acts that will appear here live during the festival.

During two weeks of primarily late-night broadcasts, KCET's festival programming will include: Peter Brook's 1970 film "King Lear" and an hourlong program, produced in Australia, of rehearsals of four of his theatrical works in preparation for his nine-hour play, "The Mahabharata," that Brook will present here for the first time; Ingmar Bergman's film "After the Rehearsal," to ready viewers for his North American theatrical debut; a program on composer John Cage; a documentary, narrated by Sidney Poitier, that includes a performance by a black South African theater troupe; and 13 other programs culled from television stations and production companies around the world.

"We are setting the stage for the festival," said Stephen Kulczycki, KCET's vice president of programming. "We wanted to seize this opportunity when Los Angeles is paying attention to adventuresome artists from all over the world. We couldn't find money to cover the event itself, so we had to figure out another way to celebrate the festival through television."

During the Olympic Arts Festival in 1984, KCET faced the same problem. Then, the station poured an enormous amount of its resources into shooting interviews and snatches of performances of nearly every arts troupe that participated in the festival, and, a week after it closed, the station aired a 90-minute retrospective of the entire event. For its trouble, KCET won an Emmy for best entertainment special by an independent station.

"It was sort of a long, television news form look at the festival where instead of 30 seconds, we gave each act a couple of minutes," Kulczycki said. "But it didn't present the substance of a whole performance. You got a taste but not a sense of an entire piece. And that was frustrating."

This time, Kulczycki and his staff wanted to present a more lasting coverage of the festival with full-length performances that would preview the work of as many of the festival's artists as possible. They had all seen or heard of films on many of the performers, and, last June, they began tracking down these works in the libraries of broadcast companies in Spain, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Australia, France and Canada, as well as on the dusty shelves of some obscure production houses here in the United States.

After many telephone calls, telexes and halting negotiations in several foreign languages, KCET purchased the rights to air approximately 20 hours of work by about 60% of all the artists appearing here next month.

"Sometimes it was quite tricky," said Jackie Kain, the person charged with actually finding these films. "Some of the groups at first, for instance, didn't want us to show them in rehearsal because they didn't think it was serious. But people I talked to kept saying, 'You have to see this. It's wonderful.' "

In the end, Kain's calls and fluent French paid off, and though a few of these shows have aired on PBS before, most are experimental, sometimes behind the scenes presentations of the festival's diverse group of artists. Together, the KCET principals hope, they represent not only an in-depth, cross-cultural review of the arts worldwide, but also an international video festival that will highlight a wide range of styles of capturing the arts on film.

A couple of the pieces probably do not live up to the technical standards American television audiences have come to expect, but the goal, says Charles Impaglia, director of broadcasting at KCET, is first to present the performer or the group. The point, he insists, is that local viewers have never seen some of these internationally acclaimed artists. And nothing that KCET will broadcast is so technically awful that it will detract from the performance.

KCET has hired Jonathan Borofsky, a Los Angeles visual artist known for his eccentric exhibitions and his ponytail, to tape the introductions and closes to each of these programs and to try to put the artists and the films by and about them in some kind of understandable framework.

"The idea in going to him (rather than to a typical broadcast personality) was so the host would not talk down to the audience," says Kain. "He's an artist from Los Angeles, a colleague of all these different people, and his work is almost perfect for this event. He deals with theater, video. He writes music."

"And it's about time that public television had a host with a ponytail," Kulczycki adds.

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