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Nominees Represent Documentaries At Their Best

October 05, 1987|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

All 16 films nominated for the International Documentary Assn.'s annual awards will screen tonight through Oct. 13 at the Barnsdall Gallery Theater, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., and at EZTV, 8547 Santa Monica Blvd., Oct. 14-16. Only two, the excellent "Mother Teresa" and "Sherman's March," have had regular runs.

Among nominees are Antony Thomas' "Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done," Mick Csaky's "Josephine Baker" and Dennis O'Rourke's "Half Life: A Parable for the Nuclear Age," all of which reflect the potential and range possible within the documentary at its very best.

"Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done," which screens tonight at 7, was supposed to air on PBS last spring, just before the Jim Bakker scandal broke. It was withdrawn for reasons that remain unclear but is to be rescheduled pending revisions. This comprehensive and revealing survey of Christian fundamentalists and their growing right-wing political power remains a timely, disturbing and utterly fascinating account deserving of reaching the widest audience possible.

A large portion of Part I is devoted to Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, who are beyond parody, as is their high-kitsch Heritage, USA, a nostalgic Christian Disneyland celebrating a vanished America that really never was.

Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 6, 1987 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 3 Column 4 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
A review of the International Documentary Assn.'s annual awards screenings omitted the fact that only association members may attend screenings. Memberships are available at Los Angeles' Barnsdall Arts Center and EZTV Gallery for $50 per year.

At the same time, Thomas, who maintains a cool, detached tone, interviews several "born-again" Christians, people with desperate emotional problems and drug addictions that have at last found salvation. Thomas treats these individuals with the utmost respect and their obvious sincerity offers an ironic contrast to the numerous organizations--both political and religious--so eager to exploit such believers.

What's so disturbing is the fervent, know-nothing insistence on a total belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible and the ease with which a televangelist can build a power base with a bank of phones and computers. In a very real sense, this documentary is a survey of the hunger for absolutes in an increasingly complex and dehumanized society.

Part II surveys that increasing rarity--a dynamic downtown church, First Baptist in Dallas, the largest and richest Protestant church in America with a membership of 26,000. Under the 43-year-reign of the formidable W. A. Criswell, First Baptist is serving the needs of a large portion of its community--the wealthiest portion.

Thomas claims that only one-third of 1% of its income is devoted to Dallas' needy, and he interviews a professor, fired from the church's seminary allegedly because he wrote a paper on the duty of the rich to share with the poor. Curiously, too, black and Hispanic members worship at their own, far more modest sanctuaries.

"Josephine Baker," which screens Friday at 7 p.m., is as infectious as its subject, the legendary St. Louis-born black entertainer who became the toast of Paris, a member of the Resistance and an outspoken, often controversial defender of civil rights. Baker's life bordered on the incredible, and Csaky has captured it fully through interviews and extraordinary clips--there's even one of her doing the Charleston topless.

The woman who emerges from beneath the feathers and sequins was spectacularly sexy, courageous, talented, exuberant, loving, foolish, difficult, gallant and unforgettable. Lamenting that in the years since her death she's acquired an aura of sainthood when what she really became was a monstre sacre , Jean-Claude Baker, one of her many adopted children and also her companion of later years, says with affection and amusement, "Josephine was never boring."

Playing with the 90-minute "Josephine Baker" is "Half Life: A Parable for the Nuclear Age," in which its maker, Dennis O'Rourke, argues persuasively that the U.S. government deliberately did not evacuate the inhabitants of the Marshall Islands prior to the Bravo Nuclear Test of March 1, 1954, on the Bikini Atoll. Victims of the incident, including some U.S. weathermen, believe that the government wanted to study the long-term effects of exposure to radiation.

True or not, that's what the government has been able to do. The result of the fallout is a group of older people who have been unwell for decades and who have sometimes given birth to deformed children.

Much of the film was actually shot in the Marshall Islands, which looks like a tropical paradise but is home to a people who have been called "the first victims of World War III." Ironically, they were referred to as "savages" in contemporary newsreels.

Information: (213) 655-7089.

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