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Powerful Works in Documentary Festival

June 13, 1989|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

The American Film Institute will present the 15th annual Global Village Documentary Festival--consisting of 25 film, video and made-for-television documentaries--in its Mark Goodson Screening Room nightly from Friday through June 24.

Living up to its title, the festival offers works ranging from Central America to AIDS to child abuse to a 190-minute chronicle about a Houston neighborhood that has experienced integration, blockbusting, white flight and now gentrification. A preview sampling of the festival's selections is encouraging in the utmost.

The festival gets off to an upbeat, inviting start with Laurie Taylor Williams and Merce Williams' 75-minute film, "Yours to Keep," an irresistible, straightforward portrait of Taylor Williams' 19-year-old brother John, a self-described "Down's syndrome kid" who says he's "just a little bit retarded, that's all." John has had the good fortune to have a loving family that has developed a keen sense of how to be supportive without being overly protective. We meet him just as he's off to his senior prom. It's also time for him to start looking for a job.

After several disappointments, John, out of the blue, lands a role in the film "The Seventh Sign," in which he plays a youth with Down's syndrome who is sentenced to death for killing his parents because "God told me to do it."

A young man with a sunny, affectionate personality, John possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music of the '70s and early '80s, loves to talk through his Kermit the Frog hand puppet, which he calls his alter ego--his father makes him look up the term in the dictionary to make sure he knows what he's talking about--and is completely realistic about the odds against sustaining an acting career.

Articulate and good-natured, John challenges the conventional notions of mental retardation. Remarkably, observing his mother's overjoyed reaction to his winning the part in the film, he asks her, "Are you laughing at the irony of it, or are you laughing at me?"

Estela Bravo's 43-minute video "Holy Father and Gloria" (Saturday at 7 p.m.) is the first of several powerful works on political conditions in Latin America. The film crackles with emotional intensity as Bravo counterpoints the visit of Pope John Paul to Chile with the public emergence of Carmen Gloria Quintero, a teen-ager apparently dosed in gasoline and set on fire by the Chilean military, who has survived to become a heroine of the resistance against Gen. Pinochet.

This is a work of courage and immediacy, recording the impassioned protests of the vast numbers of people who have come out to greet the weary, formidable yet compassionate Pope, who predictably dwells on the spiritual rather than the political.

Screening Sunday, following the 8:30 p.m. screening of an hourlong video on writer Alice Walker, is another of the Latin American documentaries, David Bradbury's 63-minute "South of the Border," in which Bradbury, an Australian film maker best known for the prize-winning "Nicaragua: No Pasaran," reveals the importance of music in the lives of the oppressed of Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Their songs, which are simple, beautiful and impassioned, not only sustain them in adversity, keeping alive their cause and preserving their culture, they also serve to undercut the pervasiveness of American pop music.

"South of the Border" is followed by Mark Samels and Paul Watson's "Revelations," a 57-minute video they made for WNPB-TV in Morgantown, W.Va. For reasons not at all clear, the video makers intercut quick cuts of TV programming with their study of State Trooper Larry Smith and his family over Thanksgiving, 1987. These TV inserts serve only to distract from the Smiths, who are worthy of our attention. Larry Smith is a middle-aged Vietnam War veteran, conservative and religious. You may not agree with his views on homosexuals or share his passion for hunting, but there is no denying he is a solid citizen, a staunch representative of blue-collar America rightly concerned about the future of his family and his country.

There will be a panel discussion on June 22 at 7 p.m. Full schedule and further program information: (213) 856-7696, 865-7787.

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