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GOINGS ON SANTA BARBARA : Going Ape Again : Fay Wray, who gained fame with recession-era 'King Kong,' returns to spotlight for Film Festival.


During the Great Depression, when economic and social changes were taking place around the world, movie star Fay Wray was in the limelight, and audiences flocked to see cinema extravaganzas such as "King Kong." During the current recession, economic, social, and environmental changes are again rocking the world and Fay Wray is coming back to the spotlight. Organizers of the seventh annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival hope that history continues to repeat itself.

"We're aware of the economic conditions and that there's not much money out there," said Phyllis de Picciotto, one of the festival's founders. "But it seems that if you offer a good product, movies are just one of those things people are willing to spend their money on." Almost 100 feature films, shorts and documentaries will be shown during the festival, which will run Friday through April 5. And a salute to Wray will take place at 5:15 p.m. Sunday at Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

"Times were hard during the Depression, yet people would give their hard-earned money to see 'King Kong' because it's such an escapist film," said Wray, Kong's beautiful, screaming love interest in the 1933 classic. "You could get caught up in the adventure and forget your troubles for a little while."

Wray's talk at the museum will be preceded by a screening of her first feature film, "The Wedding March," a 1927 silent picture directed by Erich von Stroheim.

"It and 'King Kong' are my two favorites," said the 82-year-old Wray, who appeared in more than 75 movies during her career.

In addition to giving wearied audiences an opportunity to escape into fantasy, the festival's large selection also gives viewers a chance to see films that reflect society's changing views, values and concerns. Instead of the bloodthirsty "Injuns" of Hollywood Westerns gone by, five of the movies explore Native American culture and history from Native American perspectives. Opening ceremonies for the festival at 7:30 p.m. at the Arlington include an on-stage ceremonial blessing by Chumash Indian Elders followed by a screening of "The Last of His Tribe," a film by Harry Hook.

The festival showing precedes by one day the film's HBO broadcast debut.

The importance of living in harmony with nature is reflected in the short "Spirits of the Yellow Leaf" filmed in Thailand by Carpinteria director/producer Malin Pongsapipatt. And the desire of urbanized man to get back to his primitive roots is the theme explored in "Braving Alaska," a National Geographic film directed and produced by Mark Stouffer of Montecito. It is scheduled to air on PBS April 29.

Dangers to the environment are exposed in documentaries such as "Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons, and our Environment," an Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Short, 1991.

Featured guests of the festival include Louis Gossett Jr., who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Sergeant Foley in "An Officer and a Gentleman" and a Golden Globe Award for his role in "The Josephine Baker Story." There will be an 8 p.m. screening on Tuesday at the Fiesta 5 of Wolfgang Petersen's film "Enemy Mine," in which he plays an alien from the 21st Century.

Amanda Donohoe, winner of a Golden Globe for her role as C.J. Lamb on "L.A. Law," will be the honored guest at 7 p.m. Friday at the Fiesta. In Ken Russell's "The Rainbow," Donohoe plays a teacher who seduces a female student. Both shows will be followed by a talk and/or a question-answer session.

A seminar on "The Making and Marketing of Independent Films" will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday, April 4, at the art museum. Closing festivities, at 5:15 p.m. Sunday, April 5, will include a showing of the Italian romantic comedy "Mediterraneo," an Academy Award nominee for best foreign film. Films of the Santa Barbara Film Festival will be shown at The Arlington Theatre, Fiesta 5 Theater, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. For a schedule of films, call 962-0023.

Tickets for the Wray tribute and the seminar are $20 each, $15 each for the Gossett and Donohoe talks, $10 each for opening and closing festivities. Individual feature films are $7, but special discount passes are available. For recorded information, call 689-INFO; 963-4408 for tickets.

Mummenschanz, the Swiss troupe that has been entertaining audiences worldwide for 20 years with oversized puppets and extraordinary masks will bring its universal language of music, mime and fantasy to the Lobero Theatre. Tickets for the 8 p.m. Friday show are $21 and $19, and those for the Saturday 11 a.m. show are $10. 963-0761.

A collection of improvisational dance works, appropriately titled "Subject To Change," will be presented Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Center Stage Theater in the Paseo Nuevo Mall. The pieces are a series of collaborations with local choreographers, musicians, sculptors and a photographer. Tickets are $10.

Following a Saturday 2 p.m. matinee called "Small Change," children in the audience will be invited to participate with the performers and play with the floppy, stretchy, bouncy props. Tickets are $3 and $5 for children, $7 for adults. 963-2403.

Hermann Prey, a baritone from Germany who has performed at every major opera house in the world, will sing at the Lobero Theatre, 8 p.m. Tuesday. $19 and $17. 963-0761.

Twenty-year-old pianist Max Levinson first performed as a soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at 13. He will give a free recital at the Music Academy of the West in Montecito at 4 p.m. Sunday. 969-3340.

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