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LOS ANGELES FESTIVAL : Yes, There Are Even Movies : Coming to you from all over the globe to all over the city--the festival's cinema offerings range from the sublime to the . . . well, you be the judges

August 15, 1993|KEVIN THOMAS | Kevin Thomas is a Times staff writer.

A preview sampling of the films that will be shown at the L.A. Festival reveals a range typical of all festivals: from the insufferably pretentious to the truly sublime. The question is, will one extreme predominate?

There are more than 100 offerings, some old mixed in with the new, divided into six series and presented in varied venues across the city. (See the accompanying festival calendar, starting on Page 7, for dates, times and locations.)

"Of Many Cultures: Asian and African Jews in World Cinema," curated and presented by Ella Shohat, professor of cultural studies at City College of New York, will focus on the complex identity of Asian and African Jews across the world. Among the new films in this series is Alan Berliner's highly acclaimed "Intimate Stranger," an experimental American film involving a search for the filmmaker's father, an immigrant from Egypt.

Ateyyat El Abnoudi will present a retrospective of her films in a highlight of "Voices of Liberation: Women's Film and Video in Africa, the Middle East and the Diaspora." Another offering in the series is Nina Menkes' 1983 "The Great Sadness of Zohara," a quietly compelling reverie on a young woman (Tinka Menkes) whose increasing sense of alienation from her Orthodox Jewish life drives her to journey deeper and deeper into Arab lands.

New films in this series that are said to be promising are Rakhshan Banietemad's "Nargess," an Iranian film about two very different women and their oppression by overwhelming cultural conditions, and Leslie Thornton's "The Great Invisible," which tells of Victorian writer and poet Isabelle Eberhardt, who fled from Geneva to Algeria, where she lived an adventurous life until her untimely death at 27.

The third series, "Exile," curated by Hamid Naficy, professor of media studies at Rice University, consists of six films that address aesthetics, politics and themes experienced by people in exile and in the Diaspora. Highlights include Tevfik Baser's "40 Meters Squared--Germany" about a Turkish couple living in extreme isolation and alienation in Germany, and Yilmaz Arslan's "Passages," a debut film about a group of disabled teen-agers coping with coming of age in a rehabilitation center.

"African-American Film and Video," curated by UCLA English professor Valerie Smith, is an ambitious five-program offering assembled to illuminate the ways in which black filmmakers express the multiplicity of the black experience and also the manner in which they respond to how African-American lives have been represented in the media.

Among the films to be screened are Koina Freeman's "Little Black Panther," which reveals what it's like to grow up as the child of a Black Panther Party founder; Marlon Riggs' controversial, award-winning "Tongues Untied," a stunning and original celebration of love between black men that utilizes dance, poetry, tableaux and impassioned stream-of-consciousness narration; Zeinabu Davis' stylized "A Powerful Thang," a call for black women to get in touch with themselves, their bodies and their ancestral culture--Davis leavens her feminist seriousness with gentle humor in regard to romance--and Marco Williams' feature-length "In Search of Our Fathers," a fascinating record of his seven-year quest for the father he had never known, taking us through an African-American family with four generations of unwed mothers.

Among the five films in "Islamic Cinema" is a revival of Mehdi Charef's gritty yet beautiful 1986 "Tea in the Harem of Archimedes," a superbly evoked classic coming-of-age tale in which Charef takes the broadest, most detached perspective in telling of a pair of drifters, a French youth and his best friend, an Algerian immigrant, who live in a vast, stark housing project on the outskirts of Paris and get by as petty thieves. Another promising entry, Tariq Ali's "The Final Solution," documents the history of Islam in Spain and its oblitera tion during the Spanish Inquisition.

"Armenian Cinema" has several tempting offerings, starting with Arby Ovanessian's 1971 "The Spring," in which two lovers dare to cross the division between Christian and Muslim. Others are Pea Holmquist's "Back to Ararat," a beautiful, surreal, exceedingly complex documentary on Armenian survivors of the Turkish massacre, and "Calendar," the latest film of noted Armenian-Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan, which involves an Armenian-Canadian photographer on a crucial assignment in Armenia.

Only a small portion of the films in any of the series, several of which overlap, have been available for previews, but the following sampling may suggest the parameters of the L.A. Festival offerings.

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