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Celebrating the Fourth

Highlights of this year's indie fest include filmmaker daughter's adaptation of a William Styron story and a booster award to actor Eric Stoltz.

April 16, 1998|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The fourth annual Los Angeles Independent Film Festival will present 24 features, two feature-length documentaries and 31 shorts Friday through Sunday at three nearby Sunset Boulevard venues: the Directors Guild of America at 7930, the Sunset 5 Theaters at 8000 and Harmony Gold Preview House at 7655.

Presented in association with the Sundance Channel, the DGA and Eastman Kodak, the festival premieres tonight at the DGA at 7:30 with Susanne Styron's "Shadrach," about a faded Southern family headed by Harvey Keitel and adapted from a short story by the writer-director's father, William Styron. It will close Sunday at 7:30 p.m. with Noah Baumbach's screwball comedy "Mr. Jealousy," starring Eric Stoltz.

Many of the films were not available for preview, but among those that were are several knockouts, the kind of films that have characterized this festival since its inception. Bennett Miller's documentary "The Cruise" is such a dazzler that it's well worth making its Saturday 10:30 a.m. screening. It has such a wondrous, wrenching yet humorous impact you're hesitant to describe it at all.

In Timothy (Speed) Levitch, a shaggy, young Manhattan tour bus guide, Miller discovered a brilliant, ultra-intense poetic soul who loves the city he views as a living organism yet lashes out at the notion of a civilization that makes him feel lonely and alienated.

The visionary Tim unleashes torrents of impassioned information, revealing his awesome grasp of literature, history and architecture--the superbly foliated Louis Sullivan building can transport him to sensual rapture--on his most likely overwhelmed yet accepting passengers. "To exhibit the thrill of being alive and to be respected" is Levitch's stated raison d'e^tre. You fervently wish this likely genius, who brings to mind another greatly gifted Levitch, Jerry Lewis, will fulfill his dream of finding the girl of his dreams--and find a way of surviving.

Two films deal in highly different ways with people in their 20s figuring out what to do with their lives. Tony Barbieri's "one" (at the DGA Saturday at 5:05 p.m. and Sunday at 9:35 p.m.), which is as utterly compelling as it is determinedly low-key, is astonishingly assured and controlled for a first film. Clearly, Barbieri and his co-writer, Jason Cairns, knew where they were going from Frame 1 and how they planned to get there without a loss of spontaneity.

Cairns co-stars as Charlie, leaving prison after serving a sentence for manslaughter in assisting in the suicide of his terminally ill grandfather, and Kane Picoy as Nick, who invites his longtime friend to stay with him and his parents (Paul Herman, Gabriella Ruvolo) until he gets on his feet. Filmed in what could well be the most deliberately nondescript San Francisco Bay area locales ever photographed, "one" is an increasingly intense study in contrast. Instead of defeating Charlie, prison has left him quietly secure and determined to make something of his life, eventually taking college courses and falling in love (with Autumn MacIntosh's lovely, intelligent Sarah).

Meanwhile, Nick, who threw away a promising baseball career when he slugged a team manager, drifts with mounting bitterness and self-destructiveness. Barbieri has introduced a stroke of fate into his film with the finesse and impact of one of his idols, Bernardo Bertolucci. Picoy, Cairns and MacIntosh all have star presence.

Eric Tretbar's bittersweet "Snow" (DGA, Saturday at 2:55 p.m. and Sunday at 3:05 p.m.) strikes a lighter note than "one" but has a skittish grace and genuine poignancy. It's a contemporary variant on "Brief Encounter" set down in the middle of a Minneapolis winter. At a coffee shop, a beautiful, lively young woman, Sabina (Rose Mailutha), recognizes a young man, Thomas (Shane Barach), as a local rock musician. Sabina is back in her hometown after several years in New York, and Thomas, a serious slacker and now 28, is about to sell off his guitars.

Remembering Sabina from the past and always wanting but never quite meeting her, he accepts Sabina's invitation to spend the day "running around." They don't count on an emotional spark igniting between them or how that sets them to thinking about what they have--or, mainly, haven't--been doing with their lives. Mailutha and Barach are terrific, and "Snow" has a wit and universality that lifts it above most regional cinema.

Also winning is Eric Koyanagi's knockabout comedy "hundred percent" (at Harmony Gold Friday at 7 p.m. and at the Sunset 5 Saturday at 10:30 a.m.), which features a screenful of talented young Asian American actors playing a varied group of Venice denizens. Tamlyn Tomita plays an elegant beauty who happens into laid-back, immediately smitten Dustin Nguyen's coffee shop. A funny punker couple (Darion Basco and Keiko Agena), who are into African American lingo and style, fall heir to a sleek lowrider and lots of trouble, while Garrett Wang plays an actor coping with ethnic stereotyping.

Not-so-hot are Rocky Collins' well-acted but tedious, unsympathetic marital infidelity comedy "Pants on Fire," which cries out for a discernible satirical edge, and Jon Carnoy's inept "Mob Queen," in which a sub-Damon Runyon mobster (Tony Sirico) unwittingly falls for a transvestite (Candis Cayne) hooker.

The festival will also host panel discussions and other events, highlighted by the presentation of the third annual Indie Supporter Award to the deserving Eric Stoltz, an established actor so ubiquitous he has even worked in PXL (toy camera) production. On Friday, LunaPark will host "Indie Night Music" from 8 to 11 p.m., featuring a lineup of independent recording artists in live performance. For tickets and full schedule: (888) ETM-TIXS.

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