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Screening Room

'Documental' Explores Two Very Different Worlds

July 29, 1999|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Midnight Special Bookstore (1318 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica) presents Saturday its bimonthly "Documental," two different programs of recent films and videos. The 7 p.m. program concerns a changing India, and the 9 p.m. program observes the contemporary art scene, and both are outstanding.

Rishika Advani's warm yet succinct 27-minute "Bringing Up Deepak" introduces us to a bright, handsome boy, the son of Kalash, a live-in servant to a sophisticated middle-aged couple, Vicky and Ramesh Galal, residing in the city of Mumbai. Deepak, well-behaved and self-disciplined, has been raised by his grandmother in his native north India village, but Kalash, who misses her son, brings him to the city when relatives offer to take him in. When they renege, the childless Galals not only allow Kalash to bring him into their home but are soon so captivated by the boy that they offer to take custody of him and educate him. The heart of this perceptive and encouraging documentary is Kalash, who dared to leave an abusive husband and now must rise above maternal jealousy for the good of her son. Vicky and Kalash manage to work things out between them, but their sharing of Deepak is so advanced for class-conscious India that the boy faces discrimination until the Galals give him their name. None of the four has an easy time of it, but clearly Deepak has an infinitely brighter future than he would have had otherwise.

Israeli filmmakers Ayelet Menahemi and Eilona Ariel went to India to film "Doing Time, Doing Vipassana," where Dr. Kerin Bedi, India's dynamic first female inspector general of prisons, did not stop at conventional reforms of Delhi's once-notorious Tihar Central Prison. Following the suggestion of an assistant superintendent, Bedi introduced Vipassana to Tihar. The ancient form of Buddhist meditation was first tried out successfully in a Jaipur penal institution in 1975. Tihar held a 10-day course involving 1,000 inmates, the largest such event held in modern times. The impact has been so profound on the inmates' lives--and also those of their guards, who also participated--that Vipassana has spread to Taiwan and even the U.S.

Heilman-C's "Self-Portrait: Porno" documents a group of porn actors performing live at a New York art gallery. One young man accurately points out that American society remains so sexually oppressive that, were the setting not an art gallery, the actors would be regarded as engaged in "very seamy, sordid acts."

Ultimately, "Self-Portrait: Porno" (which does in fact have hard-core moments) seems tohave more to do with freedom of expression than with the creation of art.

Maya Koyo's "Loft District" offers an engaging and comprehensive survey of the art scene that flowered in Los Angeles' old downtown industrial district in the mid-'70s and, despite setbacks, now provides affordable work/living spaces to some 2,000 artists, many of them residing in such recycled complexes as Factory Place, the Brewery and the Santa Fe Art Colony. The Wallenboyd and Gorky's may be history, but it would seem the loft district is more securely established than you may have realized. Free admission. (310) 393-2923.

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The Laemmle Theaters' "Summer Series" continues Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Sunset 5 (8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood) with Bob Swaim's "The Climb," a classic small boy-old man relationship movie that represents quite a departure for the American director of such stylish French films as "La Balance." The story is so familiar you may find your attention wandering, yet it is a sincere effort anchored by fine performances, most notably by John Hurt, David Strathairn and young Gregory Smith. The widowed Strathairn and his son (Smith) live in a blue-collar Baltimore suburb in 1959, which means that there are lots of neighboring World War II vets who have concluded that because Strathairn didn't serve in the war he must be one of those lily-livered conscientious objectors. This makes it tough on his kid, who gets crucial grandfatherly reinforcement from Hurt, a crusty itinerant construction worker who's dying of cancer. Auckland, New Zealand, passes fairly well for the Baltimore outskirts. "The Climb" also screens Aug. 7 and 8 at 11 a.m. at the Monica 4-Plex (1332 2nd St., Santa Monica). Sunset 5: (323) 848-3500; Monica 4-Plex: (310) 394-9741.

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