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Filmmakers Seek Out the Smell of Success at Newport Beach Fest

Festival* John Waters, along with the cast of 'Polyester,' will attend the event featuring movies by emerging artists from 27 countries.

April 10, 2002|VIVIAN LETRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Independent filmmaker John Waters didn't coin the term "audience participation," but he did make it a novelty at art houses with the release of "Polyester" in 1981 and his then-latest invention: Odorama cards.

Those scratch-and-sniff placards will return when the Newport Beach Film Festival screens "Polyester" at the Lido Theater on Friday, where Waters, his cast and crew will make an appearance.

Audiences can once more drop the popcorn and get a whiff of everything from pizza to sweaty socks. In a recent telephone interview from his home in Baltimore, the 56-year-old Waters recalled what inspired his audacious, odiferous gimmick.

"There was a film critic who hated my movies, and he said that if people ever saw my name on a marquee, they should walk on the other side of the street, because in his opinion, my movies stank so bad," Waters said.

Despite the criticism, he continued to produce what he loved best--movies about the values and peculiarities of middle America, often championing misfits, outcasts and underdogs.

Organizers of the Newport Beach Film Festival which begins Thursday and continues through April 19, said Waters is a perfect choice to represent the unconventional approaches of their participants; most are experimental or indie filmmakers. Other special guests will include composer Elmer Bernstein and film and video music director McG.

"We pride ourselves in being a filmmakers' festival. So we try to pair emerging artists with established filmmakers of different genres," said festival executive director Gregg Schwenk. "And we celebrate film as an art form, as well as entertainment, so we want to give equal time to those in front of the camera and behind it."

The festival opens Thursday with the premiere of "The Bank," starring Anthony La Paglia at the Edwards Big Newport and includes 180 films--70 features and 110 shorts--that represent 27 countries.

Latino, Filipino, Japanese, Italian, German and Irish filmmakers are awaiting the world premieres of some unusual and offbeat movies. "The Broken Wings of Elijah Footfalls" is an experimental silent film about a lonely street juggler who discovers a vagabond circus troupe in a wooded valley. "Mind Meld" is a documentary on "Star Trek's" William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, while "Stan Lee" is a documentary on the Marvel Comics cartoonist who created Spider-Man, Captain America and the Incredible Hulk.

"When the Rain Lifts" is a drama written by famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. The story takes place in the Kyoho era during a monsoon and centers on a husband, his wife and an unemployed samurai who becomes obsessed with the wife's seeming unhappiness and poverty.

"This is a great opportunity for filmgoers to see independent art house films that aren't available at the megaplexes," said organizer Billy Fried, a Baltimore native and longtime friend of Waters who invited the director to the festival. "Orange County is the Baltimore of California, and it's a perfect fertile ground for John's imagination."

Organizers hope Waters will be an inspiration to the 120 filmmakers attending the festival.

"At the end of the day, what John and the festival represent is any kind of new and original voice," Fried said.

Waters said that even if a director's vision is completely out there, he or she should stay true to his or her voice and try to find an audience. "'Polyester' reached a lot more people because of the Odorama cards, because they thought it was funny and it caught on," he said, recalling his disappointment that the Library of Smells wouldn't allow him to reproduce the smell of glue on the original cards. (Rotten eggs were OK, though.)

The story of a forlorn housewife named Francine Fishpaw, "Polyester" starred Divine and was the first and last feature presented in Odorama.

Each audience member was given a watermelon pink postcard marked by 10 pink dots that coincided with 10 key scenes in the film. On-screen flashing signals instructed viewers on which number to scratch to unleash the smelly surprises. The stink cards followed the movie's plot, and the odors got worse before the scent of fresh air signaled a happy ending.

"This is the first time in a long time that the movie will be seen in theaters in the way it was meant to be," said Schwenk, who worked with New Line Home Entertainment to bring the cards back.

The suburban smelodrama holds a dear place for Waters since it was his first major distribution and pulled the obscure director from midnight-movie screenings.

"'Polyester' was the first movie that I made that was R-rated and had a real Hollywood star, Tab Hunter, and Divine, who was my Elizabeth Taylor," said Waters, the creator of "Pink Flamingos," "Hairspray," "Cry-Baby," "Serial Mom" and "Cecil B. Demented."

But Waters has another reason for attending. He wants to encourage the upstarts and help independent films get more exposure.

"When I was growing up, I used to have to drive around everywhere to see good movies and go to film festivals that were mostly held on college campuses as part of an academic series," Waters said. "With local film festivals like Newport Beach, people don't have to leave their communities."

*

Newport Beach Film Festival, opens Thursday 7:30 p.m. at the Edwards Big Newport Cinemas, 300 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach. Screenings from 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. daily at four locations. $7 for most screenings, except those with gala events, $65-$75. Ends April 19. For a full schedule and more information: (949) 253-2880 or www.newport beachfilmfest.com.

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