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Screening Room

Festival Films Run From the Personal to the Political

July 18, 2002|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The sixth annual Latino International Film Festival runs Friday through July 28 at the Egyptian and several other nearby venues. It offers a wide range of films, videos and special programs.

Betty Kaplan's "Almost a Woman" (L.A. Film School, 6363 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, Saturday at 5 p.m.), adapted by Esmeralda Santiago from her memoir, lacks style and pace, but is a warm, well-acted and poignant account of a gifted young Puerto Rican, Negi (Ana Maria Lagasca), who arrives in Manhattan in 1961 when her mother (Wanda De Jesus) leaves her philandering father, taking with her three of her seven children, to begin a new life. It is a classic immigrant saga focusing on Negi's growing need to forge an identity that incorporates both American and Puerto Rican culture. De Jesus is a strong and stunning presence.

Jesse Lerner's "The American Egypt" (Egyptian's Spielberg Theater, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, Monday at 7:30 p.m.) is a boldly experimental documentary that connects the evolution of the silent cinema with the emergence of the Americas' first socialist government--on the Yucatan peninsula between 1915 and 1924 as part of the Mexican Revolution. Mexico's first feminist congress was held there in 1916, but the progressive rule of Gov. Salvador Alvarado ended with his assassination in 1924.

Drawing from a treasure trove of largely unfamiliar archival footage and period texts, Lerner links U.S. economic exploitation--in this instance, the growing of sisal hemp, the source of twine--with that in other Latin American countries, and compares oppression of laborers with that of slaves in the pre-Civil War South. Lerner even reconstructs scenes from Mexico's first feature film, a no longer extant work shot in Yucatan. "The American Egypt's" wealth of images and information, assembled in a complex, intricate structure, presents a challenge to the viewer, but it's one well worth accepting, even if it is not possible to comprehend everything in one viewing.

Three other splendid documentaries also screen: "Yank Tanks," about the mechanics who keep Cuba's 1940s-era American cars running (Egyptian, Sunday at 8:50 p.m. and Wednesday at 3:20 p.m.); "Nosotros La Musica" (Egyptian, Wednesday at 7 p.m.), a 1965 survey of popular music and its stars; and "La Tropical" (Egyptian, Sunday at 11 a.m.), about a legendary open-air ballroom and revue theater that is the cradle of Afro-Cuban music; it first screened in the recent Los Angeles Film Festival. (323) 469-9066.

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Meanwhile, the New York Independent Film and Video Festival continues at the Fairfax Cinemas and Raleigh Studios. David Warfield's "Ocean Park" (tonight at 6 at Raleigh, 5300 Melrose Ave., Hollywood) marks a feature debut of painstaking craftsmanship and sophisticated style. It is a morality tale of the eternal power of Hollywood to corrupt, and takes the form of a murder mystery. It involves two young actor friends, Wilson (Kenneth Hughes) and Rick (Jonathan Aube). Rick makes it big quickly while Wilson, probably the more talented, doesn't. Alexandra Wilson is Jolette, an unstable aspiring actress, who becomes entangled with both men. The cast is solid, with Aube a standout, and technical credits are impressive.

Screening tonight at 6 at the Fairfax (7907 Beverly Blvd., L.A.) is Joffre McClung's "Best Wishes," a sort of upbeat reworking of "Imitation of Life," in that a white woman and a black woman form a friendship and then a successful business partnership. McClung probably took on too much by starring as well as writing and directing, for the film lacks pace and is overly talky. She is a capable actress and her co-star, Danielle Rickman, is more than that.

McClung plays Peggy, a pretty, dutiful and woefully neglected and unappreciated housewife of a successful, hard-driving, belittling and often absent husband in Fort Worth in the 1950s. When Rickman's recently widowed Lucille comes to work as Peggy's housekeeper, the two women forge a friendship that is put to an unexpected test when Lucille discovers that Peggy has an amazing way with desserts and sweets. (323) 363-5096.

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The American Cinematheque's Alternative Screen series offers tonight (the Egyptian, 7:30) an accomplished example of independent regional filmmaking. Richard Bean's "Tattoo: A Love Story" is a slight but sweet romantic comedy in which an ultra-controlling, conservative and exceedingly dedicated Boise, Idaho, third-grade teacher finds herself astonished to discover her attraction toward a laid-back, handsome but very hefty tattoo parlor owner and biker, who is his own best advertisement. Virgil (Virgil Mignanelli) represents all that Megan Edwards' uptight Sara ostensibly deplores, only to have her view of him shift when her live-in fiance (Stephen F. Davies), a local physician, decides he needs a vacation from her bossiness. Sara and Virgil have a transforming effect on each other, and are very well-played by Edwards and Mignanelli, with the film ending on just the right note.

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