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A Mom's Tale Kicks Off L.A. Festival

June 20, 2002|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The eighth annual Los Angeles Film Festival opens tonight at the ArcLight Cinerama Dome with a gala presentation of Nicole Holofcener's "Lovely & Amazing," starring Brenda Blethyn, Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer and Raven Goodwin in a story of a mother and her three daughters.

Sponsored by the Independent Feature Project/West, the festival runs through June 29 at various venues.

Among the opening weekend attractions is the clever, amusing and wistful "Showboy" (Sunset 5, Saturday at 7 p.m.; the Directors Guild, Monday at 5:30 p.m.), in which BBC documentarian Lindy Heymann zeros in on Christian Taylor, a young Englishman trying to make it in Hollywood. No sooner has Heymann started the camera rolling than Taylor is fired from his job as a writer for "Six Feet Under."

Too proud to let Heymann know the truth, Taylor gets her to follow him to Las Vegas, where ostensibly he's researching a script but actually is pursuing his dream of becoming a member of a dance chorus. Taylor and Heymann co-directed, and their verisimilitude is as flawless as it is alternately funny and touching.

Slim, curly-haired and handsome, Taylor has sensational charisma even if he's not as buff as the professional dancers whose ranks he craves to join. Included are knockout cameos by Alan Ball, Whoopi Goldberg and Siegfried & Roy.

Thomas Allen Harris' 1996 documentary "Vintage: Families of Values," a vibrant account of the experiences of three sets of gay African American siblings, was beautiful, heartfelt and tonic in its effect, a description that also fits his newest work, "E Minha Cara/That's My Face" (Sunset 5, Saturday at 4:45 p.m.; the DGA, June 28 at 5 p.m.)

It documents Harris' cultural identity and spiritual searches in the form of a shimmering collage of images of his New York childhood and his experiences in Tanzania with his mother and brother, culminating in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil.

Harris has drawn from home movies, family photographs, and even his grandfather's proud recording of TV images of black leaders and celebrities in the 1960s.

On his odyssey, Harris not surprisingly encounters contradictions and complexities, but he lovingly embraces them all in his desire to connect with an African cultural and religious heritage.

Sure to rank among the festival's strongest offerings, Christopher Scott Cherot's "G" (DGA, Wednesday at 9:45 p.m.; the Sunset 5, June 27 at 5 p.m.) is a boldly imaginative and strikingly successful reworking of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," starring Richard T. Jones as a suave, powerful rap mogul who has built an ultramodern estate in the Hamptons as a display of his success. But he longs for his lost love from college days, a beautiful woman (Chenoa Maxwell), who not believing he would amount to anything, ditched him for a financier (Blair Underwood).

Now that the mogul has become a nearby neighbor, she realizes her mistake. Class, money, unrequited passion, the treacherousness of the American Dream and fate--all that concerned Fitzgerald emerges here in this assured, sophisticated and stylish film that plays rap numbers against Bill Conti's timelessly elegant score.

For his irresistible documentary "Spellbound" (Sunset 5, Monday at 7:30 p.m.; DGA, Wednesday at 5 p.m.), filmmaker Jeff Blitz followed eight kids in their early teens from widely differing backgrounds and locales through their regional competitions all the way to Washington, D.C., for the National Spelling Bee.

It's easy to want all eight to win, especially youngsters such as Angela, daughter of a Mexican cowboy who entered the country illegally and who doesn't speak English after 20 years in the U.S. It's heartwarming to see so many first-generation U.S. children participating in so American a tradition and discovering a sense of community with other kids as bright and focused as they are. (866) FilmFest.

*

The Warhol on Screen festival continues Friday at 7 p.m. at the Pacific Design Center with "Outer and Inner Space" (1965). Clearly, Warhol perceived a discrepancy between the physical beauty of his doomed superstar Edie Sedgwick and her inner conflict when he decided to videotape her talking, then film her facing her previously taped image, which we see on a TV set on a table behind her.

When this 66-minute segment is presented in split screen, reducing the running time by half, with the latter part projected on the left side of the screen, we get an even more intensified sense of Sedgwick's fragmented personality as she is confronted with her own image and words.

What a radiant natural screen presence was Sedgwick, whose perfect diction reveals her aristocratic ancestry, and whose dazzling smile and charming personality recall the young Elizabeth Taylor. And what a Hollywood screen test Warhol's footage could have been. Indeed, the shimmering image of Sedgwick on the video screen recalls that famous clip of the younger Gloria Swanson from "Queen Kelly" quoted in "Sunset Boulevard."

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