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Long Beach Turns to a Famous Alum

Movies* The Widescreen Festival at CSULB has chosen recent graduate Steven Spielberg as an artist-in-residence. His selections screen this week.

October 02, 2002|BILL DESOWITZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Faced with an identity crisis, the Widescreen Film Festival, now in its eighth year at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach, reached out to one of the university's latest and certainly most prestigious graduates for help--Steven Spielberg--and he accepted. The Oscar-winning director is serving as the festival's first honorary artist-in-residence and has chosen a collection of eight films that have inspired him.

Screening tonight is "Day for Night" followed by "On the Waterfront" on Thursday, "The Godfather," "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Easy Rider" on Friday and "Dr. Strangelove," "8 1/2" and "Raging Bull" on Saturday. Only one of the films, "Rebel Without a Cause" is being shown in a wide-screen format (though the festival's name remains the same).

Each of the films has a particular resonance for Spielberg and filmgoers. Federico Fellini's "8 1/2" (1963) and Francois Truffaut's "Day for Night" (1974) represent two different odes to filmmaking. The latter has added resonance for Spielberg, since Truffaut, the legendary New Wave director, appeared in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Elia Kazan's "On the Waterfront" (1954) remains one of the most powerful and timeless melodramas ever made about corruption and redemption; "Dr. Strangelove" (1964) continues to be a consensus favorite among Stanley Kubrick's idiosyncratic works; Nicholas Ray's "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955) and Dennis Hopper's "Easy Rider" (1969) are nice companion pieces about rebellion and maverick filmmaking. Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather" (1972) and Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull" (1980) are two of the greatest films by filmmakers of Spielberg's generation.

"This change in the festival resulted in Steven coming back to school and taking classes," explains festival artistic director Gary Prebula. "During the one-and-a-half years of mystery [surrounding Spielberg's return], the professors got a new sense of pride in the students. He re-energized the film and electronic arts department with his presence. Oddly enough, the festival board was in the process of re-evaluating our mission statement, which was too limited. Wide-screen movies were not enough to attract audiences and we didn't have a handle on how to expand it.

"So we consulted with [co-artistic director associate professor] Rory Kelly and [Film and Electronic Arts department chair] Sharyn Blumenthal. She suggested we design the festival for students, while still maintaining the public screenings, and Rory came up with this artist-in-residence idea and immediately suggested that we go after Steven." Spielberg returns this week from a "Minority Report" promotional tour in Europe and is finishing post-production on his upcoming film, "Catch Me If You Can," so his attendance at the festival is unlikely, according to a spokesperson for the director.

Longtime Spielberg collaborator, cinematographer Allen Daviau ("E.T."), will screen and discuss the director's seminal short, "Amblin," for cinematography students. The festival, meanwhile, will offer several guest speakers who will provide their own personal insights. Included are actress Eva Marie Saint ("On the Waterfront") and actor-filmmakers Peter Fonda ("Easy Rider"), James B. Harris ("Dr. Strangelove") and Paul Mazursky, whose cult favorite "Alex in Wonderland" (1970) was inspired by "8 1/2." Fellini plays a small role in the film as himself.

"The maestro [Fellini] invited me to Rome, and I was on a plane the following day," Mazursky recalls. "I spent four days and four nights with him and finally got him to agree to do it. Later, I got a call from his assistant saying he had changed his mind. I pretended not to understand and flew to Rome to start production. I met Fellini at his favorite restaurant, Caesarina, and he did it."

For Saint, working with Kazan and Marlon Brando and the rest of the talented ensemble cast on her Oscar-winning debut was the thrill of a lifetime. "I loved being on location and Kazan was quiet but had an aura of strength. And Marlon was amazing. When he dropped that glove of mine in rehearsal and picked it up and used it and massaged it, it was very sensual. It was a tribute to his genius that Kazan allowed us to shoot this happy accident."

As for Fonda, who produced, co-wrote and starred in "Easy Rider," he is proud to be a part of a film that has become such a cultural touchstone. "What pleases me most is that this film about the independent spirit, made during the era of '60s rebellion, is now a national treasure through an act of Congress," he says referring to the film being placed on the National Film Register.

Widescreen Film Festival, today-Saturday, Carpenter Performing Arts Center, Cal State Long Beach, 6200 Atherton St. (562) 985-7000. pac@carpenterarts.org

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