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Z Channel tale of loyalty, tragedy

August 19, 2004|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Films such as "Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession" and "Born Into Brothels" represent but two entries in an especially strong lineup for the eighth annual InFACT Theatrical Documentary Showcase.

The festival, presented by the International Documentary Assn., includes 17 jury-selected films and runs from Friday through Aug. 26 at the ArcLight. The films will play in rotation so that every day each one will play during a different time slot.

With "Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession," its maker Xan Cassavetes has accomplished a challenging act of redemption. She calls attention to programmer Jerry Harvey's enduring contribution to film culture, especially in his pioneering presentations of director's cuts, and at the same time delves into Harvey's tormented personal life deeply enough so that he can emerge as a truly tragic figure. The advent of the more lavishly funded HBO, Showtime and others threatened Z Channel for all its intense viewer loyalty. Eight days after Z was reconfigured as a combination film and sports channel, Harvey, on April 1, 1988, fatally shot Deri Rudolph, his second wife, before turning the gun on himself. Both were 39.

Cassavetes has juxtaposed clips from the films Harvey championed with a wide array of people who knew and cared about him and his work. Insights are provided by his first wife, photographer-journalist Vera Anderson, and by film critic F.X. Feeney, who covered Z's ambitious film programming in its magazine. Director Robert Altman, whom Harvey revered, is one of many filmmakers who are eloquent in their appreciation of what Harvey accomplished in his eight years at Z Channel.

Anguish in Calcutta

"Born Into Brothels" began in 1997, when photographer Zana Briski went to Calcutta to document the prostitutes of its red-light district and became beguiled by their children, who were fascinated by her profession. In 2000, she returned to teach them, with filmmaker Ross Kauffman to help her tell their stories. The film finds Briski realizing that the youngsters she finds so bright and appealing are doomed unless she steps forward with a plan that will let them escape their often brutal environment; the suspense in this becomes as real as its anguish.

Voicing a legacy

"Home of the Brave" looks back on the March 25, 1965, murder of Viola Liuzzo, a Detroit mother of five who was shot while driving U.S. 80. Liuzzo was transporting participants back to Selma, Ala., after that spring's historic voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Four Klansmen were swiftly arrested and charged with her murder, which provided crucial impetus for the passage of the Voters Rights Act in Congress several months later.

Although revered as a civil rights martyr to this day by black Southerners, Liuzzo is otherwise largely forgotten. The actual circumstances of her murder remain unclear and her legacy muted. Filmmaker Paola di Florio investigates Liuzzo's fate and the effect of her death on her now middle-aged children. The key factor in the case and its aftermath is that one of the four Klansmen arrested was in fact an FBI informant. This led to an outrageous, racist smearing of Liuzzo's reputation by the FBI and ultimately impede her from receiving full justice.

New light on WWII

Sixty years after D-day, it hardly seems possible, yet outstanding documentaries on World War II continue to be made, each illuminating yet another hitherto nearly forgotten aspect of the conflict. Christian Bauer's "The Ritchie Boys" is one of the best. Its title refers to Camp Ritchie in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Maryland, which in the summer of 1942 became the Military Intelligence Center, where more than 6,000 young European immigrants, mostly German Jews, received intensive training in combat and intelligence and then were sent back to Europe to participate in the invasion of Normandy.

By and large, the Ritchie Boys were intellectuals, and the men, still vital in their 80s, interviewed by Bauer went on to postwar careers in the arts, sciences and business and government as U.S. citizens. After landing in Normandy they served as translators and interrogators, and their introduction of psychological warfare saved lives and shortened the war.

Most of Bauer's interviewees, including two who survived capture by the Germans, are blessed with the sustaining gallows humor of survivors. Yet they remain shaken to this day by all they encountered, especially the destruction of their hometowns and above all the liberation of the concentration camps as they were confronted with the horrors of the Holocaust.



InFACT Theatrical

Documentary Showcase

Where: ArcLight Cinemas, 6360 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood

When: Friday-Aug. 26. Films are screened on a rotating basis.

Price: $11; $9 for International Documentary Assn. or ArcLight members, students and seniors

Info: ArcLight, (323) 464-4226; International Documentary Assn., (213) 534-3600; or

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