The washroom of a Tehran park is not the first place you would expect to find women speaking frankly about suicide, prostitution, drug addiction, divorce and various forms of abuse.
But Iranian actress Mahnaz Afzali's documentary "The Ladies' Room" captures exactly that in fly-on-the-wall fashion as the women trade insults, shed tears and bum cigarettes from each another. The arresting piece of cinema shows a rare side of the Middle East and is one of the highlights of the third annual Amnesty International Film Festival.
The festival features 37 films from around the world, including Paola di Florio's bold "Home of the Brave," a documentary narrated by Stockard Channing that explores the 1965 killing of a Michigan civil-rights activist while working in Mississippi. Di Flora attempts to restore Viola Liuzzo's name through interviews with her children and by challenging efforts by the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover to besmirch her, based on her Teamster husband's connection with Jimmy Hoffa.
The romantic comedy "The Naked Proof," an engaging and thoughtful film directed by Jamie Hook, is reminiscent of early Hal Hartley in its fondness for deadpan delivery, offbeat characters and a willingness to turn philosophical conundrums into plot points.
Michael Chick plays Henry, a 34-year-old University of Washington graduate student whose dissertation is approaching the decade mark with no end in sight -- until the dean rejects his latest request for an extension. Plunging himself into a flurry of intense work, Henry experiences strange happenings in his personal life, particularly the arrival of Miriam (Arlette Del Toro), a pregnant woman who may be a figment of his imagination.
Hook and first-time cinematographer Charles Peterson, a rock photographer, take advantage of Seattle locales to give the film, part of the Alternative Screen series at American Cinematheque, a fresh visual feel.
Twilight on the Hill
For those of us who only know Bunker Hill as the glass-and-steel financial center of Los Angeles, two films by the late Kent MacKenzie, "Bunker Hill" and "The Exiles," reveal not only a bygone era but also a lost legacy of community and architecture. The opening program of the UCLA Film and Television Archive's "Los Angeles: Site Unseen" shows the downtown hilltop neighborhood in its twilight before bulldozers cleared it to make way for towering skyscrapers and the Music Center.
"Bunker Hill," an 18-minute short made by MacKenzie while he was a student at USC, is a snapshot of 1950s life in the once fashionable quarter, then populated mainly by elderly pensioners.
Mackenzie returned to Bunker Hill a few years later to make "The Exiles," a documentary-style feature looking at a group of Native American friends during a day of partying. Both films capture the haunting sense of imminent displacement among two disparate groups of residents.
Amnesty International Film Festival selections
* "Home of the Brave," Today, 7 p.m., Directors Guild Theatre, 7920 Sunset Blvd., L.A. (310) 815-0450 or www.amnestyusa.org/filmfest.
* "The Ladies' Room," Today, 8:30 p.m., Directors Guild Theatre.
* "The Naked Proof," Today, 7:30 p.m., Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 466-FILM. www.americancinematheque.com.
UCLA Film and
"Los Angeles: Site Unseen" selections
* "Bunker Hill" and "The Exiles," Friday, 7:30 p.m., James Bridges Theater, 1409 Melnitz Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 206-8013. www.cinema.ucla.edu.