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The Reel Less Traveled

December 06, 2007|KEVIN CRUST

That Jessica Yu, whose documentary "Protagonist" opens Friday, takes a creative, unconventional approach to nonfiction film will come as no surprise to anyone who has been following her career. And even if you haven't, here's a chance to catch up: At the Egyptian Theatre on Sunday, Filmforum is presenting three of Yu's earlier documentary works demonstrating the development of a unique voice.

The five-minute short "Sour Death Balls" (online at lumen eclipse.com/gallery/11/Yu) was a festival favorite and marked Yu's 1993 debut. Fascinating in its simplicity, the film is a black-and-white catalog of the human face's range of expressions as it captures people reacting to the pungent taste of the title candy.

Four years later, Yu won a best documentary short Academy Award for "Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien," a 35-minute exploration of a writer paralyzed by polio and restricted to an iron lung for 40 years. Yu captures his indomitable spirit and fierce independence in an inspiring and deeply revealing portrait.

Inspired by outsider artist Henry Darger, Yu made the daringly artistic feature documentary "In the Realms of the Unreal" (2004), an enthralling venture into a strange world. With the help of animators, Yu brings to life Darger's 15,000-page magnum opus -- and especially its 300 illustrations -- subverting the traditional biographical documentary in the process. www.lafilmforum.org

-- Kevin.Crust@latimes.com

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