12:45 a.m.
Cyberstalker. The Festival presents the world premiere of this slick, surprisingly well-written high-tech thriller about an army of cybernerds ordered through some ringleader named M.I.C.A. to change the world into an alternate universe where flesh fuses into pure information energy. The special effects are strictly '80s science fiction TV show, and the film itself has that not-quite-convincing aura of one of those USA Network original movies, but it moves along briskly enough. It's also got a supporting role by B-movie great Jeffrey "Whoever heard of a talking head?" Coombs (Reanimator). (JF) Christopher Romero in attendance.

Sunday, April 23
5 p.m.
Odile and Yvette at the Edge of the World. It's hard to issue a blanket judgment about the quality and intentions of this peculiar little movie, because whether you judge it a success depends entirely on how willing you are to embrace its very mannered style. Shot on location in the East Texas Piney Woods, this feature from writer-director Andre Burke takes a page from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and blows it up to feature size when a couple of junior high-age sisters impulsively jump out of their dad's car during a cross-country road trip and wander into a woodsy dreamland where their fantasies and wishes appear to come true--although not always in the manner they expect, as the sudden and vaguely troubling appearance of a sexy young man attests.

Burke tells the girls' story without narration and music and with a bare minimum of dialogue, letting their journey into paradise unfold in a series of amazingly long takes and even longer setpieces broken up by evocative shots of silhouetted treetops, verdant meadows, and rushing water, and backed with a soundtrack of twittering birds, whirring insects, and rustling leaves. There's a lavish Freudian picnic going on just beneath the pastoral surface of this movie, but the narrative is so spare, and developed with such obsessive slowness, that you'll either be too hypnotized or too bored to keep a mental list of symbols and signs. If you thought Heavenly Creatures would have been a lot more interesting as a silent picture, you'll probably like this one. (MZS)

Short Film and Video Winners. The USA Film Festival is keeping the winners of its annual short film competition a secret until the very last minute, but if the heavy-hitting lineup of judges is any indication, they're bound to be interesting: the panel includes Advocate film critic David Ehrenstein, Daily Variety critic Emmanuel Levy, Marian Luntz of the Museum of Fine Art s/Houston, humorist Joe Queenan of Spy and Movieline infamy, and director Todd Haynes (Poison, Dottie Gets Spanked). All the judges will be present to discuss the future of cinema after the screening. A pretty tall order, but they can probably fill it--especially when you consider the presence of the indomitable Queenan, who can write 11-page articles about actors with bad hair and never bore his readers, and Ehrenstein, who once penned an appreciation of Francis Coppola's Dracula for Film Comment that was as long as the New Testament and even more serious. (MZS)

5:15 p.m.
It Was a Wonderful Life. There's no special filmmaking excitement in this very traditional nonfiction feature by director Michele Ohayon, produced by SMU graduate Tammy Glazer. Mostly, the film is content to sit back and let its subjects, homeless women from a variety of races and classes, tell the tales of how they ended up on the streets and what they do to survive and stay sane.

Like last year's more formally innovative documentary Dialogues with Madwomen, the message of this film is that the external factors implicit in throwing women out on the street--financial woes, domestic strife, mental and emotional trouble--are just sociological distractions. The real problem is the way our male-dominated society socializes women to live unsatisfying lives that place them in positions where they can be easily victimized and broken.

Ohayon's straightforward approach works because her subjects have such compelling stories to tell. The only drawback, oddly enough, is a too-emphatic narration by actress Jodie Foster that tends to render edgy, intense, disturbing information in PBS-friendly tones. It probably helped get the film released, but it often tends to soothe liberal sympathies when it ought to stoke viewer outrage. With a tough, spare, terrific soundtrack by Melissa Etheridge. (MZS) Writer-director Michele Ohayon in attendance.

5:30 p.m.
Magic in the Water. Not available for screening at press time, this ecologically conscious family adventure is about a divorced dad who takes his children to a Canadian resort town, where they discover that the supposedly fictitious lake monster might be real after all. World Premiere. Star Sarah Wayne and director Rick Stevenson in attendance.

7 p.m.
The Maestro/My Old Fiddle/Blues Highway. Three medium-length documentaries celebrating folk art. They deal, respectively, with Gerard Gaxiola, the California writer, sculptor, musician, and prankster; two fiddle-playing siblings named Julie and Tommy; and the epic journey of millions of African-Americans from the Deep South to the industrial North, and the impact of the music they brought along with them. (MZS) Filmmakers Maureen Gosling (The Maestro) and Bill Guttentag (Blues Highway) in attendance.

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