For months, I've had in my possession a video cassette of Kirikou and the Sorceress, a 1998 French-made gem that only received its first Dallas screenings last February. Local filmmaker John Carstarphen, whose D-Studios has been handling distribution, gave it to me in April, but the tape soon enough disappeared beneath a stack of useless cassettes. Happily, it resurfaced two weeks ago during an office cleanup, and I immediately popped it in the VCR. What appeared on the screen was a revelation: an animated folk tale set to Youssou N'Dour music, a child's tale with a prescient adult touch, a touching fable that instantly lures you into its lush, golden landscapes.
Kirikou--about a walking-and-talking newborn who yearns to understand why adults (in this case, specifically, a gold-encrusted sorceress with Eartha Kitt eyes) can be "mad and evil"--exists almost as an antidote to the white-faced, Broadway-voiced pabulum Disney and Hollywood have been cranking out for decades. It's the anti-Lion King, a film that engages without pandering, that enlightens without condescending, and N'Dour makes a far better tour guide than Elton John. Unearthing the movie, which was written and directed by Michael Ocelot, months after receiving it was, in retrospect, like finding a treasure amid so much dross in the attic. After watching it once, I immediately wanted to show it to everyone else--children, their parents and their parents. Fortunately, the film returns to Dallas once more, this time as part of the fledgling, D-Studios-organized Medallion 5 Theater International Film Festival--proof that there's room enough in this town for a film fest every week. And Kirikou must be seen on the big screen to be properly enjoyed--films this larger-than-life shrink too small on the TV screen.
So, too, does Mamoru Oshii's 1995 Japanime classic Ghost in the Shell, which is still a revelation six years on. Its use of hand-drawn and computer-generated animation is far warmer than anything in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and its theme of what-makes-a-human-human is far more penetrating than anything offered in A.I.; indeed, Ghost in the Shell, even with its Penthouse-pet tangents, proves only how staid our current cinematic revolution really is. Which is perhaps the point of this entire festival, which offers the usual smattering of locally made docs (Claudia Lowenstein's engaging Salsa Caliente!, about the local Latin-dance scene, and Allen and Cynthia Mondell's charming Make Me a Match, which will scare all hell out of any Jewish single), regional indies (Susan Evans' travelogue Odessa Sleeps, Patrick Prejusa's messy Vampire Killing for Idiots) and a few little-seen gems (the 1998 La nuit du destin (Night of Destiny), writer-director Abdelkrim Bahloul's murder mystery, and William Greaves' 1990 doc That's Black Entertainment!, which only makes you want to own every film directed by Oscar Micheaux).
It would seem the best films are, too often, the ones that have been there all along, on cable, on your video-store shelf, right beneath your turned-up nose, or those that have been sitting on some distributor's desk, collecting dust instead of royalties. Not that one should compare John Cassavetes' improved debut Shadows (1961) to writer-director Jacqueline Garry's The Curse (1999): The former's a rough-hewn, almost sloppy masterpiece set to a jazzbo score; the latter's a wry, light Wolf knockoff set to PMS (blood begets blood). But you're unlikely to find either anywhere else but this charming little theater, lost amid the multiplexes and art-houses. And when one must seek out cinema, for some reason it just looks a little better.