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.
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.
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.
*Mishima. (1987) Writer-director Paul Schrader's elliptical, eerie retelling of the life of controversial Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima. See article "Magnificent Obsession" for more on Schrader. Paul Schrader in attendance.
Search and Destroy. Not available for screening at press time, Dennis Hopper's latest foray behind the camera is about a businessman on the verge of bankruptcy (Griffin Dunne) who believes he can save himself by making a movie from a book written by a famous self-help guru (Hopper). With Christopher Walken, John Turturro, and Ethan Hawke. Dennis Hopper in attendance.
Stealin' Home. The heroine of this new film from Dallas-based writer-director John Carstarphen has a serious problem: following a nasty breakup with her boy-friend, she returns home one day to discover that nearly everything she owns has been stolen, and that the dastardly dog that did it is selling her possessions all over town.
As she goes about her daily life, vainly struggling to recover from this setback, she keeps running into familiar knickknacks and pieces of furniture at the homes of various friends and acquaintances--infuriating proof that her ill-fated relationship was a gift that keeps on taking.
Shot in 16mm black-and-white and stocked with a cast of talented local performers, this frenetic, funky, upbeat piece of African-Americana has some of the same charm that made She's Gotta Have It a breakout success. It's paced a bit unevenly, some of the subplots aren't developed satisfactorily, and the low budget definitely shows, but Carstarphen and his collaborators have approached their subject with such enthusiasm that even doubters will probably be won over.
The film also functions as an unabashed star vehicle for lead actress Phyllis Cicero, a true screen gem who has Angela Bassett's wiry frame, Alfre Woodard's bullshit-detecting eyes, Bette Midler's gift of fury, and Jamie Lee Curtis' Swiss-watch slapstick timing. Her tough, sweet, sexy performance turbocharges every frame she occupies. She could sit in a chair reading TV Guide for two hours and still make me laugh my ass off. (MZS) John Carstarphen, producer Rebecca Rice, and cast members in attendance.
*Black Is, Black Ain't. Premiered at last year's Dallas Video Festival, Black Is, Black Ain't is the last film of the late video director Marlon Riggs (Tongues Untied, Color Adjustment). Completed by associates after AIDS took his life in 1993, this is Riggs' most ambitious and courageous work, a terse, confident video essay that lifts the robes of the civil rights movement and invites us to peek at the wounds underneath.