'Candles' sheds light on freedom in a holiday movie on Family Channel

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Often, a nation's youth shout the cry for freedom loudest in a country that's had it in short supply. In the Family Channel's original movie Candles in the Dark, freedom in Estonia is essentially declared through the symbolic act of a young man placing a star atop a Christmas tree in the public square of the capital, Tallinn.

The first film made in Estonia for viewing outside the country stars Emmy-winner Chad Lowe ("Life Goes On"), Alyssa Milano ("Who's the Boss?") and Natalya Andreichenko, wife of Maximilian Schell. Oscar-winner Schell ("Judgment at Nuremberg") acts in and directs the film.

Lowe plays the young Estonian who scales the tree to place the star, and Milano plays an American visiting her aunt who gets caught up in the fervor of the moment.

Messages of nonviolence, which the film espouses, are important to both the Family Channel and the film's actors.

"The (Estonian) revolution was more of a singing one, where people gathered together holding candles, walking in the streets," points out Schell from his Beverly Hills home.

"It's a very spiritual film," he says. "While it shows one particular revolution, in a way it stands for all revolutions. Like the riots here in Los Angeles, it stands for whatever people fight for, for freedom, for independence. It's a revolution, the way they could be, that peacefulness."

Despite a riot scene, Schell insists the film is suitable for those age 4 and younger. He says he is shocked by U.S. television and that he would rather his son Dimitri, 11, and daughter Nastassja, 4, see a couple making love, "which is beautiful, and fine for all children to see," instead of "people killing each other with heads flying off and bloody encounters."

"Candles in the Dark" was shot in 32 days last August and September with artificial snow necessary for all of the many outdoor Christmas scenes. Working on a tight schedule with an Estonian crew that spoke little English was a challenge for Schell.

"They would say 'yes' to everything," he says with a laugh. "Sometimes it would fit and sometimes it wouldn't. Our time was very short with the sound and music, all of the coordination. It was a lot to do in such a short period of time."

The version being shown on the Family Channel, however, may not be the same one that Schell hopes to release as a feature film overseas. The actor-director did not have final cut on the film being shown Friday and is negotiating with the cable network to buy back the movie to re-edit for overseas distribution.

"I believe so much in this film," he says. "It will move the audience. I would like to take my version to Europe and the rest of the world."

"Candles in the Dark" airs 8-10 p.m. Friday on the Family Channel. For ages 4 and up.

MORE FAMILY SHOWS

A subtle message of fair play is the focus of this week's Adventures in Wonderland (Monday 4:30-5 p.m. Disney). Teri Garr guests. For ages 2 to 12.

Justice Files: A Crime Never Forgotten, (Saturday 10-11 p.m. Discovery) takes a look at the complex issue of child abuse. Fondling by a family member, confidant or stranger is explored as well as the repercussions when someone is falsely accused. The program also examines the hysteria that can result when rumors of infant and child abuse at day-care centers and schools run rampant. For parents only.

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