A Look at Building With Earth: Yesterday, Today


Morteza Rezvani and David Weisman's witty and informative 40-minute video "At Home With Mother Earth," which premieres Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, 5454 Beethoven St., makes a strong case for reviving the ancient tradition of building with earth and combining it with modern technology to meet the global shelter crisis.

This video is as elegant and crisp as its narrator, Eartha Kitt, as it surveys earthen structures--ancient and contemporary--in Egypt, Iran, France, New Mexico and Northern and Southern California.

Interviewees include, among others, innovative California-based earth construction experimentalists Nader Khalili and David Easton, who are proving that such buildings are beautiful, practical, durable, ecologically correct--and can hold up to major earthquakes.

A panel discussion will follow the screening.

Information: SCI-Arc: (310) 574-1123; Feat of Clay: (213) 462-2002.

Dark Vision: Jon Jost's stunning "The Bed You Sleep In" (UCLA's Melnitz Theater, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.) reveals the uncompromising, acutely observant independent filmmaker's vision of America to be darker than ever.

It is set in a deceptively idyllic Oregon town where Ray (Tom Blair), the owner of the local lumber mill, is struggling to keep going in the face of a depressed economy, the restrictions imposed by environmental activism and competition with Japan for raw lumber. Jost's leisurely pace, punctuated by very long takes of local vistas, leaves us disarmed until a shocking crisis erupts in Ray's family; in that instant Jost links Ray's professional and personal problems to evoke a profound sense of a loss of control over one's destiny.

What further concerns Jost is a confluence between a betrayal of self and others and the betrayal of the American Dream itself.

Information: (310) 466-FILM.

Natural Wonders: Robert Hillman's breathtakingly beautiful "Hidden Hawaii" (at Exposition Park's IMAX Theater), premiering Friday at 11 a.m., takes us on a tour of the islands' remote natural wonders, calling attention to those dedicated to preserving them.

Information: (213) 744-2014.

Primitive Tale: Elias Merhige's "Begotten," which screens Fridays and Saturdays at midnight starting this week at the Sunset 5, is an experimental film no less impressive for being awesomely grueling.

Merhige has taken black-and-white reversal film and used a process that has the effect of producing images that resemble high-contrast etchings--a process that took four years to complete. The resulting gritty look is appropriate for Merhige's brutally primitive tale, which the filmmaker says is inspired by Greek tragedy, yet also parallels, in admittedly bizarre form, the biblical story of creation and of Christ.

It opens with God (Brian Salzberg) disemboweling himself, then Mother Earth (Donna Dempsey) emerging from the folds of his robes, and in turn, giving birth to Son of Earth/Flesh on Bone (Stephen Charles Barry); mother and son then struggle for survival in a barren land, overrun by savage nomadic tribes.

"Begotten's" extremely harsh view of existence unfolds with a compelling pace accompanied effectively by Evan Albam's eerie, grinding sound design.

Information: (213) 848-3500.

Brazilian Women: Anne-Marie Sweeney's 57-minute "Amazon Sisters" (at the Sunset 5 Saturday at 11 a.m.) plunges us swiftly into an environmental hell, where Brazil's Amazon region--rich in mineral resources as well as lumber--is being systematically and swiftly savaged without regard to the ecology or the impact on the inhabitants and workers in the area, whose health has been undermined by both myriad diseases and horrendous industrial pollution.

Having revealed how both land and people are being destroyed in a relentless vicious cycle, Sweeney then shows how the women in various communities have started organizing and fighting back, even winning some key battles. It's a good thing these women are so engaging and so good at getting their message across, for Sweeney provides precious little background information.

"Amazon Sisters," which is being shown as a fund-raiser for the Brazilian women's movement, will be preceded at 10:30 a.m. by a program of Afro-Brazilian music and dance and followed by a panel discussion.

Information: (213) 292-7405.

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