REEL LIFE / FILM & VIDEO FILE : Art House Titles Hit Marquee at Ventura Theater : The Mann Buenaventura has started showing specialty movies, and although the audiences aren't large, so far response has been good.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It used to be hard to find movies with Australian drag queens or Chinese subtitles in Ventura County theaters. But for the past several months, the Mann Buenaventura has been experimenting with specialty films, commonly called "art house pictures."

The list includes "The Adventures of Priscilla," a film about female impersonators in the Aussie outback; "Eat Drink Man Woman," a Taiwanese picture about a master chef and his three daughters, as well as "Barcelona" and "Mi Vida Loca."

Mann film buyer Denise Gurin said Ventura doesn't attract an art house crowd the way Pasadena or Santa Barbara does.

Gurin says she has "taken some criticism" from her bosses for booking the non-commercial films but she gets "revenge when the film does some business."

Occasionally, an art film will become a commercial success, such as "The Crying Game" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral."

Generally, however, the small films don't pull in large audiences, but that's not too important to Gurin.

"We're not making any money off of them," she said, "but it affords lots of people a chance to watch films they otherwise don't see. I keep hearing from the manager that people are pleased."

Gurin said that smaller films like "Eat Drink" and "Priscilla" appeal to her so she tends to buy them for Mann theaters. She said she usually buys any pictures distributed by Miramax Films.

Gurin said she is limited in the number of specialty films she can book because the number of prints is often low, or because her obligation to show commercial films means she might not generally have enough screens at a given time.

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Screenwriter Katherine Ann Jones will answer questions at a picnic dinner following the presentation of her 1988 film "The Christmas Wife" this Sunday at the Ojai Playhouse.

The film stars Jason Robards as Tanner, a lonely widower who goes to an agency to hire a woman to be his Christmas companion. After an off-putting visit to the tacky agency and its smarmy owner (Don Francks), Tanner is paired up with Iris (Julie Harris), a self-effacing, sad woman who makes a mystery of her background.

The film was nominated for best picture and screenplay by Cable's Ace Awards.

For Jones, an Ojai resident who is on the faculty of the USC Cinema and Television School, the Q&A; will be a warm-up for a two-day seminar, Oct. 8 and 9, on television and screen writing. The intensive workshop is from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Ojai Art Center, 113 S. Montgomery St.

For the $150 fee, participants will get advice on how to choose a good story for a film or TV show, screenplay structure, plot and character development, constructing good dialogue and how to sell a screenplay.

This Sunday's picnic dinner will be held at Boccali's restaurant, 3277 Santa Paula-Ojai Road. Dinner is $14. The film screens at 4:30 p.m. at the Ojai Playhouse. For more information call 646-8946.

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