13 Features, 9 Shorts Fill Laguna Fest

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Laguna Beach Film Festival '98, which opens today and runs through Sunday, won't be rolling out the red carpet for any glamorous Hollywood stars to walk the walk and talk the talk. Nor will it have Roger Ebert or Gene Siskel in black tie or Joan Rivers in a designer dress or even a crew from "Entertainment Tonight" chatting up the usual suspects.

But you will find 13 feature films and nine short films, along with a few familiar faces on the screen.

Tonight at 7, Miramax will sneak "Wide Awake" (starring Rosie O'Donnell and Dana Delany), at the Forum Theatre on the Festival of Arts grounds, 650 Laguna Canyon Road, where all the movies will be screened. It's billed as a family film in which "10-year-old Joshua embarks on a search for the answers to life and death after his beloved grandfather dies." If Josh discovers those answers, I wish he'd let me know. Miramax guarantees that he'll find "laughter, growth and a few life lessons along the way." $7. (714) 497-2787. Tickets available in advance at the Laguna Playhouse box office next door. Limited tickets at the Forum before each show.

Friday at 6:30 p.m., the festival will screen "Just Write," a romantic comedy about a Hollywood tour-bus driver posing as a screenwriter to impress an actress. It stars Jeremy Piven (of "Ellen") and Sherilyn Fenn (of "Twin Peaks"). $7. Also, from 7:30 to 10 p.m., the festival will host an opening-night benefit party presented by the Exchange Club, a charitable organization. Several directors, producers and actors whose movies are entered in the competition will attend. $50.

Saturday's lineup begins at 10 a.m. with "Memories Do Not Burn," a short documentary about refugee children from the former Yugoslavia, narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker. "Where the Air Is Cool and Dark" follows at 10:30 a.m. It's a feature-length film about the rootless life of loggers in the Pacific Northwest and a recovering drug addict's struggle to fit in. (Mature themes). $7. For a complete festival listing: (714) 494-1313.

Competition judges are Robert Miller (producer of "The Crucible"); Kip Konwiser (producer of "Miss Evers' Boys"); Jon McIntyre (producer and former manager of the Grateful Dead), and Richard Ferncase and Juli Gottlieb (of Chapman University's School of Film and Television). Top picks will be announced at a closing party Sunday, 6 to 8 p.m., at the Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach. $20.

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A film festival also gets underway Friday at the Port Theatre, 2905 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar: "General Chaos: Uncensored Animation," comprising 20 short animated films--all anarchic in spirit--and the 1996 animation Academy Award winner, "Quest." $7 (for the 1 1/2-hour compilation; no one under 18 admitted). (714) 673-6260.

"Quest," made by German film-maker Tyron Montgomery, is stop-motion, puppet-animation. It follows the adventures of a nameless, faceless figure made of earth who goes in search of water, which slips incessantly just beyond his reach. More fascinating than the figure itself are the surreal wormholes it keeps falling through. It becomes a nonlinear descent from the pale, shifting surfaces of an exterior world to the dark, threatening interior of a mechanized universe.

Another short, "The Saint Inspector," has wracked up an armload of awards at film festivals from Chicago to Ireland over the last two years. This compilation, on its second stop of a California tour, represents the commercial U.S. release of "Inspector." Made by British animator Mike Booth, it's quirky, sophisticated, brooding and scintillating. In a heavenly bureaucracy of some sort--well, it's in the clouds, anyway--Buddha-like figures sit in a state of bliss as far as the eye can see. One of them gets an unusual examination by a meddling official.

Still more shorts include "Malice in Wonderland," "American Flatulators," "Junky," "Beat the Meatles," "Oh Julie!" "Killing Heinz," "Donor Party," "Espresso Depresso," "The Perfect Man: Performance Art Starring Chainsaw Bob" and Bill Plympton's "Sex and Violence." The titles, incidentally, are mild indications of the content. R. Crumb would more than likely get a kick out of this show.

Also at the Port Saturday and Sunday, at noon: "Around the World in 80 Days," the 1956 Oscar winner for best picture starring more big names than it knows what to do with: David Niven, Shirley MacLaine, Buster Keaton, Marlene Dietrich and, of course, Mexican actor Cantinflas, the real star of the show (except for the balloon).

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Elsewhere in Orange County:

* Salvo Luther's "Forget Mozart" (1986), about the life, times and passions of the composer, will screen Friday, 7 p.m. at Saddleback College, Science/Math Building, Room 313 (28000 Marguerite Pkwy., Mission Viejo). Free. (714) 582-4788.

* Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov's "Anna" (1996) will screen Friday,, 7 and 9 p.m., at the UC Irvine Student Center, Crystal Cove Auditorium, Pereira and West Peltason roads. $2.50-$4.50. (714) 824-5588.

Mikhalkov, who also made "Burnt by the Sun," shot "Anna" in secret over 13 years during the days of the Soviet Union. It centers on a "child's soul as it resists and battles the shifting paranoia set by a nation's false glory."

* "Post-Colonial Classics of Korean Cinema" continues Saturday at UCI, 4:30 p.m., with the U.S. premiere of Yi Man-hui's "The Road to Sampo" (1975), about "three social outcasts--an ex-con, a day laborer and a bar-gal--who meet fortuitously on the road," festival co-director Kyung Hyun writes. At 7, Im Kwon-Taek's "Mandala" (1981) will be screened in a newly restored print. Both in the UCI Film and Video Center, Humanities Instructional Building, Room 100, West Peltason Road. $4-$6 (separate admissions). (714) 824-7418.

Kim notes that Im may be the best-known Korean director on the international film circuit and that "Mandala" is among his most-acclaimed pictures. It tells a story about two monks--one rarely sober and always on the road, the other orthodox and college educated--while "capturing the details of everyday life around a Buddhist temple as no one had previously dared."

* "Out on Screen: Queer Film and Video" continues today 7:30 p.m., with "Storme: The Lady of the Jewel Box" (1987), also at UCI Film and Video Center.

The film looks at gender, race and performance through its portrait of Storme DeLarverie, a male impersonator who worked with the fabled Jewel Box Revue and on the Black Theatre circuit of the 1940s. Free. (714) 824-7418. The first video, an explicit one, documents the performance art of a lesbian collective; the second comments on lesbian subtexts in Hollywood movies.

* "Black Heroes: Hollywood Action!" also continues today with "The Mack" (1973), 7:30 p.m., at the Argyros Forum, Room 208, Chapman University, 333 N. Glassell St., Orange. Free. (714) 744-7694. A Richard Pryor vehicle, this action-comedy influenced the work of writer-director Quentin Tarantino.

* Francois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" (1959) is a significant film of the no-longer-new French new wave about a young boy, said to be based on the director's life, who finds himself in a reform school and doesn't like it. "Blows" screens in the Chapman Film Classics series Wednesday, 7 p.m., at the Argyros Forum, Room 208, Chapman University, 333 N. Glassell St., Orange. Free. (714) 744-7694.

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In L.A. and beyond:

The UCLA Film Archive and the Vietnamese Cinema Assn.'s "Contemporary Films From Vietnam" concludes this weekend in Melnitz Hall's James Bridges Theater with four masterful films.

Screening tonight at 7:30 p.m. is Nguyen Khac Loi's remarkable "The Retired General," in which a career military man (Manh Linh) retires to his large rural estate only to be appalled with the petty, corrupt and self-absorbed behavior of his family and neighbors.

Vuong Duc's 1993 "The Wild Reed" (Saturday at 7 p.m.) offers a uniquely powerful vision of what the aftermath of the Vietnam War was like for the Vietnamese people.

Dang Nhat Minh's 1984 "When the Tenth Month Comes" (Sunday at 7 p.m.) is a film of pastoral beauty, great sensitivity and subtlety. In a rural village, a young wife (Le Van) conceals the news of her husband's death in battle from her elderly, ailing father-in-law with the help of letters written in the dead man's name by the local schoolteacher who, in fact, falls in love with her.

This landmark series ends with Dang's superb 1995 "Nostalgia for Countryland." This is another film that evokes a treacherous longing for the pastoral existence which is in fact both grueling and endangered. It's a coming-of-age drama in which a young man (Ta Ngoc Bao) and his sister-in-law (Thuy Huong) work the fields; her husband has been gone for years and is unlikely ever to return. The situation is further complicated with the arrival of a beautiful woman (Le Van), a native villager, who has returned after years abroad, yearning for the simple life of her childhood. (310) 206-FILM.

Times staff writer Kevin Thomas contributed to this report.

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