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‘Compensation’ Rewards

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Hollywood Black Film Festival on Saturday presents the world premiere of Zeinabu Irene Davis’ beautiful and poignant “Compensation,” a unique and venturesome feature film from the maker of the notable shorts “A Powerful Thang” (1991) and “Cycles” (1989). The festival is tonight through Monday at various Culver City venues, with the “Compensation” premiere at 6 p.m. Saturday at Mann Culver Plaza 6, 9226 Washington Blvd.

Inspired by the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that gives the film its title, “Compensation” makes inspired use of archival photos, silent film intertitles--the film is also subtitled for the hard of hearing--experimental visual and audio techniques and motifs drawn from African culture. The film interweaves parallel Chicago romances, one unfolding at the beginning of the 20th century and the other at its end.

In both instances they involve a deaf woman and a man with normal hearing. Both couples are beautifully played by the same actors, Michelle A. Banks and John Earl Jelks. The respective courtships unfold against the background of their eras in all their perils and joys, evoked by Davis with inspired economy--in both the artistic and financial sense of the word.

In the earlier era, Banks’ Malindy Brown is a beautiful and poised young seamstress, capable of respecting both the propriety expected of young ladies at that time and her own natural spontaneity. Not surprisingly, Arthur Jones (Jelks), newly arrived from the Deep South, is attracted to Malindy, who initially rejects him because of his normal hearing.

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But he persists, and in one of the most touching yet amusing intertitles ever written, we are told simply that “Arthur learns to read. Malindy learns to love.”

In 1990s Chicago, the highly creative Malaika Brown (Banks), a dancer and artist, meets more resistance than Malindy did from her community when Malaika allows herself to respond to the pursuit of Jelks’ Nico, a librarian at an expansive children’s library. Jelks is an imposing man of much warmth, humor and sensitivity and is highly persuasive in his character’s pursuit of Banks in both story lines.

Davis is adept not only at illuminating the challenges of love crossing the hearing barrier but also in suggesting that such a challenge does not somehow miraculously protect the couple from the even-greater challenges that can turn anyone’s life upside-down in any era. “Compensation” is an important achievement, illuminating and captivating, and it deserves the chance to reach the widest audience possible.

Information: (310) 348-3949.

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The Media Arts Center of the Japanese American National Museum, 369 E. 1st St., Little Tokyo, presents tonight at 7:30 and 8:30 the world premieres of Justin Lin’s 26-minute “Crossover” and segments from John Esaki’s 60-minute work-in-progress, “Top of Their Game.”

The lively “Crossover” explores the Japanese American 70-years-plus love affair with basketball, which was reinforced strongly in the World War II internment camps, where boys and girls alike had little else to do with their free time. Now that the basketball playing is in its fifth generation and attracts some 20,000 players from all over the West Coast, the leagues face the increasing and controversial challenge of retaining ethnic identity while attempting inclusiveness. One thoughtful boy reasons that because the leagues were born of discrimination it’s “kind of wrong” for them today to discriminate in return.

With “Top of Their Game,” Esaki, who has long documented the Japanese American community, calls attention to Japanese American athletes both well-known and obscure and discovers how sports fortified Japanese Americans, especially niseis, in their efforts against discrimination.

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Wat Misaka tells of becoming the first Asian American to play professional basketball--at the very moment Jackie Robinson was breaking the color barrier in baseball--only to be summarily rejected by the team’s coach, and Tommy Kono recalls how meeting Emerick Ishikawa, four-time National Weightlifting Champion, in the Tule Lake internment camp inspired him to go on to become a two-time Olympic gold medalist in weightlifting--and a three-time Mr. Universe.

Information: (213) 625-0414. Free admission.

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The American Cinematheque’s seventh annual “Recent Spanish Cinema” series, which includes a Pedro Almodovar tribute, commences tonight at 8 with Vicente Aranda’s “Jealousy,” a classic study of a macho truck driver (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) tormented by the notion of his beautiful, passionate wife (Aitana Sanchez Gijon) in the arms of a mysterious former lover. Aranda keeps his drama consistently compelling with insight into this eternal dilemma, charting every shift in power and emotion in this increasingly volatile relationship.

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The formidable Carmen Maura stars in Almodovar’s celebrated 1988 “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (Friday at 7 p.m.) and also in Antonio Hernandez’s taut neo-noir “Lisbon” (Friday at 9:30 p.m.) as a woman desperate to get to Lisbon. She persuades a reluctant video salesman (Sergi Lopez) she encounters at a highway gas station to give her a ride. It’s understandable why the Cinematheque calls this terse thriller, which also stars another veteran star, Federico Luppi, a Spanish “Detour.”

Penelope Cruz, well on her way to international stardom, has arguably the best role of her career in Fernando Trueba’s inspired pitch-dark farce “The Girl of Your Dreams” (Saturday at 8 p.m.), as the lovely and courageous star of a florid musical being produced at UFA in 1938 as a German-Spanish co-production.

Cruz and her doughty colleagues come face to face with Third Reich fascism in its swift ascendance--and increasingly blatant anti-Semitism. This outrageous yet caustic comedy, with its world on the verge of war, has a touch of Georges Feydeau in its comic confusions and more than a touch of Billy Wilder satire. Trueba’s film will be followed by a top-notch Almodovar double feature, “Matador” (1986) and “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” (1984).

Iciar Bollain’s “Flowers From Another World” (Sunday at 5 p.m.) may well prove to be the series’ favorite, a captivating tale with much humor and poignancy, about a busload of women who arrive at a rural Spanish village populated by a number of men in need of wives. Several of the women are from the Caribbean and are of African descent, spiking the story with a racial edge. Lissete Mejia and Luis Tosar head a splendid ensemble cast. Carlos Saura’s “Goya in Bordeaux,” starring Francisco Rabal, follows at 7:30 p.m. Numerous filmmakers and actors will appear with their films.

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Information: (323) 466-FILM.

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The American Cinema Foundation’s annual Freedom Film Festival, tonight through Wednesday at the Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, highlights the work of director Andreas Kleinert, whose compelling “Paths in the Night” stars Hilmar Thate as a former East German factory director, devastated by his loss of status with reunification, who turns law-and-order vigilante. (310) 394-9741.

Mikki Allen Willis’ “Shoe Shine Boys,” which screens Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Santa Monica Film Festival at Bergamot Station, 2524 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, is a savagely funny and incisive satire about two young pals, one rich and naive (R.J. Knoll), the other poor and disturbed (Darren Geare). Together as a prank they decide to grab the Olympic torch from a woman runner (C.C. Ruffin) as she moves through a pedestrian underpass. This next-to-no-budget indie, an acid comment on the all-American hunger for fame, has the potential for breakout success.

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Information: (310) 264-4274.

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The UCLA Film Archive’s “New Iranian Films, Rediscoveries and the Diaspora” continues Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Melnitz Hall’s James Bridges Theater with Ali Reza Davudnezhad’s jaunty, affectionate comedy “Sweet Agony.” The film raises the question of how the presence of a documentary crew influences the behavior of those under scrutiny.

Davudnezhad got members of his own family to appear in “Sweet Agony,” which has as its central figure 17-year-old Reza (Mohammad Reza Davudnezhad), who is also the focus of the documentary being shot in the film. Reza lives with his doting grandmother and widowed father in a house across the street from the home of his great-uncle, whose pretty daughter Mona (Mona Davudnezhad) and Reza seem to be falling in love. Their highly volatile family is much dismayed, not because Reza and Mona are first cousins once removed--they apparently have been betrothed since childhood--but because they’re slacking off in their studies and thereby endangering their chances to go on to college.

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This good-natured, amusing film took the screenplay prize at the Fajr Film Festival.

Information: (310) 206-FILM.

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“Paris Is a Woman’s” Greta Schiller and writer Mark Gevisser teamed for the memorable documentary “The Man Who Drove With Mandela,” which launches the Laemmle Theaters’ “Documentary Days” series at the Sunset 5, Saturdays and Sundays at 10 a.m. The series repeats at the Monica 4-Plex, Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m., starting March 4 and 5.

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Cecil Williams was a dashing, esteemed Johannesburg theater director and anti-apartheid activist who helped smuggle an exiled Nelson Mandela back into Africa to continue organizing for the African National Congress. Nelson would pose as Williams’ chauffeur.

When they were arrested in August 1962, Williams, then 55, was released the next day; Mandela faced life imprisonment.

Corin Redgrave plays Williams in scenes of self-reflection drawn from this uncommonly courageous man’s writings.

Information: (323) 848-3500; (310) 394-9741.

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At the heart of the late Tomas Gutierrez Alea’s delightful, funny and poignant 1994 “Strawberry and Chocolate,” which Outfest screens Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Village at Ed Gould Plaza (1125 N. McCadden Place), is the friendship that develops between a gay man and a straight man, something rarely depicted on the screen and never with such insight. Vladimir Cruz’s David, a devoted Communist, discovers that Jorge Perugorria’s Diego, a Ministry of Cultureemployee, is not some sort of political and sexual decadent but “a man of more courage and principles than you could imagine.” (323) 960-9200.


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