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For the week of September 6 through 12, 2000

Small, bright gems of film

Magic Lantern’s Fall Film Festival

Express Staff Writer

If you thought the artistic and cultural events of the season were over, guess again. Kicking off on Friday will be the 12th Annual Magic Lantern Fall Film Festival. Continuing through Sept. 21, the festival will present 10 independent, art and foreign films.

Steve Bynum, who has managed the Magic Lantern for its owner Rick Kessler since 1985, recently spoke about the upcoming festival.

Opening the festival will be the acclaimed independent film "The Croupier." Directed by British filmmaker Mike Hodges, "The Croupier" is a complex thriller set in London about an aspiring writer who takes a high pressure job in a casino as a croupier.

While Jack Manfred, played by Clive Owens, tries to maintain a cool detached attitude about the world of gambling, he soon finds himself drawn into relationships with women he meets at the casino. Bynum said the film opened on one screen in New York. With only word of mouth publicity, it eventually became the highest grossing independent film of the year.

The New York Times described ‘The Croupier" as a "whip smart, tongue-in-cheek suspense thriller."

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times said in a review of the film that it "mesmerizes from its opening image of a roulette ball on the move. A taut journey inside the world of professional gambling, this enigmatic, beautifully made film crosses the traditions of film noir with a distinctly modern anomie with results as ice cold and potent as the vodka its protagonist keeps in his freezer."

Director Hodges is best known for his making of the British gangster movie, "Get Carter" starring Michael Caine.

In a press release, Hodges described his attraction to the film: "The casino struck me as a bell jar where it’s possible to examine human frailty and foolishness and to either sympathize with it or despise it. Jack treads a fine line between the two."

"The Five Senses," a film written and directed by Jeremy Podeswa, premiered at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival. At this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, the film won the City Award for Best Canadian Film, the festival’s top honor. This drama, pivoting around the five senses, takes place over a three-day period in Toronto when a young child has disappeared. It is the story of five characters living and working in the same building who are searching for intimate human connection. Each character explores a basic sense, as Podeswa said in a press statement, to "seize opportunity, to stake a claim in life." Starring in this film are Mary-Louise Parker, Phillipe Volter, Gabrielle Rose, Daniel MacIvor and Nadia Litz.

Also in the lineup for the first week is "The Butterfly," a Spanish drama about an asthmatic boy learning the lesson of savoring life from a kind schoolmaster. Kenneth Brannagh’s production of Shakespeare’s comedy "Love’s Labour Lost" is still another offering of the Festival. Branagh has reset the classic comedy in the 1930s of Fred Astaire. Staged with elegant sets and costumes, the film also features classic musical numbers from Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and George Gershwin.

Rounding out the first week will be "East is East," the comedic story of second generation Pakistani immigrants trying to cope with a traditional arranged marriage.

Bynum and Kessler have five more films planned for next week, including "Saving Grace," "Blood Simple," "Shower," "The Tao of Steve" and "The Original Kings of Comedy."

In the first, Oscar-nominee Brenda Blethyn plays an upper-class British widow who discovers a way to illicitly maintain her lifestyle (it involves the use of her greenhouse).

"Blood Simple" is the Coen brothers (producers of "Fargo") first film noir. This presentation is a director’s cut, re-release of the original film. Bynum described this film as "less stylized and more real than some of their later ones."

"Shower" won the Best Picture and Best Director awards at the Seattle International Film Festival. "The Tao of Steve" is a comedy portraying the amorous escapades of a kindergarten teacher.

Finally, "The Original Kings of Comedy" is Spike Lee’s documentary of the stand-up comedy world. Bynum commented that this a film one should see in the theater. "There is something about the chemistry of an audience that makes the film," he said.

The Magic Lantern Film Festival began modestly in 1987. Since then, the festival has expanded to more films shown in a shorter period of time. Bynum and Kessler put on their festival in both April and September, typically times of the year when there are not a lot of movie releases.

Bynum said that he and Kessler keep lists all year long of movies they would like to show. Often it is a long process arranging to get the films here. Bynum said that many of the independent films only print six or seven copies for distribution—that makes obtaining the films more difficult than it used to be.

He pointed out, however, that because the Magic Lantern now has a pretty good reputation for turning out crowds he and Kessler have been able to get many of the films they want.

Kessler, owner of the Magic Lantern for 26 years, has long been a fan of the avant garde, independent films. Bynum said of Kessler, "I’ve always been proud of Rick, because he has always run the cutting edge stuff. Early on he ran the first films of people like John Sayles, Quentin Tarrantino and Spike Lee."

Bynum went on to add, "We do this because we love it. We just hope our enthusiasm for these films is contagious."

Tickets for the shows are $7, although the Magic Lantern will sell a pass for all 10 movies for $50. Call 726-3308 for more information.


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