Indie Ingenuity

Berkeley Video and Film Festival 2000 runs from Saturday, Nov. 18 though Sunday, Nov. 19 at the Fine Arts Cinema, 2451 Shattuck Ave. Call (510) 843-3699 for more information.





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"Are you wearing socks?" asks Berkeley Video and Film Festival founder

and director Mel Vapour. "'Cause this will knock them off."

The sock-popping piece he's referring to is Dreamer, an

11-minute short feature by Raymond E. Spiess Jr. that is a Sundance and

Oscar nominee. It's set in 1629 on a desert front in the Western United

States - and that's not even close to why it's different from any other

movie you will see this year. The film is a brilliant flashforward into

modernity and loss, and an anti-historical collage of war and peace. It's

not to be missed.

Dreamer is just one of the many daring new films

showcased at the Festival this year. After submerging into a day's worth of

films, I was surprised at the hybrid of young and new talent among seasoned

producers and directors. Chris Hokuala Uchiyama shot the 105-minute

Bliss while he was still in high school. He may have single-handedly

created a misconception out of the word "senior slump."

Never Land is also directed by a young talent, Kia

Simon. In a modern spin on the Peter-Pan-and-Tinkerbell story, Never

Land centers on Charlie, a young girl with a bulimic mother, a buxom

and horny drama teacher, and a guardian angel manifested as a fairy tale

icon.

What's in Heidi's Head comes in the form of a TV

series perhaps geared to a very young audience. It's wacky and tacky, but

not entirely in a bad way. Think of it as an animated "Pee Wee's Playhouse"

with less sadistic overtones and more emphasis on learning and science.

Roommates is Christabel Savalas' comedic take on the San

Francisco housing crunch. Ironically, she can't find a decent roommate no

matter how tight the market is. While watching a movie shot on video may be

a new experience for some viewers, the story is original enough to outweigh

its medium.

A Drama Queen's Nightmare is one of my favorites, for its

smooth, grainless film texture, great acting, and eerie,

Alice-in-Wonderland overtones. Vapour predicted this film as one of the

sleeper hits of the festival. Filmmaker Sarah Chase does some novel film

tricks, including stopping the action but allowing the soundtrack to roll

on. The film looks like it was shot in the late 1960s, and my viewing

companion and I were amazed at the scrupulous attention to details that

made the set look so unbelievably real. The story line is perplexing but

fresh. As the title announces, the protagonist is seeing strange versions

of herself in a nightmare. In essence, the altered reality alters her

reality.

Tanaz Eshaghian's Najeeb: A Persian Girl in America is

also about a girl living in an altered reality, but it couldn't be more

different from A Drama Queen's Nightmare . It's the director's

personal documentary, and it's equal parts sad and funny. Her friends,

family and community recount the ails of Iranian-American girls as they

enter the adult world - issues as common as fear of being "spotted" with a

boy to those as disturbing as hymen reconstruction before marriage. The

young women tell their tales with surprising matter-of-factness. The

grown-ups, such as Eshaghian's friend-psychologist, approach the issues

from their generational standpoint. What Eshaghian ends up with isn't

necessarily perspective, but at least some acknowledgement from friends and

others that she isn't the only unmarried 25-year old Persian girl being

instructed to get married as soon as humanly possible.

Let me mention that the previously cited movies are the ones I

had a chance to view. They're not necessarily the festival highlights nor

are they better or worse than anything else you'll see. There are many more

films from directors with unique visions and maxed out credit cards who

have devoted their lives to making films. Check 'em out for yourself.

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