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Smaller distributors typically make a play in the first quarter, while the major studios are dumping last year's rancid leftovers (a la At First Sight) on an unsuspecting public. S.F.-based Turbulent Arts opened Uncut last week at the Castro and steps out with Paulina next month, while Roxie Releasing joins the parade with Ernest Dickerson's Blind Faith. A sober '50s-set drama about black ambition razed by racism that screened at the '98 S.F. International Film Festival, Blind Faith is worlds away from RR's last venture, Nick Broomfield's fascinatingly deranged "documentary" Kurt and Courtney. In a crucial booking that will go a long way toward determining its future around the country, Blind Faith opens Jan. 29 at the Roxie for a two-week run. "It needs to prove itself in one market," explains the Roxie's Elliot Lavine. "And if not here, then where?"

See, theater chains are used to relying on studio-funded ad campaigns as much as on the quality of the movies themselves to sell tickets. Even art houses, which depend on good reviews and word-of-mouth, count on marketing support from Miramax or Sony Pictures Classics. So it's a risk to book a film from a smaller distributor that can't afford big newspaper ads, let alone TV spots. However, theaters like New York's Film Forum will take that risk if a film has performed well in a key city. "Exhibitors are the kings of the realm of the coin, and the test market theaters are the kings' tasters," opines Henry Rosenthal, local producer of Lynn Hershman Leeson's forthcoming Conceiving Ada.

On another front, Roxie Releasing is hoping for a bounce effect from the crowd-pleasing Van Gogh exhibit that just opened at the L.A. County Museum after a record-breaking stop at the National Gallery of Art in D.C. It was Paul Cox's 1987 cinepoem Vincent that put RR on the map, and the company is reviving the film Feb. 1 at the Nuart for a three-day run followed by weekend matinees. The film also tentatively resurfaces Feb. 12 at the Roxie, heading up a new calendar chockablock with edgy treats such as Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth, a new doc crammed with rare TV guest appearances and other "lost" footage of the martyred genius. The calendar really heats up in May, with the first annual S.F. International Sex Workers Film and Video Festival, arranged by none other than video artist and provocateur Scarlot Harlot.

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We're big fans of Berlin & Beyond, the annual weeklong series of new German-language films presented by the Goethe-Institut at the Castro, but frankly we're not overjoyed by the introduction of an audience award -- sponsored this year by the AirTouch Communications Foundation. Salvation lies not in corporate participation, no matter how benign it seems. ... Keep your eyes peeled for the sappy trailer for The Other Sister, the chuckle-and-sob flick starring Juliette Lewis as a mentally handicapped beauty who falls in love despite overprotective mom Diane Keaton's objections. Director Garry Marshall shot exteriors in San Francisco last January and, on the off chance you've never seen the lagoon near the Palace of Fine Arts in a movie before, this one's for you.

By Michael Fox

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