Reel World

La Regle de Jeu, Cell 16, and Big Wednesday

La Regle de Jeu
This has been a year of nonstop ecstasy for Francophile cinemaphiles, as the PFA, Castro, and S.F. Film Society mounted one transcendent retrospective after another: Robert Bresson, Francois Truffaut, Jacques Becker, Max Ophuls. (Fans of new French movies also had much to savor, as Jeanne and the Perfect Guy, The Dreamlife of Angels, and Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train introduced a host of new talents.) This remarkable year culminates with the long-awaited revival of Jean Renoir's sublime Grand Illusion (1937), a triumph of unsentimental humanism and one of the pinnacles of cinema's first century.

This revival features a restored print with new subtitles, which means that Grand Illusion is nothing more or less than the must-see film of the season. You can score a pair of free tickets for the Castro engagement by doing your holiday shopping at www.bookstore.com (the Web site of A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books). Click on the Cinema Lit. icon and buy one of seven film-related titles (including John Baxter's George Lucas bio, Mythmaker). Thank Terry Geletner, who's cooking up a similar tie-in between the upcoming Billy Wilder series at the Rafael Film Center and Cameron Crowe's Conversations With Wilder. And keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming Erich von Stroheim biography due out after the first of the year.

Cell 16
In the not-so-distant future, historians will excavate the history of the American century from the approximately 108,000 educational films produced from 1910 to 1990. I can't imagine anybody in our own time knowing more about this overlooked genre than Geoff Alexander, the unflaggingly curious visionary behind cine16 in San Jose. Every week, the alchemist of the "cabaret-laboratory" -- who's working on a book about educational films -- screens forgotten 16mm masterpieces ranging from breathtakingly shot historical films (Mesa Verde: Mystery of the Silent Cities, narrated by Jack Palance) to fascinating ethnographic films (Master Weavers of the Andes) to intimate documentaries (Psychopath).

Alexander was recently invited to present four shows at Stuttgart's Kuenstlerhaus, but returns from Germany in time to mark cine16's fourth anniversary this month with a pair of typically intriguing shows. "Women of the Cloth" (Dec. 9) collects five films on the subject of "transformed textiles," while "The Institution Man" (Dec. 16) considers the links among convicts, patients, and students. "As we move forward into the next century," Alexander writes, "we anticipate national shows to occur in addition to the international events, and predict that our little cine16 project will soon spark a much larger interest in this rather large, but still hidden, corner of North American cinema." Check out Alexander's illuminating program notes at www.cine16.com.

Big Wednesday
Surfing for Life, David L. Brown's portrait of lifelong, now-septuagenarian wave riders, sold out three shows and nabbed the Documentary and Audience awards at the Hawaii Film Festival. While thrilled with the kudos, Brown kept his perspective. "We knew if we didn't have a great response in Hawaii, we probably didn't have a bright future," he said. Brown's latest, Crossing the Digital Divide, debuts on PBS in late January. ... Debra Chasnoff and Helen S. Cohen's It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in Schools won the 1999 Multicultural Media Award from the National Association of Multicultural Education, the first gay-themed production so honored.

Michael Fox is co-host ofIndependent View, which airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on KQED Channel 9.

 
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