Reel World

African films; The Fourth Dimension; Kurosawa Award

East of Eden Some people get a spring cleaning bug, while others get the travel bug. Mill Valley Film Festival Director of Programming Zoe Elton trekked to Tehran last month for the Fajr Film Festival (named for the "Ten-Day Dawn," aka the revolution), where movies are more than just a fun night out. Elton reports, "Iran is really a country that understands metaphor. Where there are very specific rules, you say what you want to say but in different ways than you do in a country like America." Paradoxically, the regime's tight grip helps the Iranian cinema's visibility abroad, says Elton, who's pursuing a couple of titles for Mill Valley's fall fiesta. "Government money goes into a lot of films, so there's a springboard to get Iranian films into the world. In contrast, there's no central way to get African films out."

One way work from that continent makes it here is through the S.F.-based California Newsreel. The nonprofit operation does its part by distributing a 60-film "Library of African Cinema" to U.S. universities, festivals, and broadcast outlets. Co-Director Cornelius Moore just returned from his sixth scouting trip to Fespaco, the biennial Pan-African Festival of Cinema and Television in Burkina Faso. "It's always amazing that Fespaco happens," Moore says with a laugh, "since Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world." One of his fave films from the festival was Daressalem by Chad's Serge Issa Coelo, which also screens in the upcoming S.F. International Film Festival. "It's not set in a particular country or time, so it represents situations throughout the continent where there are rebellions against despotic leaders," Moore explains. "Eventually, there's dissension among the rebels, and the country doesn't necessarily win."

Shoot for the Contents "The face stores a whole social history -- past, present, and future," muses Trinh Minh-ha, the path-breaking East Bay filmmaker. Her new Japan-set experimental feature-length narrative, The Fourth Dimension, relies on people rather than landscapes to explore how rituals define home. It's also Trinh's first foray into digital video. "It used to be that video and film were two separate media, and artists would bring out their separate properties. For me, digital technology has provided a bridge between the two. What seemed strange or unreal in the analog world -- like portable, wireless technology -- seems natural in the digital world. As a filmmaker I'm very skeptical, but it's a field that's totally open." S.F. Cinematheque premieres The Fourth Dimensionat 8 p.m. March 23 and 24 at the S.F. Art Institute (800 Chestnut at Jones); call 822-2885.

Play Misty for Me Or better yet, play some Mingus blues. The S.F. International Film Festival's selection of the misogynous mediocrity Clint Eastwood for its heretofore coveted Kurosawa Award for lifetime achievement is a sad misjudgment. Eastwood makes overwrought B-movies devoid of nuance or depth; he's a hack who has demonstrated a single ability: to come in under budget and make money for producers and studios. (This talent, incidentally, is the prime criterion in Hollywood for career longevity and gold statues. Keep that in mind while you're watching this Sunday's Oscar butt-kiss marathon.) Put plainly, Eastwood's name has no business alongside those of past Kurosawa winners like Michael Powell, Robert Bresson, and Satyajit Ray. Yes, I know that more deserving recipients like Jean-Luc Godard and Billy Wilder won't travel, and you can't sell tickets to a glitzy gala if the guest of honor is MIA. The good news is that this travesty will be forgotten in a few years, just as few people remember that sitcom squeeze Geena Davis received the SFIFF's acting award in 1992.

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