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Occasionally Lovely, Always Amazing

"ED WOOD HAD AN OFFICE HERE, OR SO THEY say," Greg Ptacek declares, clearly pleased that he and co-director Christina Soletti are launching the third Silver Lake Film Festival from such auspicious digs, located above the beloved Vista Theater. "D.W. Griffith too," Soletti chimes in. "He built sets for Intolerance right here. And we found out that Sessue Hayakawa, the silent-film star whose 1915 movie The Cheat is closing the festival this year, had a studio on this corner. 'A local,' we thought. 'Perfect!'"

As with the recent Sunset Junction Street Fair, the Silver Lake fest is all about being local, about pulling together work from the filmmakers, artists, musicians and other free-living folk who've helped this area explode with creativity over the last decade. For 2002, the festival crosses the boundaries of Silver Lake proper: In Echo Park, part of Alvarado Street will be closed off for an all-day skateboarding celebration ("SK8JAM") at which both actual kids and the relentlessly young at heart can show their stuff while taking a few pointers from the pros. Two upbeat half-hour skateboard documentaries, Eastside and Drive, will be shown -- in a church, of all places. This 10-day festival, which stretches from Hollywood to downtown, will also include art shows and live music -- lots of it -- from a plethora of local bands. But this is the film section, so let's talk movies:

Letters of the Underground -- The opening-night program, to screen at the Vista, offers 15 shorts by local filmmakers, all of whom were commissioned by producer Joshua Triliegi (who contributed his own segment) to seek inspiration in the epistolary efforts of avant-garde artists from Jack Kerouac to Salvador Dali to Simone de Beauvoir. We'll confess to having seen only two of the shorts, which were strange, unsettling and memorable, adjectives applicable to all 15 of the film's subjects.

Riders -- In this moody first feature from writer-director Doug Sadler, teenage Alex (Bodine Alexander) tries to protect her little sister from their mother's intense, controlling new boyfriend. In a career high, perennial bad-guy character actor Don Harvey is alternately scary and charming, leaving one as unsure as Alex as to whether the guy is really trouble. Their final confrontation is wonderfully odd, and doesn't feel like the result of movie plotting at all, which makes this beautifully crafted film a lot like life.

Shutter -- Recovering from the death of a friend, self-pitying white guy Robert (Brandon Karrer) tries to re-ignite his photography career by wandering the streets of L.A., camera in hand, leading to an unexpected mentorship of Marcus (Gary Gray, a heartbreaker), a young African-American boy from the hood. As one might expect, tragedy ensues, but writer-director Roger Roth, making his feature debut, doesn't rush the issue, preferring instead to linger over the rhythms of daily life, many of which are captured in lovely still photographs. Although Robert's relationship with his shrill girlfriend doesn't ring at all true, his subtly shifting antagonism with Keith (Trent Cameron), Marcus' not-so-tough older brother, does. Karrer and Cameron both do superb work. There's also a fierce performance from Lloyd Avery -- who served as a technical adviser to director Roth and was later convicted of two counts of murder and is serving a life sentence at Pelican Bay State Prison -- as the gang leader "G Ride."

Rise Above: The Tribe 8 Documentary -- Tribe 8 is a ferocious, all-female, all-queer punk band from San Francisco whose members bare their breasts onstage and whose lead singer likes to pull a straight boy from the audience to kneel and give a blowjob to the thick strap-on dildo poking out from the pouch of the men's underwear she's wearing. Filmmaker Tracy Flannigan gets it all in close-up, but also captures the rich and complex life stories of these women, whose lives take on political weight by virtue of sheer authenticity. Tribe 8 is scheduled to perform at Spaceland after the screening (see Scoring the Clubs).

The Backyard -- Video camera in hand, director Paul Hough hits the road and finds that in back yards both rubble-strewn and impeccably manicured, hormone-mad American freaks and geeks are beating one another with sticks wrapped in barbed wire, that is when they're not throwing themselves in flaming pits filled with broken light bulbs. It's all in the name of fun, and in honor of the World Wrestling Federation. The fights are devastating to witness, as are shots of some of the (mostly) boys' parents, standing ringside, prodding their progeny on to ever bloodier, ever more dangerous stunts. This is harrowing, utterly depressing stuff, especially when Hough travels to England and finds a merry band at play there as well -- yet another popular American export.

The 2002 Silver Lake Film Festival runs thru September 21. See Film & Video Events in Calendar for screening information.


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