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UCLA Festival 2007

As in past years, the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s eight-day presentation of creative work by students both graduate and undergraduate includes five evening screenings — one of them given entirely to animation — of short films, a Writers Guild–sponsored program of readings from new work by screenwriting majors, and a Producers Showcase in which the audience is invited to watch four wound-up MFA candidates attempt to pitch their thesis projects to a panel of producers and studio heads. (Now that’s what I call a reality show!) The centerpiece of the festival, however, remains the Tuesday-night “best of” screenings, hosted by department dean Robert Rosen. As in past years, the best films in this Directors Spotlight are the ones supported by excellent writing. In the UCLA–Greek Film Center co-production House of the Olive Trees, a half-hour romantic comedy of considerable depth and complexity directed by Thouly Dosios and co-written with Maeve McQuillan, a spoiled young Greek woman on Aegean holiday with her first serious boyfriend struggles mightily against their growing intimacy. Following a fantasy prologue and very cute cute-meet à la Theo Angelopoulos (see photo), we observe Anna — over the course of a lovers’ quarrel, an outing with a quartet of elderly widows, a tipsy flirtation with a young actor, and the serendipitous documentary intrusion (or so it seems) of a dangerous brushfire — as she learns how some losses trump even that of her fragile independence. Meanwhile, in the cleverly constructed, no-budget black-and-white short Mike’s — which, at four minutes, breaks the seven-minute record for narrative compression set by Amy Adrion’s 2005 Spotlight winner Surviving Seventh Grade — writer-director Ted Chung provides his lonely-guy protagonist with an unsettling lesson on sharing as the gateway to maximum personal advantage. Speaking of Amy Adrion, it’s worth noting here that her fine new, 16-minute film, Home of Split Pea Soup — like her previous entry, a meditation on the curative and contagious power of generosity — provides a clear sign that the other four nights of student-film screenings likely contain any number of as-yet-unacknowledged gems. Directors Guild of America theater; Tues., June 12, 7:30 p.m. www.tft.ucla.edu/festival2007.