Film forum emphasizes style and substance

Film festivals of every description - large and small, local and international, specialized and generalized - have sprung up in such numbers that even movie buffs wonder if they're all necessary, or if some do nothing more than increase the moviegoing options in a particular locality. In this atmosphere, it's wise for organizers of a new filmfest to think about its reasons for being and how it might contribute to the betterment of film.

The new Lake Placid Film Forum has passed these tests with flying colors, bringing a distinctive touch to its inaugural program, which wrapped up earlier this week. Part of the credit goes to Lake Placid itself, a tranquil community about five hours away from the megalopolis to the south. But most of the kudos go to the festival's thoughtful creators, who found several ways of giving the event a flavor all its own.

One was to call it a "forum" rather than a "festival," signaling a desire to spark ideas and discussions, as well as screen-gazing for its own sake. Another welcome feature was the active participation of student filmmakers, whose movies were showcased alongside works by seasoned artists.

All of which made for a program with substance and style, plus enough variety to satisfy any film enthusiast. This extended to the screening schedule, which gave local moviegoers and visiting critics an early look at fare that will be playing around the country in coming weeks.

Among the well-received American pictures was The Tao of Steve, directed by Jenniphr Goodman, a promising first-time filmmaker.

The hero is a lackadaisical young man who uses a mishmash of religious and philosophical notions to justify what amounts to a scandalously lazy life, then enters a crisis when a new girlfriend resists his half-baked habits. The screenplay is clever, and Donal Logue emerges as one of the most interesting young actors around - especially when you compare his indolent Steve with the feisty soldier he plays in the coming "The Patriot," a study in contrast if ever there were one.

Also cheered here were Saving Grace, a sardonic British comedy with Brenda Blethyn as a dignified lady who turns to crime when a financial emergency hits, and Shower, an irresistible Chinese fable about cultural clashes played out in a Beijing bathhouse. An Affair of Love, shown in earlier festivals as "A Pornographic Affair," chronicles the shifting emotions of two lovers played by Nathalie Baye and Sergei Lopez, two of France's most compelling stars. Butterfly is a deceptively gentle Spanish tale about a little boy's experiences in a nation infected by fascism during the 1930s.

Revivals included Joel and Ethan Coen's inventive shocker Blood Simple, soon returning to theaters in a freshly reedited version, and a rare showing of Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One, an extraordinary 1968 experiment in filmmaking-about-filmmaking that's finding a new life as director William Greaves prepares a new "Take Two" in collaboration with Steve Buscemi, a gifted actor-director in his own right. Stay tuned for further developments on this fascinating front.

In yet another highlight, the forum gave a lifetime achievement award to director Milos Forman, whose career has ranged from Czechoslovakian classics like "Loves of a Blonde" and "The Firemen's Ball" to Hollywood hits like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Amadeus" and controversial items like "The People vs. Larry Flynt" and "Man on the Moon," the smartest Jim Carrey comedy ever. Forman accepted the accolade with grace and good humor.

Given its solid lineup and robust attendance, it seems certain that this fledgling forum will turn into a long-running success. Other such events would do well to pay attention, since its various creative mixtures - of the serious and the amusing, the verbal and the visual, the old and the new - point the way to renewed vitality on the ever-growing festival scene.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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