A winning look at sidewalk book peddlers

High-tech filmmaking grabs the headlines, especially when epics like "Gladiator" and "Mission: Impossible 2" hit the screen. But low-tech filmmaking remains alive and well, allowing directors to take more personal approaches to more idiosyncratic subjects.

Take the new "BookWars," by Jason Rosette, a proudly independent filmmaker. Its topic has never received feature-length treatment before, even though it's familiar to anyone who's strolled down a city sidewalk: the street-side booksellers who peddle their wares like urban nomads, braving all kinds of weather and occasional raids by police.

Staying true to his subject, Rosette has filmed "BookWars" not in glossy 35mm film, but in a range of inexpensive formats including Super-8 film, Super VHS, digital video, and two kinds of 8mm video. This lends an appropriate feeling of intimacy without hampering the director's ability to tap a few of the special effects so popular today - slow-motion has been added and Rosette has even concocted a brief dream sequence.

What the movie presents through these unassuming means is a smart and funny depiction of the book-selling scene in New York's art-conscious Greenwich Village, portraying its participants and showing what happens when the forces of law and order - embodied by a local university and a city-sponsored campaign to unclutter the sidewalks - decide to expel them from their turf.

It's a small-scale film in every way, made by a former member of the book-peddling trade who respects the privacy of his "characters."

At a time when many young directors aspire to be the next Steven Spielberg, it's refreshing to find one who names Walt Whitman and old westerns among his influences. "BookWars" is as winning as it is modest.

*Not rated; contains vulgar language.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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