The 42nd Annual USA Film Festival begins its five-day festival season this evening. The programming schedule includes 22 documentaries and feature films, as well as a short-film showcase. Here’s a short list of Movie Ink‘s recommended viewing (all screenings are at the Angelika Film Center):
Children of Paradise (6:30pm, April 25)
Produced under daunting circumstances and very nearly lost to the ravages of time, Director Marcel Carne’s and screenwriter Jacques Prevert’s tragic love story is the most beautiful film you’ve never seen. The 190-minute epic was miraculously produced in Paris and Nice during 1943-44, under Nazi supervision. (Its production designer and composer were Jews who had to work in hiding; Carne was forced to hire pro-Nazi collaborators, who were oblivious to the fact they were working side-by-side with resistance fighters.) Children of Paradise had not been screened publicly in the United States for 30 years when a 4K digital restoration played at the Reel Thing Technical Symposium last summer. Images were cleaned and repaired, imperfections were removed, and in some cases images were recreated to fill in holes or even entire frames. The festival will screen this remarkable restoration courtesy of Janus Films.
Monsieur Lazhar (7:15pm, April 26)
An Academy Award-nominated adaptation of Evelyne de la Cheneliere’s one-man play that examines the delicate relationship between teachers and their students. Algerian immigrant Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) replaces an elementary school teacher who died tragically. While he guides his new students through a rocky healing process, nobody in the school is aware of Bachir’s painful former life or the secret past that could result in his being deported. Writer-director Philippe Falardeau treats the material with sensitivity and humor, and gives us a beautiful and unaffected tale of a humble man who bravely transcends his own loss in order to help his students do the same.
True Grit (6:30pm, April 27)
John Wayne was already an American icon and quintessential Western star when he played taciturn, hard-edged, one-eyed US Marshall Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn in Henry Hathaway and Marguerite Roberts’ adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel. Wayne had appeared in more than 125 films by then, but it was True Grit that made audiences and filmmakers alike realize what Wayne meant to the silver screen — indeed, the role earned him a Golden Globe as well as his only Academy Award for Best Actor. Kim Darby in attendance.
The Amazing Colossal Man (7pm, April 27)
The definitive Bert I. Gordon movie, screened as part of a tribute to the iconic director of sci-fi B movies. Air Force colonel Glenn Manning (Glen Langan) saves the life of a commercial pilot whose plane lands near a top-secret experiment, but gets irradiated by plutonium in the process and grows uncontrollably into a 70-foot monster. Manning goes berserk and flees into the Nevada desert, eventually trashing Las Vegas like a vacationing rock star and forcing a confrontation atop the Boulder Dam. A rare chance to see one of the great Atomic Age monster movies in its natural habitat, preceded by a compilation clip of Gordon’s work. Bert I. Gordon in attendance.
The Last Push (9pm, April 27)
When a probe discovers signs of life on Jupiter’s moon Europa, a 13-year project to obtain samples and photographic evidence is undertaken, culminating in the launch of the two-man spacecraft Life One. However, astronaut Michael Forrest’s (Khary Payton) mission drastically changes when an accident kills his co-pilot and damages the spacecraft; now he must spend three years alone in a cramped module with limited communication to mission control, and repair the ship in time to alter his trajectory and return home. Almost completely isolated and pushed to his mental and physical limits, he struggles to maintain his ship and his sanity while pondering his failed mission and his place in the overwhelming depths of space. A stirring, realistic look at the rigors and dangers of space exploration, and an introspective adventure in the vein of Apollo 13 with a dash of 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s a rare brainy and unique science fiction story of survival and courage in the face of overwhelming odds by writer-director Eric Hayden. Filmmakers in attendance.
The Silent Thief (9:15pm, April 28)
the family ties that bind are given an unconventional and terrifying examination in this thriller by writer-director Jennifer Clary, wherein a seemingly harmless young drifter named Brennan (Toby Hemingway) rents a room in the beach house of the Henderson family. He is in reality an identity thief with a tenuous grip on sanity, desperate to find a place to call home. Almost immediately upon moving in, Brennan begins to ingratiate himself into the family, only to hit a snag when their son (Cody Longo) comes home from college for the holidays. Brennan’s behavior turns pernicious and eventually violent, throwing the family into turmoil. And then things get weird. Filmmakers in attendance.
The Princess Bride (5pm, April 29)
The festival closes with a 25th anniversary screening of Rob Reiner’s star-studded adaptation of William Goldman’s beloved novel. A kindly grandfather (Peter Falk) visits his ill grandson (Fred Savage) and reads him a story that unfolds before our eyes: The beautiful maiden Buttercup (Robin Wright) is kidnapped and forcibly engaged to the odious Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). It is up to her childhood love Westley, disguised as the Dread Pirate Roberts (Cary Elwes) to save her. On his journey he engages in a unique battle of wits with a self-styled criminal genius (Wallace Shawn), and befriends a vengeance-seeking swordsman (Mandy Patinkin) and a gentle giant (Andre the Giant). Rob Reiner in attendance.