Oct. 20 2010 12:00 AM

The 13th annual East Lansing Film Festival opens tonight with ’I Am Love’

This year’s East Lansing Film Festival begins with Italian passion and ends with a mass crucifixation. In between, you’ll find everything from mountain climbing to road tripping to a behind-the-scenes look at a comedy legend.

It’s an impressive assortment of features, documentaries, shorts and Michigan-made productions assembled by ELFF exceutive director Susan Woods. If it seems like it’s been a long time between festivals, it has: Now in its 13th year, ELFF has moved from March to October to avoid having to compete with the traditional March Madness hoopla. The new dates also allowed Woods more choices in terms of selections.

It also gave regional filmmakers a little more time to work on their submissions for the Lake Michigan Film Competition, which takes place Saturday. Cash prizes for top features, documentaries, shorts and student films will be awarded to directors whose films were, according to the festival website, "at least one-quarter filmed, produced, or financed in the states that border Lake Michigan — Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin."

City Pulse staff writers and freelancers have had the chance to see many of this year’s ELFF offerings, and there are plenty of gems in the bunch. Titles are listed alphabetically under the day of their first showing; additional or expanded reviews will be available at www.lansingcitypulse. com.

And now, as they say in the movie world: Roll ’em!

Venue abbreviations

HCC — Hannah Community Center, 819 Abbot Road, East Lansing

RCAH — Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, C210 Snyder Hall, Michigan State University

C!C — Celebration! Cinema, 200 E. Edgewood Blvd., Lansing


“I Am Love” (7:30 p.m. HCC)

In the 1950s, director Douglas Sirk made a series of high-class melodramas, like “Written on the Wind” and “Imitation of Life,” which were supremely stylish symphonies of ravishing visuals and enormous emotions. Sirk’s spirit lives on in director Luca Guadagnino’s seductive sizzler “I Am Love,” in which the mesmerizing Tilda Swinton plays Emma, a Russian-born beauty who left her heritage (and perhaps her own identity) behind when she married into the Italian aristocracy. A quarter-century later, with her children now growing into adulthood, Emma faces the empty-nest syndrome, but in her soul, not in her palatial home.

It’s said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach; Emma will demon strate the theory applies to women as well, as Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a gifted chef and a friend of one of Emma’s sons, creates culinary masterpieces that reawaken Emma’s stifled senses and lead her into an erotic adventure. (Don’t be surprised if you leave the theater with a deep curiosity about Russian salad and the savory fish stew, ukha.)

Guadagnino savors each step of Emma’s journey in the same way Emma enjoys every morsel of Antonio’s creations: When the lovestruck Emma strolls the sun-baked streets of San Reno in a tangerine-colored dress, her golden hair spun into a tidy knot and her heart spinning out of control, you can feel the heat, both on her skin and beneath it. Guadagnino also paints a vivid picture of tragedy, as in a cemetery scene in which a sudden shower makes it seem as if tears are erupting from the frozen eyes of the statues. “Love” is a banquet for the eyes, magnificently accompanied by John Adams’ surging, sweeping score, which makes this wildly passionate tale feel more like opera than soap opera. — James Sanford

Thursday, Oct. 21

“North Face” (7:30 p.m. HCC)

Some people climb mountains as a hobby. But for Toni Kurz (Benno Furmann) and Andreas Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas), finding a way to scale the Eiger — known in Germany as Mordwand, or “wall of death” — is a mission of national importance. It’s 1936, and German patriotism is on the rise. If the bold Bavarians Kurz and Hinterstoisser can conquer this towering terror, it could be great publicity for the Third Reich.

Drawn from the true story of an ambitious and perilous quest, director Philipp Stolzl’s drama is both a nail-biter and a heart-breaker. It’s almost painfully sad to see how a nation’s hunger for heroic figures pulls two bright young men into a situation that’s all but certain to end in tragedy. To make matters worse, Kurz and Hinterstoisser’s childhood friend, bright-eyed press photographer Luise Fellner (Johanna Wokalek), is on-hand to capture the event, hopeful that it will give her some much-needed credibility in the eyes of her condescending boss (Ulrich Tukur).

Most of the movie’s second half recounts the torturous trip up the North Face of the Eiger, as Hinterstoisser, Kurz and two companions battle treacherous conditions, including merciless winds, thick cloud cover and, of course, rocks raining down upon them. Extremely well-acted and sometimes excruciatingly suspenseful, “North Face” is both a very scary history lesson and a strong warning about the dangers of getting caught up in the mania of the moment. — James Sanford

Friday, Oct. 22

“Being in the World” (6:30 p.m. RCAH)

A slew of philosophers talks about the human ability to learn skills — everything from cooking to carpentry to playing an instrument — in this documentary that’s billed as "a celebration of being human in a technological age." The interviews with the "masters" of their crafts are often just as interesting as those with the philosophers. While many of the ideas conveyed will be considered debatable in the audience’s minds, the film still serves as a great reminder of everything we are capable of without a computer or cell phone.

(Showing with the short "You’re a Good Man, Antimin") — Luke Allen Hackney

“The Happy Poet” (9:30 p.m. RCAH; repeats at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 27, C!C)

used to be said that Al Pacino’s “Scarface” held the record for the
most profanities in one film. “The Happy Poet” might set some sort of
record for the most “um”s
and “uh”s crammed into less than 90 minutes: Writer-director-star Paul
Gordon is so low-key and laid-back he makes Steven Wright look like a
real ball of fire.

willing to settle into the movie’s militantly mellow mood will find
some kooky charm in this comedy about overeducated, under-experienced
Bill (Gordon), who’s trying to make a go of his latest scheme: selling
hummus, tabouli and eggless egg salad out of a hot dog cart, with the
help of a drug-dealing delivery man named Donnie (Jonny Mars). “Poet” is
set in Austin and it eagerly embraces the city’s eccentric attitude and
“hey, dude, whatever” casualness.
(Get ready for conversations along the lines of “I guess I’ll see ya
later.” “Yeah, definitely.” “Cool.” “Yeah, see you later.”) While it’s
more agreeable than it is flat-out funny, “Poet” does make one curious
about what Gordon might be cooking up as his next project. — James Sanford

“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” (9:30 p.m. HCC; repeats at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28, C!C)

This documentary
keeps you entertained as it gives you a glimpse behind the scenes and
to some extent into the psyche of comedian Joan Rivers, the
hardest-working woman in show biz. We never learn what makes her so
driven— all she offers is that she needs the money (about which she is
shrewd) to maintain her lavish lifestyle — but she keeps us laughing in
this intimate biography; Rivers at 75 vows to surpass George Burns and
Phyllis Diller, who both performed into their 90s.

She is frank about her
late husband, Edgar, whose suicide left her strapped and at a career
low after, she claims, he mismanaged her late-night TV show. She
ruminates on her days with Johnny Carson, who famously banished her. She
hears the footsteps of Kathy Griffin, who she says is getting all her
big club dates.

though, she looks relentlessly ahead, never happy if she’s idle (the
movie opens with her appearance at a rundown club in Queens). Years have
not diminished her competitiveness, even with her own daughter,
Melissa, who is booted early from “Celebrity Apprentice,” while Joan
goes on to win. Rivers emerges as highly insecure (Melissa calls her
“very damaged”) but largely likeable and certainly no act — she’s
consistent on stage and off. She broadcasts her utter fear of not being
wanted by the public, but doesn’t tell us why. Maybe even Joan Rivers is
afraid to go there. (Showing with Bill Plympton’s short "Horn Dog") — Berl Schwartz

“Troubled Water” (6:30 p.m. HCC; repeats at 8:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 25, C!C)

A drama from
Norway, following the journey of a convicted murder after he’s released
from prison. As the ex-con finds a new vocation, the truth about his
past begins to emerge.

Saturday, Oct. 23

“Annabelle and Bear” (6:30 p.m. 107 S. Kedzie)

A heartwarming film that
follows the budding friendship between a biker named Bear and his
2-year old daughter, Annabelle. Bear’s free-spirited lifestyle changes
overnight when the junkie mother of his child abandons Annabelle at his

Fearing that his
fathering skills are inadequate, Bear sets off on a road trip, taking
Annabelle to live with his estranged mother. However, car rides form
bonds that cannot be broken as Annabelle adorably brings out the
fathering skills in Bear that he never knew he had. "Annabelle &
Bear" works best when focusing on its title characters, and the fine
performances of first-time actors Curt Mastoff and Olivia Walby. — Paul Wozniak

“Bilal’s Stand” (3:30 p.m. 109 S. Kedzie)

If John Hughes
had made a film about suburban African-American teens, it would have
looked and felt very much like “Bilal’s Stand,” a sublime fable told
with wide-eyed optimism and unflinching grittiness.

The film plays equal
parts as a classic underdog story and as a love letter to Detroit. “All I
see when I look around is a dream deferred,” says Bilal (Julian Gant,
“Detroit 187,” “Real Steel”) as he drives past iconic downtown
landmarks. The camera catches the decay, but it also highlights the
areas of growth and bloom in the troubled metropolis. Hope, here,
springs eternal.

was written and directed by Sultan Sharrief, who has tweaked his own
life’s story into the film’s plot. It follows Bilal, a high school
senior who longs to leave his family’s taxi stand in the Detroit suburb
of Inkster and pursue a higher education. The film cleverly employs popups to identify characters, translate ghetto-speak and underscore key moments. It’s
also razor sharp in its observations on socio-economic, familial,
religious, and racial castes—and unforgiving in its depictions of what
it is to be black and Muslim in the 21st century.

doesn’t shy from its use of non-PC slang, either. Special care is given
to use these words in context only and to describe what it actually
feels like to be called by the king daddy of all ugly words. For
example, when one of his cousins casually calls Bilal a “nigga,” he
shakes his head and sadly soliloquizes: “Regardless of what you do or
who you try to be … they make you into something vulgar and you don’t
even have a choice.” Powerful stuff, this is. Sharrief is definitely a
voice we should be hearing from more in the future. — Allan I.Ross

“Breaking and Entering” (3:30 p.m. 107 S. Kedzie)

What does it
take to get into the Guinness World Records? According to this movie, a
lot of time on your hands, an acute talent for something obscure, and —
quite possibly — a borderline personality disorder.

“Breaking and
Entering” explores the lives of several individuals who are trying to
break a world record so they can have their name forever etched in that
hallowed book of miscellany. Meet the joggler! He runs marathons while
juggling balls, but his family misses him. The stationary bike rider!
This self-obsessed middle-aged guy (“I amaze myself”) wants to set the
record for 100 hours of cycling in place, but he has some serious daddy
issues. And the record-setter record setter! He holds the record for
most Guinness records held by one person (which mostly consist of
trivial feats, such as fastest mile while pushing an orange with his
nose, but I won’t tell him no one’s impressed if you don’t.)

worst, this movie is a series of schadenfreude moments, showing how
much trying to set a world record has derailed the lives of some of
these people. At best, however, it attempts to answer the question of
What Life is Really About. Quoth the record holder for the World’s Smallest Telephone: “(It’s a) great inspiration for being the best at something. You make the world a better place.” — Allan I. Ross

"The Dream Play" (9:30 p.m. 109 S. Kedzie)

An intriguing
film about Sartre, acting, and the quest for fulfillment, ‘The Dream
Play’ is a dark drama that examines our personal prisons and the choices
we make to escape. Although the film beautifully sets up its main
premise and expertly ties all of its loose ends, it still leaves the
audience to wonder why some ends were ever introduced. Very strong
performances from the entire cast make ‘The Dream Play’ a first rate
think piece on an independent budget. — Paul Wozniak

“Fairview St.” (1 p.m. 109 S. Kedzie)

The plot is simple and
standard: a paroled convict goes home with the best intention of going
straight, but things go immediately awry. No new ground is broken with
this plot, but that hardly matters given the true mission of the film.

“Fairview St.” is
actually a love letter to the art of cinematography, written on a
picture postcard of Lansing; that postcard was written and directed by
its star, Lansing native Michael McCallum.

in high-contrast black and white, the film’s best moments feature
McCallum sitting in a familiar bar or restaurant, smoking. Filmed before
the Michigan new ban forced smokers to hide under rain barrels to get
their fix, the artful shots of smoke wafting around McCallum’s classic
movie star visage reinforces the fact that smoking does, in fact, look

Also notable are the languorous shots of McCallum sauntering through the local streets
and back alleys to a phenomenal soundtrack of mostly local musicians,
such as Jen Sygit, Cash O’Riley and Eightball Grifter. These long,
contemplative shots are transposed with tight close-ups of McCallum,
Elizabeth Moore as his wife, and “good” cop Shane Hagedorn. The skillful
lighting and composition of these shots flatters the subjects, who
shine most brightly when their “dialogue” is delivered only through
their facial expressions. — Mary C. Cusack

"Hog Wild" (3:30 p.m. 107 S. Kedzie, screening with "Breaking and Entering")

The pig is of
utmost importance in the documentary short "Hog Wild." In Viroqua, Wis.,
population 4,335, the object of the ‘13th Annual’ summer sport “Hog
Wrestle” is to put the hog in the barrel feet first, unharmed, within 30
seconds, in a cage filled with mud. "Hog Wild" features five of the
many competing teams with names like "Bodacious Oinkers" and the pirate
themed "Pigger Me Timbers." Steady camera work, crisp editing, and a
guitar-pickin’ soundtrack make this dirty documentary good clean family
fun. — Paul Wozniak

“Kitchen Conversations: Life Through Recipes” (6:30 p.m. 109 S. Kedzie) It’s
a fun concept: Women share memories of love, loss and tradition while
executing old family recipes. Commonly the stories are of
mother-daughter relationships, and the documentary features many
variations on these.

The film falters in
two ways: The theme song that plays between segments becomes a bit
grating, and the overall length could be trimmed. While all of the
stories are interesting individually, after an hour they start to melt
into one. But because the film was made in the Kalamazoo area,
Midwesterners in particular will feel right at home as the recipes are
cooked and the stories are dished out. — Mary C. Cusack

“Lake Michigan Film Competition Dark Shorts Program” (9:30 p.m. 105 S. Kedzie)

“Bare Witness”
eerily follows a man haunted by … something. An effective bleak tableau
is squandered, however, in this meandering, repetitive piece that keeps
up the suspense way past any point of interest.

“The Commandant” is
set in a Polish farmhouse in the opening years of World War II. Two
Russian soldiers are trapped behind enemy lines with their dying
political officer, where the leave-no-man-behind maxim is put to the
test. This taut, sharp thriller feels like a scene from a grander war

Edgar Allan
Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” is retold as a noir-ish mystery in the
nearly wordless black-and-white short “Dark Heart.” It creates a creepy
atmosphere, but fails to follow through with a good spook.

Grim Reaper spends a night babysitting a precocious preteen in the
joke-a-minute dark comedy “Death in Charge.” It lampoons the cynicism of
the violent video game culture (in a fictional first-person shooter, a
character receives a 97 percent in Indifference and 118 percent in
Murderocity) while maintaining its heart, as we empathize with a little
girl who feels abandoned by her floozy of a mother. A Gen-Yer mopes
about her fears — including death — in the digital short “Death the

“Let Old
Ghosts Rest” is a loose remake of the oft-parodied crime drama “Angels
with Dirty Faces,” this time set in the world of the Chinese Mafia in
Chicago’s Chinatown. Unfortunately, it can best be referred to as
Shyamalan-esque: suffering through stilted dialogue for a gotcha ending.
Alan Watts’ “Myth of Myself” speech is set to a series of esoteric
scenes in the abstract “Life as it is Described.” A couple of palookas
hash it out over a two-timing dame in “Mugs,” a thankfully short piece
that suffers from bad acting, sound, location and costumes.

Violinist” gets it right in every way possible, in which a loser with
the ladies decides to impersonate a violin virtuoso. To tell you any
more would risk giving away this polished-to-a-gem pitch-black comedy.
Its smart storyline, fully fleshed out characters and a willingness to
go to the proverbial “there” makes this one a must-watch. — Allan I. Ross

“Lake Michigan Film Competition Shorts Program” (3:30 p.m. 105 S. Kedzie)

the good old days when a kid could mix rocket fuel in the garage with
his dad’s 2-iron or charge up his neighbor’s lawn in a mock war-game
invasion while wielding a realistic hand-cannon? The filmmaker behind the
autobiographical “An American Boy” sure does, and gee whillikers,
weren’t times so much better then? Apparently, since he shoots the
re-enactments of his real-life childhood adventures at the actual

It’s beautifully shot
in the fuzzy cheesecloth style of halcyon-vision, but one can’t help but
wish that he had bothered to add a running storyline to his trip down
Memory Lane. The result is a series of episodic snapshots with no real

A woman’s
love for watching movie credits becomes an analogy for life — and a
heartwarming ode to movie aficionados — in the dreamlike meta short
“Credits.” In “Dear Gerbil,” the death of a woman’s beloved pet inspires
her to re-examine her relationship when her boyfriend proves to be less
than sympathetic.

Gains” is a short animated piece from a student at the Center for
Creative Studies in Detroit. It uses audio from a George Carlin
interview and a split-screen showing wheels being greased in Washington
and armories churning out weaponry to make a been-there, done-that
statement about the U.S. military-industrial complex.

a fictional Library of Congress-style institution dedicated to
cataloguing autobiographies, an elderly clerk wants to be remembered,
too, in the bittersweet short “Forget Me Not.”

Lost & Found Shop” plays like a forgotten fairy tale. A little girl
is trying to track down a beloved memory at a store where you can
recover everything from your remote control to your virginity. Even the
most jaded among you may get a little choked up.

House” is a fun, surreal fantasy about an alternate universe where
grownups talk, act, and live like kids playing mommy and daddy. A
heartbreaking comedy that effectively captures the emotions of having a
fight with someone you love.

Mary” is a belabored comedy about an atheist skater dude who one day
sees the Virgin Mary in his taco combo. High jinks ensue and the
commerce of religion is mocked. Olé! Watch a relationship die in
“Tumber: The Echo.” Actually, don’t.

dad used to say I was apathetic, which might have been true if I wasn’t
so lethargic,” says slacker/serial purse snooper “Waldo Invincible” in a
sunshiny short about a self-described “lover of all people.” — Allan I. Ross

“The Maid” (9:30 p.m. HCC; repeats at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 26, C!C)

Catalina Saavedra’s
riveting performance drives this bittersweet, seriocomic portrait of an
upper-class Chilean household in transition.

Saavedra, who can work
wonders with a sorrowful stare or a suspicious glare, plays Raquel,
who’s spent more than 20 years attending to the needs of the Valdez
family. Her great reward for two decades of dutiful domestic service: a
series of dizzy spells and excruciating headaches that lead the lady of
the house (Claudia Celedon) to look for someone to give Raquel a helping
hand. Raquel, however, isn’t interested in an assistant and goes to
extremes to hold on to her position.

there are some hearty laughs to be had in watching Raquel’s
passive-aggressive methods of dealing with unwanted interlopers and
uppity teenagers (hell hath no fury like a wily woman with a vacuum
cleaner), director Sebastian Silva underscores the humor with a strong
sense of melancholy. Raquel has relinquished so much of herself to the
Valdezes that she barely knows how to function outside of their house.
“The Maid” is an examination of the tug of war between the need for
change and the desire for security. Raquel knows how to clean up other
people’s messes, but she’s ultimately faced with the scary task of
sorting out her own heart. In Saavedra’s gloriously expressive eyes, we
see both pain and potential promise. — James Sanford

“November Requiem” (9:30 p.m. 107 S. Kedzie)

On Nov. 18,
1958, 33 men from Rogers City, Mich. went down with the Carl C. Bradley,
a freighter traveling across Lake Michigan. This documentary details
the event, interviewing the families of the victims and the lone living
survivor, bookended by a dive expedition to the downed ship.

The film sets the bar
low, though. By focusing on this one tragedy and ignoring other
shipwrecks — or even using it as a jumping-off point to discuss the
history of Michigan’s rich shipping industry — it fails to do anything
but allow a small town to express collective grief. Some of them still
haven’t gotten over their heartbreak after 50 years, but without
context, this film doesn’t have the power to break our hearts, too.
(Showing with "Pulitzer Pride" and "The Last Survivor of the Ford Hunger
March") — Allan I. Ross

“The Secret of Kells” (1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. C!C; repeats 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24, C!C)

An Oscar-nominated
animated feature inspired by Celtic mythology, "The Secret of Kells"
tells the story of a 9thcentury lad named Brendan, who battles Vikings
and a supernatural serpent in his quest to complete the Book of Kells
and save his town.

"Short Film Program 1" (3:30 p.m., HCC)

Films in this program
include "Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger," "Black Ops Arabesque,"
"Horn Dog," "Patrol," "The Adjustable Cosmos," "You’re a Good Man,
Antimin," "The New, True Charlie Wu" and "The Secret Friend."

"Short Film Program 2" (9:30 p.m., HCC)

In " Love
Child," an only child no longer receives the attention she has grown
accustomed to after a new a new arrival in the family enters the
picture: a cat. This funny, six-minute short offers a fairly accurate
portrayal of sibling rivalry. Other short films screening in this
program include: "Dying Western," "Horn Dog," "NYX," "Sebastian’s
Voodoo," "Solitary Life of Cranes," "Proud Mary" and "Yardbyrds."  — Luke Allen Hackney

"Televising a Revolution of Spoken Word from Detroit" (1 p.m. 107 S. Kedzie)

An illuminating
documentary that chronicles the history of the Detroit poetry scene from
its counter-culture roots in the 1960s to its proud and thriving legacy
today. Broken into several chapters, "Televising a Revolution" explores
different poetic styles and the elements that make them distinct.

The cinematography and
editing is nothing beyond camera-on-a tripod steady shots, but the
interviews and performances, from featured poets and revolutionaries
such as John Sinclair, Khary Kimani Turner, M.L. Liebler, and Jamaal
"Versiz" May, certainly stand on their own.

from the bongo and beatnik stereotypes of the past, these Detroit
artists make their city, its problems and its pleasures, come alive
through the eloquence of their verse. (Showing with "Regional Roots: The
Birth and Evolution of Detroit and Its People") — Paul Wozniak

“Tibet in Song” (6:30 p.m. RCAH; repeats at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 25, C!C)

Director and ethnomusicologist Ngawang Choephel documents life in his homeland.

“Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls” (6:30 p.m. HCC; repeats at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 25, C!C)

They’re introduced as
“cultural icons (and) a national treasure” — but unless you live in New
Zealand, you may never have heard of Jools and Lynda Topp, twin sisters
who sing, yodel, clown around and make no secret of the fact they are

“We’re not really
comedians,” Lynda explains. “We’re singers who are funny.” They’re also
not shy about their politics: Over the course of their 30-year career,
the Topps have challenged South Africa’s apartheid policies and New
Zealand’s nuclear weapons program while advocating (quite successfully)
for gay rights. British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg admiringly refers
to them as “cheeky chappies” and “sort of an anarchist variety act.”

as director Leanne Pooley shows us through an engaging combination of
concert footage and archival clips, the Topps have amassed much more
than a cult following: When they travel out to the hinterlands to
entertain farmers and sheep herders, they get the same warm welcome
offered by the Kiwi casino set. Their repertoire includes novelty tunes
and heartfelt ballads, spiced up with the occasional off-color joke
(“Why can’t lesbians wear makeup to Weight Watchers? Because you can’t
eat Jenny Craig with Estee Lauder on your face.”) or candid confession.

also more than a hint of Milton Berle in their goofy sketches — in one
of their most popular bits, they don drag to play sex-crazed,
over-the-hill sports commentators — and, like Berle, the Topps always
leave ‘em laughing: They even end their signature song, “Untouchable
Girls,” with a hearty “cha cha cha.” How can you not love that? (Showing
with Bill Plympton’s "Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger") — James Sanford

“A Village Called Versailles” (1 p.m. HCC)

A small group of
New Orleans residents — comprised of Vietnamese immigrants and their
children — deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in this
documentary. The first generation arrived in 1975, and the group had
been splintering, with the older generation unwilling to embrace
American culture, and the youth largely uninterested in the past.
Following the disaster, the bond betwenn the generations is
strengthened, even as things get worse in the aftermath of the storm.
(Showing with Richard Martin- Jordan’s "God is American") — Luke Allen Hackney

“When Cotton Blossoms” (1 p.m. 105 S. Kedzie)

The subtitle
says it all: “The Inspiring Life & Legacy of Dr. Laurence C. Jones.”
Jones founded the Piney Woods School in 1909 in Braxton, Miss., to
provide education to the children of sharecroppers: The documentary was
produced by the school to celebrate its 100th.

While the work does at
times come across as a promotional piece for people who are already
familiar with the school, the story is touching enough to appeal to a
broad audience. Credit outstanding production values.

is a concise and almost flawless lesson in how to make a compelling
documentary. The filmmakers combine vintage footage and photographs with
historical reenactments, with effective results. Jones’

story unfolds with a natural arc, climaxing in a lynching attempt and
culminating in a tearjerking appearance on Ralph Edwards’ “This Is Your
Life.” (Showing with Bob Hercules’ "Radical Disciple" and Tim Nagae’s
"Charles McGee — Nature") — Mary C. Cusack

Sunday, Oct. 24

“Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage” (6:30 p.m. HCC; repeats at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 27, C!C)

documentaries are often for fans, save for "Behind the Music"-type
specials in which really sordid things happen (think Motley Crue). While
"Beyond the Lighted Stage" may or may not convert listeners, this is a
dream for Rush die-hards.

The film has
interviews with all the members, and insights from everyone from Jack
Black to Gene Simmons to Billy Corgan. As far as a music doc goes, this
is as well done as possible. Plenty of interviews, tours of old
neighborhoods, clips from their first show, photos, concert footage, the

While it
may not interest everyone — nobody overdosed twice in the same day,
snorted ants or killed their friend in an automobile accident (think
Motley Crue) — if you find yourself caught up in the music, you’ll love
it. (Screening with Sebastian’s Voodoo" from director Joaquin Baldwin) — Luke Allen Hackney

“Sita Sings the Blues” (3:30 p.m. C!C)

Artist Nina Paley’s
interpretation of Indian mythology involves a beautiful woman abducted
by a demon king; the soundtrack is provided by jazz singer Annette

“Who Does She Think She Is?” (3:30 p.m. HCC)

Director Pamela
Tanner Boll profiles a quintet of women trying to balance their careers
and their home lives. (Screening with "The Adjustable Cosmos.")

Wednesday, Oct. 27

“Spartacus” (7 p.m. HCC)

Kirk Douglas plays the
title role in director Stanley Kubrick’s rousing, lusty epic about a
slave and gladiator who leads a revolt against the Roman empire.

The opulent film
(which will be presented in its full 192minute original version) won
four Academy Awards and the cast includes Laurence Olivier, Tony Curtis,
Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, John Ireland and Peter Ustinov.

But the real thrill
for Lansing viewers may be the famous cries of "I am Spartacus," which
were recorded in the Michigan State University stadium 50 years ago,
prior to a Notre Dame/MSU football game.

MSU Archives display at the screening includes a personal letter from
Douglas to City Pulse writer Lawrence Cosentino at the screening. — James Sanford