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    NY/Avignon Film Festival

    French kiss

    The Avignon Film Festival's New York edition continues to celebrate the love both countries share — with the movies, at least.


    In keeping with the times, I guess this would have to be called a freedom festival.

    20 films from the United States and France, in five locations in Manhattan and Queens.

    Related links: Official site
    NY/Avignon Film Festival
  • Overview

  • American Beer
  • Easy
  • Evergreen
  • Haute Tension
  • The Avignon Film Festival was started in Avignon, France, by an American expatriate who'd had a bad reaction to the more famous Cannes Film Festival.

    "You had to be a celebrity to get in anywhere," complains English teacher turned impresario Jerry Rudes. "I went to tell my friend, a filmmaker named Agns Varda [about the bad experience]. She said, 'Stop complaining about the Cannes Film Festival and if you're so smart, start your own.'"

    Today, Rudes splits his time — and his 20-year-old festival — between France and the U.S., and he's pleased with the cozier atmosphere he's created.

    "The directors are there," he says. "People get to taste wines and chat about movies — it's a talkfest as well as a filmfest."

    The French and American versions will have only a few films in common, but they share some general sensibilities. Films from both countries are well represented, and the lineup leans toward intimate, personal stories, including some from first-time filmmakers.

    French films featured in this year's New York event include "As If There Were Nothing" (pictured above), about the struggle to produce a play in Paris, and "Dissonances," about how a family carries on after a fatal car crash. One less intimate, more brutal selection is "High Tension" ("Haute Tension"), a reputedly ruthless horror story sometimes compared to the work of Asian directors such as Takashi Miike.

    American features include one from New York, Ghazi Albuliwi's "West Bank Brooklyn," about three children growing up in an Arab-American immigrant family caught between old and new worlds.

    In addition to a French biopic about Bobby Kennedy, the festival offers some even more unexpected documentary subjects. "American Beer" chronicles a filmmaking fivesome's journey across America in search of small brewers, their stories, and of course generous samples of their products. "Desert Amazons" profiles the elite female military corps assigned to guard Libyan dictator Muammar Qadaffi. And "Word Wars" does for Scrabble tournaments, presumably, what last year's "Spellbound" did for spelling bees.

    Another interesting-looking American feature is first-time filmmaker Jane Weinstock's "Easy." American actress Marguerite Moreau (I found no sign on the Internet that she's related to French icon Jeanne Moreau) stars as a young woman embarking on a career thinking up product names who has less luck finding an identity of her own.

    Presumably, this specific title isn't what festival founder Rudes has in mind when he declares: "We don't want 'easy.'"

    "We would look for films that are somewhat subtle," he explains. "We have one woman who sold her house to make a movie. We probably have some people who mortgage their grandmother's inheritance. So passion is important."

    Festival articles



    American Beer

    "American Beer" is not just a documentary about the exotic and wonderful beverages being made by small breweries around the country — it's about real characters pursuing the same American dream in 38 original ways.



    Writer-director Jane Weinstock didn't put enough original thought into "Easy," but the nicely acted and affectionately filmed portrait of a girl in love's thicket is still a watchable little romance.



    The well-intentioned story of an exceedingly poor mother and daughter falling apart while trying to pull themselves together seems clumsy in its attempts to dramatize the difference between wealth and poverty.


    High Tension

    This American-influenced French film is competent and suspenseful, but ultimately does little more than extend the running joke that is the slasher flick.

    APRIL 21, 2004

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