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by Ted S. McGregor, Jr.

Living in the Inland Northwest can be frustrating if you look forward to seeing all the small, independent films that get written up in national magazines. Look at the movie section of Seattle Weekly, for example, and there are just so many options. Sure, we all like Spider-Man and the rest of Hollywood's offerings, but sometimes a few more choices would be nice.

Well, things are starting to change. Take Tadpole, for instance. The film was a hit at Sundance last winter and has generated good buzz. But it's not the kind of film that can create a big opening weekend, so it's crowded out of the cineplex by the usual big studio releases. Still, later this week, you can see it at the Met, where managers have been filling openings in the venue's schedule with great art house films, from the pageantry of Lagaan (in August), an Indian film filled with color and magic, to the inanity of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (this week, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and midnight), a cult classic filled with bad music and cheesey dialogue.

Unfortunately, as the fall progresses, there are fewer open dates, so the Met will be offering fewer shows, though The Fast Runner is penciled in for Oct. 7-9. This Canadian film was written, produced, acted and directed by native Inuits of the area around Baffin Island, and it was a big hit at Cannes in 2001. In the film, based on an ancient story, Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner, escapes a plot to kill him by crossing ice and sea -- completely naked.

Also recently added to the schedule is My Wife is an Actress, a French film in which art imitates life. In real life, director Yvan Attal is married to the Julia Roberts of France, Charlotte Gainsbourg. In the film, Attal plays a sportswriter married to a megastar (played, of course, by his real-life wife). Laughs ensue when the relatively lowly scribe goes to England and crashes the set of his wife's latest film to make sure she's remaining faithful. Other films are likely to be scheduled at the Met; watch our Film section for details.

The Panida in Sandpoint is also responsible for bringing such films to the local masses, but again, as with the Met, the schedule this fall will be opened up for other events. Still, the Panida is buying a new 35mm projector, which will expand its options considerably and make the viewing experience even better. To christen the new projector, the Panida will be showing a special, but as-yet-unannounced film on Oct. 25-26.

Down North Idaho in Moscow, the restored Kenworthy Performing Arts Center will bring a different art house film every Sunday night through Dec. 15, with such offerings as Merchant and Ivory's The Golden Bowl (Sept. 29), My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the surprise hit of the summer (Oct. 6), and The Last Waltz, Martin Scorcese's documenting of The Band's final concert (Dec. 15). Sherman Alexie will be on hand on Sept. 18 for a screening of his critically acclaimed The Business of Fancydancing. The writer, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, will answer questions afterwards, and you can expect a lot of laughs, as Alexie is part poet, part standup comic.

On the really, really big screen at Riverfront Park's IMAX Theater, it appears that Disney is continuing its programming for IMAX theaters. This time, its newest animated feature film, Treasure Planet, will appear in the regular theaters at the same time it debuts on the IMAX screen (Nov. 27), so viewers will have a choice. The film is an updating of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, except it's set in outer space. Then, on Christmas Day, perhaps Disney's greatest film opens: The Lion King. It's a story of murder and revenge that is almost Shakespearean. In fact, it was turned into one of Broadway's biggest hits of recent years. Elton John provides the music, and Timon and Pumbaa provide the comic relief. If you saw Beauty and the Beast at IMAX, you know it's quite an experience.

Our local mainstream exhibitors, AMC and Regal, also have special events this fall, along with their usual stream of Hollywood releases, including two highly anticipated follow-ups: In November, we'll get the second Harry Potter film, and around Christmas, part two of The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, opens. On Oct. 3, Regal Cinemas celebrates its 21st annual Cans Film Festival, when three cans of food gets you into a movie, with a bag of popcorn thrown in. At AMC in River Park Square, their 3rd annual Classic Film Festival is scheduled for every weekend in October. For $2.50, you can check out some of your favorite films of all time on the big screen instead of at home on video. Dates aren't firmed up, but films include Dirty Dancing, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Titanic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Dr. Strangelove and Ghostbusters. Check The Inlander later this month for details.

Warren Miller is back for one night only (Nov. 17) at the Spokane Opera House, with his latest ode to vertical insanity, Storm. Miller films are always a lot of fun, not just for the great music and crazy turns, but for the stunning vistas. In recent years, Warren's team has visited Kilimanjaro and a ski resort in Iran. It's also a social event -- a place to see all your ski buddies and get psyched up for the new season. And this year, there's a bonus, as the Inlander-sponsored Snow Show runs that same day, right next door, from 1-9 pm, with all kinds of exhibitors. If you can't wait, you can catch an earlier screening at the Panida in Sandpoint on Oct. 19.

Another local fall film tradition is the Cathedral and the Arts' showing of a classic silent film, with live organ accompaniment, on Halloween (at St. John's at 6 and 8 pm). This year, it's the Phantom of the Opera, with Lon Chaney as the Phantom. Film buffs can see how stories can be told visually, without the crutch of dialogue, and how the old masters, in the days before color, used a palette of dark and light in amazing ways. Plus it's extremely creepy. On the organ is Tom Trenney, a 26-year-old recent grad of the Eastman School of Music. Charles Bradley, who has played in recent years but had a conflict, handpicked Trenney when he heard him improvise to the Phantom at a show back East.

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