Cineophiles rejoice

& & by Marty Demarest & & & &

You've heard the complaints before. Whenever serious movie buffs start to discuss the state of cinema in Spokane, talk invariably turns into a lamentation about the lack of regularly shown art-house films. And while the recently increased number of screens in the area has resulted in a greater number of "serious" movies making it to town (for however short a run), cinephiles still want more.

And it's understandable. Movies that make it to the art-house circuit tend to be those that have been purchased by a major distributor because they have the potential to make money or garner prestige. No matter how daring or niche-driven, they still have the touch of Hollywood on them. As Edmund Wilson wrote, "All Hollywood corrupts; and absolute Hollywood corrupts absolutely." So for films that have yet to prove themselves, or that have been made purely as artistic statements, aficionados have to turn to film festivals.

This weekend, that means turning to The Met in Spokane. For the third consecutive year, the Contemporary Arts Alliance will present the Spokane Northwest Film Festival. With three feature films, a documentary, two shorts, along with filmmakers and participants, the festival will give local moviegoers the chance to catch films that they may not find anywhere else.

Leslie Ronald, who is the head of Contemporary Arts Alliance, says that initiating the festival was part of their plan to represent the diversity of current art forms. "We had brought sound artists, visual artists, installation artists and dance, and we were talking about all the venues, and somebody said that film hadn't been represented. So I called Bob Glatzer and said we had to do this."

Glatzer, the film critic for Spokane Public Radio, decided to focus the festival on filmmakers from the Northwest -- United States and Canada -- and see what he could come up with. "The first year, we found films from Canada and the U.S., short films and feature films, and it worked well. And we were lucky last year because we had a great Spokane connection, with Jasmine Dellal's documentary American Gypsy about the Marks family. And now we're coming up on our third year."

The feature films that Glatzer found this year will all receive their U.S. premiere at this weekend's festival. Friday night's opening will screen the feature film Here's to Life by director Arne Olsen. The film stars James Whitmore, Ossie Davis, Kim Hunter and Will & amp; Grace's Eric McCormack, and is set in what Glatzer describes as "a Spokane of the mind.

"These are three residents of a supposed Spokane retirement home who find some hanky panky in the books there, and kidnap the young manager to take them on a last fling for a week at Victoria's Empress Hotel. And it's very cute, and it's very funny." A satirical short entitled White Face will precede the movie.

Saturday afternoon's matinee features the documentary Hand Game. It was made by Portland filmmaker Larry Johnson and shot on reservations throughout the Northwest. Threaded through the story of the stick game is a story about Coyote and Owl, and how death came to be. After the festival, Johnson and members of local tribes who are featured in the film will be present to discuss the game and the documentary.

On Saturday night, after the world premiere of the specially commissioned short film Organ Music, the festival will show the feature Marine Life. Starring Cybill Shepherd, Marine Life is directed by Ann Wheeler, who helmed last year's festival selection Better Than Chocolate, and who will be present this year.

"Marine Life is based on quite a famous Canadian book, set in Vancouver, and written by a dear friend of mine," says Wheeler. "The leading part is the mother. It's a matriarchal dysfunctional family, and the mother is trying to provide for her extended family -- children from several marriages -- by singing in a lounge. It's something she's always done, and always loved to do, but it's a place that's a bit run down and on the verge of being shut down. So she's at that point in her life where she's doing what she loves to do and she may have to give it up. And I was looking for someone who could play all those different facets of being a mother and a singer and a personality, and Cybill was just such an obvious choice."

The first meeting between Wheeler, who describes herself as "just a Canadian girl," and Shepherd demonstrated that they were well suited to work together. "I was invited to come down to L.A. once it was agreed that she wanted to do it. And so I was quite overwhelmed by the size of her place, and walked up the driveway. And she watched me make the long hike up her driveway talking to myself in a bit of a state because I had so much to carry. And by the time I got there, she met me on the front porch and said, 'You look like you need a drink.' And we laughed, and within a few minutes, we were singing old songs that we both knew, and futzing about at the piano."

The festival concludes on Sunday night, with another screening of Organ Music, followed by the feature film Touched. It strikes Glatzer as "a very powerful and strange film, which is set on an Indian reserve in British Columbia. And it stars Lynn Redgrave and Lolita Davidovich.

"It is the story of this white widow of a tribal council member who is now being asked by the council to leave the house that she's always lived in, even though she runs a little caf & eacute; down the road," Glatzer says. "She doesn't want to, and she's a heavy drinker, and then this strange young man comes along -- he could be either a coyote trickster figure, or he could be schizophrenic. And there's a strange and compelling love story, almost like Harold and Maude, this very young man and very old woman."

And despite the reputation that smaller, independent films have for being experimental and distancing, Glatzer promises that each one of the films being shown this weekend will connect with viewers. "None of these are self-limited. Every one of them is intended for a broad audience."

& & & lt;i & The Spokane Northwest Film Festival is at The Met Friday-Sunday, Feb. 2-4. Here's to Life shows Friday, Feb. 2 at 8 pm. On Saturday, Hand Game shows at 2 pm, and Marine Life shows at 8 pm. It wraps up with Touched on Sunday at 7 pm. Tickets: $8 per film; $5 seniors and students. $30 for the series. Tickets for the opening night gala, which includes dinner and passes for all screenings, are $60. Call: 624-2615. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &