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Weekly Alibi The Second Annual Family Film Festival

The Second Annual Family Film Festival.

By Devin D. O'Leary

MAY 26, 1998: 

Local Film Fest Enters Terrible Twos

From the massive (Cannes) to the trendy (Sundance) to the up-and-coming (Telluride), film festivals have become the driving force in Hollywood. Once the pure providence of indie cinema, film festivals are now baptismal ground for films both mainstream and underground. In 1990, The Cannes Film Festival created marked derision among attendees by choosing David Lynch's controversial Wild At Heart for their Palme d'Or prize. By way of contrast, this year's closing night film at Cannes was Columbia TriStar's mega-budget monster flick Godzilla. What a difference a decade makes.

Most film festivals have a lengthy gestation period. Cannes has taken 51 years to reach its bloated industry joke status. Telluride has spent a leisurely 25 years in reaching its "up-and-coming" status. In just two short years, however, Albuquerque has spawned a film festival that is grabbing national attention, nailing down world premiere films and garnering astounding support from Hollywood hotshots. So what is it that makes the International Family Film Festival different from its older siblings?

The International Family Film Festival (May 28-31) was started last summer as a unique fundraising effort for Futures For Children. Futures is a local, nonprofit organization that works to heal social injustice and improve the well-being of children by teaching self-help skills and fostering community development in American Indian reservations and Latin American countries. All profits from the International Family Film Fest go directly to Futures For Children. A pregnant belly seems to be the newest status symbol in Hollywood, and with superstars like Bruce Willis and Demi Moore leading the "family values" parade, it's hardly surprising that Tinseltown has thrown its support behind an event that benefits children. As a result of all this Hollywood goodwill, last year's inaugural Family Film Fest came through with in-person appearances by Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen and Kurt Russell and behind-the-scenes support from bigwigs like Danny DeVito and Kevin Costner.

The goal of the four-day fest is not to feature films aimed at kids, but to showcase movies that spotlight the particular problems faced by families today. Heartwood, which will be receiving its world premiere at this year's festival, features two teenagers falling in love amid the majestic redwoods of Northern California while fighting to save their tiny sawmill town from extinction. Who Killed Pixote? comes to us all the way from Brazil and relates the true-life story of Fernando Ramos da Silva, a child cinema star who tasted success and despair amid the grinding poverty and class system of modern-day Brazil. The Long Way Home, an eye-opening documentary examining the plight of tens of thousands of refugees who survived the Holocaust, just recently nabbed the 1998 Academy Award for "Best Documentary."

By mixing classic Hollywood films with brand new features from around the world, the goal of the Family Film Fest is to foster a more active form of movie-viewing. Discussion groups follow the film screenings, many with actors, screenwriters and directors involved in the making of the films. The idea is not just to watch, but to talk about the issues that films raise.

Goldie Hawn, fresh off the set of The Out-of-Towners with Steve Martin, will be on hand to receive the first annual Frank Capra Award. "The Awards Banquet will be very exciting, because it will the first time a major Hollywood event has happened in Albuquerque," says Susan Seligman, publicity director for the festival, and one of numerous volunteers who has worked to wean the IFFF to maturity. Tom Capra, son of the legendary filmmaker, will be in Albuquerque to present the award that bears his father's name. Besides handing over accolades to Hawn, the Film Fest will feature a special screening of Hope, which Hawn recently directed. Created in conjunction with Turner Network Television, Hope portrays the repercussions of racial segregation and the trauma of the Cuban Missile Crisis through the eyes of a young girl coming of age in a small Southern town.

In addition to the inaugural Frank Capra Award, the festival will feature a multifilm tribute to the legendary director, writer and producer. Four of Capra's most beloved films--It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Lady For a Day and It's A Wonderful Life--will be shown. As a bonus, Tom Capra--an Emmy Award-winning journalist in his own right--will be there to screen his recently-produced documentary Frank Capra's American Dream. Clearly, the Capra family was happy to share their namesake with the IFFF. "First of all," Tom Capra says, "I really like the idea that it benefits a charity. It's probably the only one I know of. Most of them are just in it for the money." This will not be the only year that Albuquerque gets to bestow an award on some unsuspecting Hollywood luminary. "The idea of it," Capra explains, "is to give the award every year and show a couple of his films. So it's not like a huge retrospective every time." Capra, though, has his own favorites: "If you get a chance, see Lady For a Day. It's just a really terrific film. It's not well known--one of his early movies (and) the first Columbia movie ever nominated for an Academy Award."

Despite its auspicious beginnings, Susan Seligman hopes the festival will grow even larger in coming years: "You see stars in Santa Fe all the time. Hopefully Hollywood will begin to recognize Albuquerque as a force in film festivals. And hopefully we can perpetuate more festivals, more movie stars coming, perhaps even have people looking more at New Mexico and Albuquerque as a place to film."


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