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California Split 

Who's winning what at the upcoming S.F. International Film Festival

Wednesday, Feb 19 2003
Pat O'Neill, an L.A. avant-garde moviemaker famed for his painstakingly layered and surreal films, will receive the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award at the S.F. International Film Festival two months hence. A throwback to the pre-MTV era, O'Neill favors static, textured shots over rapid-fire montages. He's concerned with "perceptual ambiguity," he told an interviewer a few years ago, "with subjects whose presence has more than one explanation. I'm interested in making an image with complexity that you could really spend some time with." O'Neill will show The Decay of Fiction, his 2002 experimental feature set in L.A.'s defunct, run-down Ambassador Hotel (where RFK breathed his last). I'm counting on some laughs, both from the film and its maker. "I think really serious films are sometimes quite funny, even when nobody else does," he has said. "My attitude may have a lot to do with Los Angeles: You have to have some sense of irony to live here for very long, and since I was born here, my adaptation is quite complete."

Lily Tomlin will present Robert Altman with the Film Society Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing on April 23. Known since its inception as the Akira Kurosawa Award, it's been retitled out of deference to the Kurosawa family, which has been making vague rumblings for years about initiating its own, unrelated Kurosawa Award. Altman will be saluted with screenings of Nashville, Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, and his brilliant cable-TV series Tanner '88. The Company, his new film starring Neve Campbell and Chicago's Joffrey Ballet, likely won't be ready for a festival premiere. But I anticipate an appearance by Altman's protégé and close friend Alan Rudolph, with his latest, The Secret Lives of Dentists, starring Campbell Scott.

Dustin Hoffman, infamous for driving eastbound on the top level of the Bay Bridge in The Graduate, will have the opportunity to apologize when he accepts the Peter J. Owens Award for acting. Confidence, his new thriller, in which he plays opposite pretty boy Ed Burns, is a sure bet to screen during the festival.

Crack in the Mirror Asserting that a 1944 agreement returned the copyrights for Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons to her father, Beatrice Welles filed suit here in U.S. District Court against Turner Entertainment Co. and RKO Pictures. Her S.F. attorney, Steven Ames Brown, states, "There are a number of different claims the estate has against various parties, since Orson Welles was a very prolific filmmaker, and one by one every encroachment is remedied. They can't all be remedied at one time." Brown is proceeding deliberately, though he negotiated an amicable settlement with Universal in 2001 over the re-edited Touch of Evil. "It gives you confidence, but you don't fight too many battles at the same time," he says with a chuckle. "Only Microsoft can battle everybody, all at the same time."

Welles lives in Nevada, but sued in California because the defendants are subject to jurisdiction here. As for the decision to file in San Francisco rather than in Hollywood's back yard, Brown explains, "We have fewer cases per judge, and a higher percentage are intellectual-property cases. So each judge has more time and more experience." Brown has practiced entertainment law since 1978, and he asserts that show biz reporters waste no time these days jumping on celebrity lawsuits. "They call me within two hours [of filing]," he says with amazement. "They must have moles in the courts."

In Dreams Congrats to local Academy Award nominees Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco, vying for top honors in the Documentary Feature category (Daughter From Danang), and Pete Docter and Roger Gould of Pixar, in the running for Short Film - Animated (Mike's New Car). Multiple Oscar winner Gary Rydstrom of Skywalker Sound is up for another gold guy for Sound Editing (Minority Report), while a quartet of Lucas aces received a Visual Effects nod for Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. I'm compelled to report that the Jedi saga also received seven Golden Raspberry (or Razzie) nominations -- the "yearly bestowing of Tinsel Town's Tackiest Trophies," trumpets the Razzies' Web site -- including Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Remake or Sequel, and Worst Screenplay. ... Legendary documentary maker Frederick Wiseman (Titicut Follies) will be at the Pacific Film Archive in early April to kick off a two-week retrospective. ... Lynn Hershman Leeson, Finn Taylor, and Barry Gifford expound on "Making Movies by the Bay: The State of the Art," a panel discussion on Wednesday, Feb. 26, at the Commonwealth Club, 595 Market (at Second Street), co-sponsored by Grottofilms. Visit for details, and dial 597-6705 for reservations. --

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Michael Fox


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