A schedule and capsule reviews of the fest's offerings

7 p.m.: Intimates (Ji Sor). Jacob Cheung. Hong Kong, 1997, 117 min., in Cantonese and Mandarin with English subtitles. It's hard to avoid using the word "epic" to describe this movie, which alternates between present and past, West and East, young and old, and cool blues and warm reds to tell the story of two women whose love for each other spans 50 years and thousands of miles. Wai, a young Chinese architect living in the United States, travels to mainland China with Foon, an older friend of her family, who is intent on reconnecting with an old friend. Wai's boyfriend dumps her, and as Foon comforts Wai about this loss, the older woman begins to reminisce about her own romantic past. Her truest love turns out to have been Wan, the woman with whom she hopes to be reunited. For the most part, Intimates is a moving, elegantly drawn portrayal of a fairly unexposed time and place, but the film does lapse into melodrama (the cloying music hardly helps). However, the biggest problem is the subtitling — small and white on a frequently white screen. For a substantial portion of the movie, the titles are all but impossible to read. (ML)

9:30 p.m.: Head On. Ana Kokkinos. Australia, 1998, 104 min. Head On takes on the real tough stuff. Alex Dimitriades plays Ari, a 19-year-old whose beauty and sexuality run against the power and history of his proud but unraveling Greek family. Full of shame and hatred, Ari resorts to the crudest and ugliest forms of sexual expression, servicing random tradesmen in back alleys and clubs. As his internal conflicts threaten to explode and the family pressure to conform intensifies, Ari resorts to drugs and liquor, and the results aren't pretty. The film makes the mistake of trying to offer the obligatory drag queen as fairy godfather yet has the courage to not offer redemption at the end. When salvation finally is present, Ari blows it. Literally. This is a tough, dark and often compelling portrait. (MI)

Tuesday, Sept. 14

5 p.m.: It's Elementary. Debra Chasnoff. U.S., 1996, 77 minutes. As a society, we're still remarkably incapable of discussing, with intelligence and reason, our own sexuality, especially its inclusion in school curricula. The debate intensifies immensely over the presentation of lesbian and gay topics to elementary- and middle-school children. Cutting through the hysteria that attends such issues, documentary filmmaker Chasnoff models the perfect response: Listen to and trust the children, who often show more sensitivity and insight than many adults. Over a four-year period, with her partner, Helen Cohen, Chasnoff plunged into the controversy, interviewing enlightened and Neanderthal principals, board members, teachers, parents and students. Her team would arrive at schools never certain whether they would receive permission to shoot or that teachers and parents would feel safe enough to speak their minds for the record. The result of Chasnoff and Cohen's persistence is one of the best, most enlightened documentaries of the year. Interspersing very brief video clips from news reports, politicians' speeches, and talk-show hosts and guests, Chasnoff perfectly illustrates the essence of pervasive negative images and media's exploitation of them. But the heart and soul of this brilliant work is fascinating footage shot in six elementary and middle schools from New York City to San Francisco, from Cambridge, Mass., to Madison, Wis. Seeing the ways brave teachers guide and reach out to responsive students should, as Chasnoff hopes, help us take the next step in teaching respect for all. It's Elementary points us in the right direction. (DC)

7 p.m.: Eileen Is a Spy. Sayer Frey. U.S., 1998, 74 min. With a Q&A and meet-and-greet with director Frey after the film. Inspired by the children's classic Harriet the Spy, Frey's movie is a hybrid between a documentary and a drama — but it's not a docudrama. Protagonist Eileen (Tami Hinz) is a nervous, damaged woman coping with trauma by hiding behind her notebook, in which she records observations about others. As we watch her story unfold, we're periodically treated to a visual and aural montage of women's testimony about childhood, sex, men and women — though more than anything they talk about fathers, who seem to have had the greatest effect on all of the above. The juxtaposition between Eileen's drama and the nonfictional testimony flirts (admirably) with failure: It's unusual and a bit jarring. But in the end, it works quite well, perhaps because the nonfictional revelations represent what Eileen could — or should — be recording in her journal. Best of all, the film is unflinching in the face of pain; it never panders to false hope. (ML)

9:15 p.m.: 24 Nights. Kieran Turner. U.S., 1999, 97 min. You can make several arguments against 24 Nights: It's film-school clunky and predictable, occasionally drifts and could use some cutting. But all of its crimes are ultimately excused because, quite often, 24 Nights is very, very funny. The unoriginal premise — a sweetly idealistic man writes a letter to Santa asking for a boyfriend for Christmas — is carried aloft by some sharp comic writing and a few performances that are bull's-eye. A few nice character touches — the protagonist is wittily dependent on his bong, and the Southern object of his affections is actually funny dumb — and some original plot points gradually join to give the film a joyous rhythm and flavor. If you can remember "Ring My Bell," the poker game using 45s for chips is one of the funniest film scenes of the year. Undeniably fun, winning and sweet. With a Q&A and meet-and-greet with director Turner after the film. (MI)

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