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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Reign of Spain BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN 27th Annual Worldfest Houston MALL IS BEAUTIFUL” might do as a principle of bonsai botany, but it is not a notion indigenous to greater Texas. Especially in its sprawling largest city, only excess is sufficient. WorldFest-Houston, as the annual extravaganza modestly calls itself, boasts more submissions than any other film festival anywhere”As many,” claims founder and chairman J. Hunter Todd, “as Toronto, Berlin, and Cannes put together.” For most of the 27 years that Todd has put together his grandiose event, it has been growing like kudzu. In 1992, WorldFest screened 150 entries, at theaters scattered throughout Harris County. No one viewer could catch more than a fraction, and an obsessive visitor from San Antonio would have had to establish residence in Houston for most of a month. Institutional spin-off has shrunk but not diminished WorldFest-Houston 1994. For many seasons, Todd, who brought his show to Texas from the Virgin Islands 17 years ago, grumbled about tepid support from Houston civic leaders and the apathy and philistinism of local viewers. Last year, he moved the franchise to Charleston, already home of Spoleto, a Dixie branch of the festival of performing arts that composer Giancarlo Menotti organized in Italy. Greater Houston holds more people than the entire state of South Carolina, but, in its debut last November, WorldFest-Charleston reportedly drew large and enthusiastic audiences. ‘Though WorldFest-Houston must compete with the White Oak Bayou Fish-Off, the annual municipal squash tournament and other attractions in the nation’s fourthlargest city, Todd has not terminated his Texas operations. Packed in an Iberian bracket, the latest WorldFest-Houston opened Friday, April 15, when Fernando Trueba introduced Belle Epoque, which defeated Farewell, My Concubine for this year’s foreign-film Oscar by setting a farmer’s daughters gag on the eve of the Spanish Civil War. It concluded Sunday, April 24, when another Spaniard, Pedro Steven G. Kellman teaches comparative liter ature at University of Texas at San Antonio. Almodovar, presented Kika, his latest exercise in polymorphous perversity. WorldFest-Houston 1994 offered an ample 54 features and 21 shorts. Since even that is too much for any one viewer to absorb, Todd intends to hone next year’s roster down to 40 features. Attendance this year increased slightly over 1993, and, with fewer screens in simultaneous use two at the Greenway Plaza and one at the Landmark Saksit was hard to be lonely at any event. Gone from WorldFest-Houston were the high-profile premieres that distinguished the series in earlier years. Todd boasts of having brought Steven Spielberg, Jonathan Demme, George Lucas and David Lynch to his festival when they were still unknown and of having offered advance peeks at Babette’s Feast, Blood Simple, Diva, Gregory’s Girl, Longtime Companion and Return of the Secaucus Seven. In the 1994 edition, some offerings, including Claude Miller’s The Accompanist, which had already left San Antonio before starting at WorldFest, and Beth B’s Two Small Bodies, which had opened in New York the day before its April 16 WorldFest screening, had already begun commercial runs. Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos, a Mexican confection about the quest for eternal life, and Donald Petrie’s The Favor, a marital farce starring Harley Jane Kozak and Elizabeth McGovern, were both set to open elsewhere within a week of their festival screenings. In Twenty Bucks, based on a screenplay originally written in 1935, an ensemble cast that includes Linda Hunt, Christopher Lloyd, Steve Buscemi and William Macy, traces the fate of a $20 bill; director Keva Rosenfeld explained to a WorldFest audience that his film ran last year in Los Angeles, New York and Seattle, until its distributor ran out of any denomination of currency. WorldFest screened a restored print of A Streetcar Named Desire, 43 years after its initial release. Paul Zehrer’s blessing, Eagle Pennell’s Doc’s Full Service, Peter McCarthy’s Floundering, and Arthur Borman’s The Making of “…And God Spoke” were shown in Austin during the capital city’s recent South By Southwest Festival. Less than its earlier editions was the 27th WorldFest a marketplace for unfamiliar products or a space to taste untested recipes. It was distinguished less by scooping other festivals than by providing Texans the opportunity for concentrated exposure to more and more arresting releases, half of them foreign, than they are likely to find in a year at the local mall. It also brought in dozens of filmmakers to offer remarks about their films. Among the more remarkable films was The Last Butterfly, a Czech drama directed by Karel Kachyna; Tom Courtenay stars as a renowned French mime conscripted by the Gestapo out of occupied Paris to convince Red Cross inspectors that condemned Jews are really enjoying themselves. Paul Turner’s Hedd Wynn, a Welsh finalist for foreign-language Oscar, dramatizes the story of Ellis Evans, who was in fact killed in the trenches of World War I shortly after composing an awardwinning epic. In Widows’ Peak, John Irvin directs Joan Plowright, Natasha Richardson, and a post-Woody Mia Farrow in a wickedly witty comedy about feminine wiles in a small Irish town. Jim Becket’s Natural Causes is a human rights thriller in which foes of American-Vietnamese reconciliation plot to kill Henry Kissinger in Bangkok. In Paul Williams’ The November Man, a demented leftist director plans to film and/or execute the assassination of President George Bush. In Sioux City, Lou Diamond Phillips directs himself as a young Jewish doctor who journeys from his affluent California home to a Midwest reservation; he arrives just in time to get caught up in the melodramatic aftermath of the murder of the Indian mother who gave him up for adoption when he was four. Francois Girard’s Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould offers a profile of the late Canadian pianist in a fractured form that has more in common with Bach’s Goldberg Variations than a traditional Hollywood biopic. NonfictiOn, a strength in earlier festivals, was notably absent this year. Hilarious compensation for the categorical omission was provided by The Making of “…And God Spoke”, a pseudo-documentary chronicling the creation of a Biblical epic, with THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19