Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, JULY 8 - Thursday, JULY 14 ::


Jerzy Skolimowski's HANDS UP! (Polish Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center
— Friday, 6:15pm 
Where am I? What am I watching? Jerzy Skolimowski's HANDS UP! begins seemingly from the future, circa 1981. HANDS UP! is Skolimowski's chaotic re-envisioning of an earlier (1967) film of his: a satire of the draconian Communist party that was summarily banned. This 1981 "version" is purposefully disorienting but ultimately engaging. Skolimowski adds a new dystopian prologue that contextualizes the original footage. He uses personal essay and allegorical documentary to bitterly reflect on the implications of the 1967 film's banning, and the state of Poland fourteen years later. The film's title implies both a surrender to and a mocking celebration of communism. This is explored in the structural dichotomy between the new prologue and the 1967 footage. HANDS UP! begins cloaked in science-fiction horror (images of decrepit Brutalist architecture and war-torn Beirut) before the original sections take on a wild, absurdist tone that mocks the ruling class. Green- and auburn-tinged, the latter half of HANDS UP! moves frantically, sometimes placing characters flailing on what looks like a stage, sometimes before a four-eyed image of Stalin. Skolimowski searches through the artificiality of didactic, party-line communism, trying to find a solid identity. A constantly restless camera scrutinizes a painting from all angles. A man lies dead in the street with pedestrians filing by; it's unclear whether the action real or staged. Skolimowski masterfully uses every means possible to parallel his own uncertain situation as an artist with the uncertain state of Poland's political identity at the time—the fate of his 1967 film constantly hovering over all as a reminder of the fragility of both personal and political realities. (1985, 76 min, 35mm) BW
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Shion Sono's LOVE EXPOSURE (New Japanese) 
Gene Siskel Film Center
— Check Venue website for showtimes
With an insanity that's infectious, LOVE EXPOSURE feels like a Ludovico technique in reverse: the film's main character, Yu Honda, is a good boy who becomes a social deviant in order to find acceptance from his father, a newly formed Catholic priest whose only interest in his son is in a compulsion for him to confess his sins. This search for sins to confess propels Yu into Japan's bizarre underworld. While there's too much plot for quick summary, let's just say that if Kaneto Shindo's CHILDREN OF HIROSHIMA (also showing at the Film Center this week), is about a real atomic bomb that devastated Japan, LOVE EXPOSURE could be thought of as exposing a psychic one, a national delirium delineated through Sono's idée fixe: the breakdown of the nuclear family. Completely off his rocker, Shion Sono, it must be safe to assume, has surely made a career-defining work; one that uncanny combines exploitation and arthouse, trash and naturalism, taboo and sentiment. LOVE EXPOSURE, just now getting some wider exposure, may have retroactively created some of the most indelible film moments of the 2000s: the kung-fu ninjas that Yu is part of, yanking cameras on strings to snap pictures under girls' skirts; the two girls he becomes entangled with, one who literally puts a bird in our face and the other who does so with her middle finger. What makes LOVE EXPOSURE such an exceptionally strange and enjoyably disturbing film is not just the provocative mixing of disparate elements (lesbianism, cults, panty-photography, kung-fu), but Sono's ability to get us to take seriously his perverting of traditional character dynamics that on the surface sound like comedy: the father who more or less loves the son only because of his debauchery; Yu, while dressed in drag, falling in love with a girl, Yoko, who only loves him while she believes that he's actually a woman—a moot situation, since Yoko and Yu become step-siblings when their parents get together, etc. It's totally batshit and totally not to be missed. (2008, 237 min, Digital Projection) KH
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John Carpenter's THE WARD (New American) 
AMC South Barrington 30 (Barrington, IL) — Check Venue website for showtimes 
Consigned to opening in a suburban multiplex, John Carpenter's first feature in nine years finds the filmmaker saddled with a low budget, an uneven cast and a routine script. And yet, despite these shortcomings, Carpenter ends up accomplishing a victory of form; his masterful control of negative space, overhead shots, and foreground framing overpowers a by-the-numbers haunted asylum story—which bears a striking resemblance to SUCKER PUNCH before it starts bearing a striking resemblance to SHUTTER ISLAND—through the sheer power of its stark, creepy sadness. So meticulously structured and composed that the actual twists and scares become irrelevant, this is an object lesson in the difference between plot and construction—and arguably Carpenter's most formalist work since CHRISTINE. Amber Heard plays the ostensible lead, but the film's real stars are a few well-chosen objects—a burning farmhouse, a ticking metronome, a pair of horn-rimmed glasses—and the Newbeats' vaguely unsettling 1965 single "Run, Baby, Run (Back Into My Arms)." (2010, 85 min, unconfirmed format) IV   
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Céline Danhier's BLANK CITY (New Documentary)
Facets Cinémathèque— Check Venue website for showtimes
If there can be said to be benefits to the inevitable partiality of that vaseline-smeared telephoto lens called history, one is that we will never truly know how the artistic subcultures of the present compare to those of past generations. Were the filmmakers and musicians of the infamously decrepit Lower East Side of the late 70s and early 80s analogous to today's (seemingly even more numerous, prolific, and stylistically diverse) communities in Bushwick (or Pilsen)? Continuing the rhetorical effort of JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: THE RADIANT CHILD (2010) to answer this question with a resounding "no," the New York underground's latest self-hagiography BLANK CITY still manages to be as inspirational and encouraging as possible to the next generation of no-budget white artisans on heavy drugs in the ghetto. Beginning with Amos Poe's Super-8 BLANK GENERATION and continuing through Richard Kern (FINGERED) and Nick Zedd's "Cinema of Transgression," the emphasis on DIY spirit, alternative screening spaces, parochial chaos, fraternal collaboration, and ear-splitting noise bands will undoubtedly be more than a little reminiscent of, say, your last two weeks of hanging out in Chicago; and these No-Wavers' seemingly only-tangential awareness of the underground filmmakers of the 50s and 60s reminds us to remember, but also to celebrate, the foolhardy ignorance that makes being cutting-edge even remotely possible. Many of the films featured here, if not merely obscure, are difficult to find—some lost even to the IMDB—and the short glimpses are sure to promote a fair amount of research. The featured directors—in both interviews and period footage—include Susan Seidelman (SMITHEREENS), radical philosopher Manuel De Landa (JUDGMENT DAY), James Nares (ROME 78), Lizzie Borden (BORN IN FLAMES), Beth and Scott B (BLACK BOX, VORTEX), Charlie Ahearn (THE DEADLY ART OF SURVIVAL, WILD STYLE), and, of course, Jim Jarmusch, whose epically micro STRANGER THAN PARADISE (with John Lurie, KONK's Richard Edson, and the Squat Theatre's Eszter Balint) finally brought this heterogeneous and detached narrative frugality to the rest of Manhattan. The equally well-researched soundtrack includes wall-to-wall relevant hot jams from the likes of Bush Tetras, the Contortions, Liquid Liquid, Loose Joints, and the Feelies. (2010, 94 min, unconfirmed format) MC
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Patricio Guzmán's NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
More than the other physical sciences, astronomy is recognizable (through the gauze of its multiple and infantile popularizations) as a manifestation of a universal human practice: the desire for, and construction of, origin myths. Reduced to incomprehensible theoretical abstraction by astrophysicists (and to hopelessly broad generalizations by fashionable cosmologists), its humble observational arm persists wherever artificial light and cloud cover remain absent. The apotheosis of such an environment—the barren Atacama desert of Chile—is the site of NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT, a patient, Weschlerian documentary which trains itself on the resonances between the modest local astronomers and on an unrelated, nearby crowdsourced human anthropology: the searches of dozens of frail women for the remains of their relatives and loved ones—the victims of Pinochet's mid-70s concentration camps, buried in and around the region's former nitrate mines. By the laws of special relativity, the astronomers' observation of distant objects is also an observation of long-past events; by the laws of entropy and ideological repression, the women's intermittently successful searches for los desaparecidos provide evidence for long-unpunished crimes. Nevertheless, the viewer will note that it is the male science that is (weakly) funded by the Northern research apparatus. Finding infuriation and contemplation where Werner Herzog's CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS found humor and hubris, this international winner of the European Film Awards' Best Documentary prize is also, of course, rather local: the free-market policies which succeeded the concentration camps were part of an infamously grand experiment by several University of Chicago Economics graduate students—the CIA-financed "Chicago Boys" (Sergio de Castro, Pablo Baraona, and others). But it is clear that Guzmán—like many of his fellow Chileans—instead worships across the quad, at the court of Edwin P. Hubble (S.B. '10, Ph.D. '17). (2010, 90 min, HDCAM Video) MC
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Harry Lachman's DANTE'S INFERNO (American Revival) 
Northwest Chicago Film Society (at the Portage Theater) — Wednesday, 7:30pm 
Employing a reported 14,000 people and featuring no less than three gargantuan set pieces, this is surely one of the grandest filmic testaments of the Art Deco period. Like a lot of Deco architecture, this Hollywood production (directed by a once and future painter named Harry Lachman) derives much of its power from a stark sense of verticality: It should be noted that the first of the movie's set pieces, an epic carnival recreation of Dante's Inferno, descends through all nine levels. When the movie envisions an actual Hell in its final third, it's something of a disappointment, lacking the acknowledged artificiality that makes Deco design seem to exist in a dream. Yet the sequence is still a marvel to behold, with countless extras and towering constructions giving form to an abstract creative vision; it's especially impressive in an age when most movie fantasies, generated by computers, are abstract both in vision and in form. The story around the spectacles is something of a Deco-informed parable, charting Spencer Tracy's ascent from wharf rat to carnival tycoon as a steep, unflagging progression—all the better to convey the gravity of his moral decline. According to Hollywood history, Tracy made the film during one of his worst periods of alcoholic binging; he reportedly disappeared from the production for a few weeks and returned in even worse condition than he left. His performance is startlingly focused, however, beginning on a note of discernible agitation and evolving, quite convincingly, into a portrait of deranged amorality. (Sometimes, it feels like Tracy is preparing to star in an Abel Ferrara movie fifty years too soon.) His work is so inspired as to contend with any of the more expensive effects around it. Also showing is a chapter from the 1939 serial DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE and the 1934 Dave Fleischer cartoon RED HOT MAMA. (1935, 89 min, 16mm) BS
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Werner Herzog's HOW MUCH WOOD WOULD A WOODCHUCK CHUCK & GOD'S ANGRY MAN (German Documentary Revival) 
Goethe-Institut Chicago (150 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 200) — Tuesday, 6pm 
Coming in the wake of CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS, Herzog's 3D coup de maître, the Goethe Institut's mini-retrospective "Ecstasy and Truth: Werner Herzog" features eight documentaries spanning the first three decades of Herzog's career. Each of these films is fascinating in its own right, but the real merit of this series comes from the intelligent pairings of the two films on each program. This week's bill examines a peculiarly specific phenomenon: the virtuoso sales pitch that transcends its origins in more or less naked profiteering to achieve a certain aesthetic grandeur. In HOW MUCH WOOD WOULD A WOODCHUCK CHUCK, Herzog films the 1975 World Livestock Auctioneers Championship in New Holland, Pennsylvania. The auctioneers cultivate a wildly rapid, nearly unintelligible form of speech, "extreme language," in Herzog's words, "like the ritual chants of the Orthodox Church." We hear many of these rapid-fire monologues in their entirety as scores of livestock enter stage left the property of one farm and exit stage right the property of another. The effect is perfectly entrancing; nearly enough so to convince us of Herzog's suggestion that auctioneering may be "the last remaining lyric form." The subject of GOD'S ANGRY MAN is a prominent Los Angeles televangelist, Dr. Gene Scott, whose Festival of Faith was a marathon of live improvised sermons lasting up to ten hours at a stretch. The film was originally entitled CREED AND CURRENCY, but, judging from the stock footage we see, Dr. Scott's sermons are long on currency and rather short on creed. Scott lashes out at his audience when his daily fundraising goals are not met, mustering the righteous anger of a scorned prophet. These harangues are bravura performances of laconic bitterness, growling contempt, and inarticulate rage. Through a series of interviews, however, Herzog reveals a tragic, isolated figure behind the blustering piety of the television personality. Elements of these films will be immediately familiar to Herzog fans; most of all, the focus on devoted, even fanatical figures and the refusal to indulge in irony or condescension, even as these figures stray into the absurd and ridiculous. Yet these films stand out as examinations of the vexed intersections between crass, mundane capitalism and the unworldly passion of the Herzogian sublime. RSVP at (312) 263-0472 or and 1980, 45 and 44 min, DVD projection) PR
More info here.  

Chicago Filmmakers — Friday, 8pm 
In the post-9/11 rush to prove the US government was gaining headway in the war on terror, the hunt for tangible boogeymen led to 2002 Congressional testimony by the FBI on the threat of Eco-Terrorism, a newly-branded form of "domestic terrorism." The new designation allowed the federal government to pad its terrorism conviction numbers and law enforcement turned what were originally cases of arson and property damage into all-out assaults on American values. One effect of this so-called Green Scare was a renewed motivation to solve previous cold cases of arson, resulting in the arrest of Daniel McGowan, the main subject of the documentary (who was a co-worker of director Marshall Curry's wife, which enabled Curry to obtain intimate access to the proceeding legal challenges Daniel faces). From Daniel's arrest to the court's final decision, we are given the story of the Earth Liberation Front as told by Daniel and the activists he knew in Eugene, OR. Curry's use of demonstration footage from early-90s protests (including Seattle's WTO riots) helps to frame the rising belief among ELF members that protests and banners were no match for police repression and corporate influence. Though the documentary is decidedly left-leaning, it never excuses criminal action and gives a fair amount of voice to the officers involved in unraveling Daniel's case, offering fascinating insight into how a cold case flipped into seven domestic terrorism arrests. Daniel's warm personality and general likeability provides a compelling contrast to law enforcement's characterizations of ELF members, and it is his fate that gives a human face to the war on terror. (2011, 85 min, Video Projection) DM 
More info at 

Kaneto Shindo's CHILDREN OF HIROSHIMA (Japanese Revival) 
Gene Siskel Film Center
— Saturday, 3pm and Thursday, 6pm 
A difficult film, CHILDREN OF HIROSHIMA is the story of kindergarten teacher Takako Ishikawa's return to Hiroshima six years after the nuclear bombing that ended World War II. Nobuko Otowa turns in a reliable performance as Takako, whose visit consists of not much more than a cataloguing of every devastation that has befallen Hiroshima since the bomb dropped. Through Takako we see radiation sickness, blindness, lesions, ovarian sterility, rubble, the shadows that incinerated victims left behind, and the near 200,000 orphans left in the wake of the atomic explosion. One such orphan, Taro, is the grandson of Iwakichi, the now-blind former assistant to Takako's deceased parents. Both Iwakichi and Takako feel honor bound to care for Taro, and the young orphan's fate (only an infant when the atom-bomb struck) comprises the only real plot in the film. The rest of the time, Takako is merely an avatar for the audience, subjected to the didactic rhetoric of social activism that was perhaps necessary to increase the awareness of Hiroshima's state of post-war ruin. These are, of course, the first images of Hiroshima that many at that time had seen, and the film is notable for being one of the first films to deal with the aftermath of the nuclear blast. CHILDREN was intended to prod Japanese audiences into helping Hiroshima, in much the way Spike Lee's WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE was intended to re-focus public attention on New Orleans, post-Katrina; though in this case, as with most post-war pacifist films, the finger of blame is directed not at the government's slow response, nor even at war itself, but rather at the darkness within the human spirit. Still, there are enough moments of cinematographic ingenuity, such as in a scene where Iwakichi falls over drunk in attempted self-immolation, to recommend the film despite the often-wearying didacticism. (1952, 97 min, 35mm) DM
Shindo's 1954 film THE DITCH also screens this week, on Saturday at 5pm and Tuesday at 6pm.  
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FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF (Contemporary American Revival)
Chicago History Museum, Outdoor Screening — Wednesday at dusk 
Sometimes there is a moment of pure serendipity in one's life and, if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it. Case in point: the Chicago History Museum is presenting the film that not only taught countless youngsters how to properly play sick, but also showcased our city as the playground for Matthew Broderick's under stimulated Northshore slacker. In a performance that made him a bonafide leading man at the age of 23, Broderick creates a character so clever and charming that you can't help but root for him. Beginning with a little white lie about a serious illness to get a final day off before going to college, Ferris schemes to cheer up his best friend Cameron with a VIP tour of the city. Wrigley Field, the Art Institute, Michigan Avenue, and the Sears Tower ("I think I see my dad") are the backdrop for the greatest senior ditch day ever put on film. Its enduring appeal lies in the subplot, however, in which the evil dean of students, Edward Rooney (Jeffery Jones), vows to catch Ferris in the act and force him to repeat his senior year. The screening takes place on the museum's Uihlein Plaza. (1986, 103 min, DVD Projection) JH
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Pixar's TOY STORY 3 (New Animation)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University), Outdoor Screening — Wednesday, Dusk (approx. 9pm)
It must be finally admitted that to presume ignorance of TOY STORY 3 is to effectively admit that you hate classical Hollywood cinema: unfettered by any coherent and/or crude ideological ambition, this film is a legitimately relentless puree of stereotyped genres, and a rarity in that it only gets better with the more old movies you've seen; in fact, it's quite possible that it's a total bore for those who are actually in kindergarten. Lifting discursive patterns, gestures, soundtrack cues, and other mise-en-scène from a wide variety of narrative classics, at its high midpoint TOY STORY 3 can be comically shifting from mimicking melodrama, Westerns, prison dramas, capers, gothic horror, and even Mexican 1940s caballero films over the course of just a few minutes. This disturbingly informed and reflexive scriptwriting is, however, likely conceptually overshadowed by Pixar's flashy surface role as both the apotheosis of engineering in aesthetic manufacture and as a fully-formed NorCal simulacral apparatus of SoCal cinematic production: a 218,000 square-foot involute eye, a 1.5- megawatt shrine to the optics of the camera lens. Perhaps the intermittent, clever noir homages in the screenplay are of secondary interest to the likely fact that multiple PhDs slaved away for a year to produce a relatively photorealistic black garbage bag for a single onscreen sequence. And perhaps that significant history-of- technology datum should be in turn dismissed, with a consideration of the studio's typically dreary heteronormative politics (for a company based in the East Bay, the repeated homophobic reaction shots to the antics of Mattel's metrosexualized Ken (Michael Keaton) are specifically reprehensible); the inescapable reproduction of globalized commodity fetishism underlying the trilogy's very premise; and of the remarkable inaccessibility to humanity which necessarily pervades any endeavor constructed primarily by hundreds of unrefined CGI savants who have seem to have never grown out of the idea that STAR WARS is a fundamental cornerstone of civilization. That is to say: a movie ostensibly about growing up and leaving your toys behind, produced by an assembly line of grown men with toys adorning every corner of their cubes. The screening takes place on the East Lawn of the Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive. (2010, 103 min, DVD Projection) MC
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Call of the SpiderBug, a screening of short films accompanied by live music, will take place Friday and Saturday at 9:30pm (doors open at 8:30pm) at Defibrillator (1136 N. Milwaukee Ave.). Curated by Catie Olson, the program features films by Damon Bishop, Meg Duguid, Nicholas Hayes, Chris Hefner, Chuck Jones, Dubi Kaufman, Michael Morris, Bruce Neal, Danielle Paz, David Reninger, Alaric Rocha, and Kendrick Shackleford. Live orchestration will be provided by The Bodice Cobra Philharmonia, conducted by Bruce Neal. 

Opening today and running through August 13, Andrew Rafacz Galley (835 W. Washington Blvd.) presents the video exhibition Space Out, Space In, which is curated by videomaker Scott Wolniak. Artists with video work on display include Thorne Brandt, Ken Fandell, Young Joon Kwak, Jesse McLean, Shana Moulton, Jon Rafman, Andy Roche, Ben Russell, Jen Stark, and Kirsten Stoltmann. 

Also at Facets Cinémathèque this week is Roger Corman's 1964 film THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH on Saturday at Midnight, showing in the Facets Night School series. The film will be introduced by Joel Wicklund. From DVD.             

On Tuesday at 7:30pm, Transistor (5045 N. Clark St.) screens the new documentary THE ECONOMICS OF HAPPINESS

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week is Dennis Gansel's 2010 German vampire film WE ARE THE NIGHT, on Friday, Tuesday, and Thursday. 

At Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: the (short - 41 minute!) program Broncho Billy Westerns (featuring the 1913 and 1918 films SHOOTIN' MAD and BRONCHO BILLY'S CAPTURE) screens Friday at 7 and 9pm; Sergei Eisenstein's 1938 film ALEXANDER NEVSKY is on Saturday at 7 and 9pm; Ray Taylor's 1938 featurette (58 min) HAWAIIAN BUCKAROO (cowboy in Hawaii) is on Wednesday at 7pm; and more brevity on Thursday with a selection of Lumière Shorts (1895-98; 41 min) at 7pm. 

At the Music Box this week: James Marsh's new chimpanzee documentary PROJECT NIM opens; BRIDE FLIGHT continues, as does TROLLHUNTER (daily at 9:45pm only); the Saturday and Sunday matinee film is the 1957 THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL (directed by and starring Laurence Olivier; also starring Marilyn Monroe); Albert Parker's 1926 silent (and color!) Douglas Fairbanks' film THE BLACK PIRATE screens on Saturday at Noon; and the Friday and Saturday Midnight films are HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN and William A. Levey's 1979 SKATETOWN, U.S.A.: "Nothing could be more camp to the Music Box midnight-movie target audience than roller disco culture, providing the opportunity to screen 1979's Hollywood Palladium-set SKATETOWN, U.S.A., in collaboration with nearby Smart Bar's comparatively unironic Sunday-night Dollar Disco. The film features, in part, classic hits of the era from the Jacksons, Chicago's Earth, Wind and Fire, and Dayton's Heatwave, as well as Patrick Swayze's first cinematic appearance." MC 

The Logan Square International Film Series (Comfort Station Logan Square, 2579 N. Milwaukee) screens Luc Besson's 1990 film LA FEMME NIKITA on Tuesday at 8pm. From DVD.        

Also at the Chicago History Museum this week: the documentary BEER WARS screens on Sunday at 1:30pm; and the animated feature CHARLOTTE'S WEB screens on Tuesday and Wednesday at 10am and 1pm. 

At the Chicago Cultural Center this week: Cinema/Chicago's summer series continues with a screening of Philippe Liore's 2010 French film WELCOME on Wednesday at 6:30pm; Yongyoot Thongkongtoon's 2009 Thai film THE BEST OF TIMES on gets a repeat screening on Saturday at 2pm; and on Monday at 6:30, as part of the "Eye on India" events in Chicago, Madhur Bhandarkar's 2001 Indian film CHANDNI BAR will be introduced by the lead actress, Tabu (Tabu will also be in person discussing her career on Sunday at 3pm at the Art Institute of Chicago's Fullerton Hall). All from DVD. Also on display at the Cultural Center through September 18 is the exhibit Movie Mojo: Hand-Painted Posters from Ghana

The DuSable Museum screens the documentary BLACKS WITHOUT BORDERS: CHASING THE AMERICAN DREAM IN SOUTH AFRICA on Sunday at 2pm.

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CINE-LIST: July 8 - 14, 2011


CONTRIBUTORS / Michael Castelle, Jason Halprin, Kalvin Henely, Peter Raccuglia, Ben Sachs, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Brian Welesko, Darnell Witt

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