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What's Nouveau?

Flick Chick

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For three decades, the Montreal Festival of Nouveau Cinema has been relatively unknown to potential patrons from Vermont and elsewhere in the region. The event, which takes place from October 14 though 24 this year, is generally overshadowed by August's larger, glitzier World Film Festival. But the smaller extravaganza -- offering 208 selections from 42 countries -- maintains an edgy identity.

"It's a showcase for the discovery of high-quality, original work and a venue for exploring emerging trends," explains fest publicist Frederick Dufour.

Some of their 2004 indies have high-profile casting: Sean Penn and Naomi Watts star in The Assassination of Richard Nixon, based on the true tale of a beleaguered salesman who wanted to aim a hijacked plane at the White House. Bad Education, Pedro Almodovar's take on sexual abuse at a Catholic school in Spain, features Gael Garcia Bernal (just christened "The New IT Boy" by Time magazine). The Canadian Childstar, about a young thespian with loony parents, boasts Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Other pictures in the lineup tend to be even further away from the mainstream by virtue of either style or content.

The Tulse Luper Suitcases, the story of a real-life Dutchman who participated in many of the 20th century's most significant moments, is a 340-minute trilogy with a relevant website and online game. The iconoclastic British director behind this multimedia project, Peter Greenaway, will be on hand to help Nouveau celebrate the Digital Age.

Superstar in a Housedress is a biographical look at the late poet, playwright and drag queen Jackie Curtis. David Bowie and Lily Tomlin are two of the talking heads who reminisce about the illustrious denizen of Andy Warhol's Factory.

Vera Drake won the top prize at last month's Venice festival. The upcoming general release of the Mike Leigh drama, about an English mother of two who quietly provides abortions in the early 1950s, is sure to provoke controversy.

Senegalese octogenarian Ousmane Sembene tackles the plight of numerous African girls in Moolaade, about an older village woman struggling to eliminate female genital mutilation.

An American girl is the subject of Robert Stone's Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst, which chronicles the 1974 kidnapping of the teenaged newspaper heiress and her transformation into a gun-toting revolutionary renamed Tania.

Nouveau's opening night presentation is Clean, by esteemed French auteur Olivier Assayas. The English-language venture spotlights a stunning performance from Nick Nolte as the father-in-law of a rock singer who's trying to kick her drug habit. Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung (Hero) effectively portrays this anguished character, and will be among the fest guests.

Montreal's bohemian Boulevard Saint-Laurent neighborhood -- ironically, now so trendy it's known as The Main -- is where several theaters will unspool festival films. Tickets, which go on sale October 9, cost $10 Canadian; $8 for students and seniors. The program guide is $5. Call the hotline at 514-847-1242 or visit www.nouveaucinema.ca.

Another Nouveau entry, Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election, will also enjoy free local screenings this fall as part of the REEL ACTION Film Series sponsored by ACMEVermont. This perspective on George W. Bush's questionable ascent to power will be paired with Hijacking Catastrophe, an examination of how U.S. foreign and domestic policies shifted after 9/11. Here are two of the dates, times and places: October 9, 7 p.m., at Champlain College Alumni Auditorium, Burlington; October 10, 5 and 7 p.m.,

at the Eclipse Theater, Waitsfield. Call

658-1677 for details.

A venerable ancestor of political documentarians, Newsreel was a collective formed by 1960s urban activists using the medium to convey powerful messages. Several of these filmmakers later moved to the Green Mountain State, where they continued to shoot the zeitgeist. Four of them -- Roz Payne, John Douglas, Jane Kramer and Marvin Fishman -- will offer a free retrospective of their work from 6 to 11 p.m. on October 9 at Burlington College. Call 434-3172 for more information.

The evening is slated to include such historical treasures as Off the Pig, Up Against the Wall, Miss America, People's Park and Yippee. Also on the schedule: 1971's Free Farm, a sort of cinema-verite manifesto for communal living, universal health care, women's liberation, a clean environment, economic justice and an end to imperialist wars. It may be difficult to choke back tears while hearing a pledge, in voice-over narration, that ought to resonate with contemporary idealists: "We will build a society that loves life."

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