Amiens known for hommages

Fest focuses on offbeat pics

Roughly an hour by train from Paris, Amiens is a predominantly working-class town blessed with some special features that would be worth the trip even if the annual film festival wasn’t a haven for unusual programming. It’s home to the world’s largest cathedral as well as the picturesque St. Leu quarter known as “The Little Venice of the North.”

The range and variety of tourist sights is echoed by an eclectic yet thorough approach to programming and a year-round dedication to bringing offbeat fare to ordinary citizens.

Fest director Jean-Pierre Garcia always has been interested in showing “movies that other festivals tend not to show.” As a result, the school kids of Amiens are budding experts on Native Americans (a topic addressed at four editions to date) and America’s inner cities. (Even without subtitles, basketball docu “Hoop Dreams” held local youngsters rapt.)

Film historians give Amiens high marks for comprehensive retrospectives, often complemented by a book to mark the occasion.

The oeuvre of U.S. helmers Don Siegel and Leo McCarey held the spotlight in ’97 and ’98 in the company of programs devoted to major Vietnam major Khuong Me, a tribute to veteran production designer Willy Holt and a sidebar devoted to Tony Gatlif and images of Gypsies in European cinema.

Last year, the fest’s top prize, the Golden Unicorn, went to Carlos Bolado’s “Bajo California: El Limite del Tiempo” (Under California: The Limits of Time), which went on to play Sundance in January.

A major source of support for African filmmakers since its inception, the fest publishes bimonthly magazine Le Film Africain, awards screenwriting grants in the neighborhood of $10,000 to fledgling African filmmakers and runs a free legal workshop to advise African helmers on the nitty-gritty of contracts, as well as other aspects of the biz.

In 1999, Amiens looks at McCarthyism for the third time (several of the interviews in the 1995 docu “Red Hollywood” were conducted at the eighth edition of the fest) via the program “Between McCarthyism and the Vietnam War.”

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