CMU's International Film Festival explores 'Faces of Migration'

 A terrific Eleanor Roosevelt anecdote -- and a timely one, today -- is how she opened her address to those blue-blooded DAR dames (Daughters of the American Revolution): "My fellow immigrants ..."

The sainted Eleanor's approval has been channeled for this year's Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival, which opens tonight at the Melwood Screening Room in Oakland and continues over three weekends into April. Its theme is "Faces of Migration," and it offers a brilliant baker's dozen movies about the tribulations of immigrants and emigrants the world over.

Consider "First of All, Felicia" (4 stars) -- my favorite. How many Romanian-Dutch films are you familiar with? I thought so. But you'll be glad you got familiar with this delightful black comedy, whose title character (Ozana Oancea) is desperate to escape from a stressful visit to her parents in Bucharest and get home to Amsterdam in time to pick up her son from summer camp.

Trouble is, her overbearing mother's obsessive fussing over her ailing father causes frazzled Felicia to miss her flight. Even worse, Mama (Ileana Cernat) insists on accompanying her to the airport and complicates the nightmarish rebooking process. Razvan Radulescu's brilliant script and deft direction sparkles with wry humor and captures the complexities of a mother-daughter-sibling rivalry. Guilt trips, unhelpful ticket-counter agents, frustrating cell phone calls and excessive texting abound in this perfectly paced, perfectly performed gem, which will be shown one time only, Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Melwood Screening Room.

"Littlerock" (3 stars), which screens Friday at 9 p.m. at the Melwood, is an excellent, very sober American-Japanese take on the subject -- set not in Arkansas but in the godforsaken desert town of Littlerock, Calif., where a student tourist (Atsuko Okatsuka) who speaks no English finds herself stranded on the way to San Francisco.

The Big Three -- sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll -- lure the clueless girl into staying there, not far from the shameful Japanese internment camps of World War II, searching for love (or just friendship?) in a film and style reminiscent of Antonioni's "Zabriskie Point."

And the rest ...

As a kid, my sister taught me the obnoxious trick of punching a little thumbhole in the bottom of Whitman's Sampler chocolates to find out what was inside before eating -- or more often, rejecting -- them. Due to space limitations, that's about the best I can do to give you an idea of the rest of this year's fine crop of Carnegie Mellon festival entries.

Here's the schedule and the screening locations:


• "The Arrivals," 7:15 p.m. Melwood. Paris social workers Caroline -- young, hot-tempered -- and Colette -- older and compassionate -- confront the penniless, undocumented foreigners seeking asylum in France.

• "Separations," 8 p.m. McConomy Auditorium, Carnegie Mellon University. A Brazilian filmmaker living in Amsterdam explores her and her siblings' desire to leave their home country.


• "Warsaw Available" and "Hanoi-Warsaw," 7 p.m., Melwood. Moving to the big city means fulfilling dreams impossible in a rural Polish village in "Warsaw Available." In "Hanoi-Warsaw," desperation breeds dark moments for a young Vietnamese woman trying to move illegally to Warsaw with her family.

• "Littlerock," 9 p.m., Melwood.


• "First of All, Felicia," 5 p.m., Melwood.

• "Norteado," 7:30 p.m. Melwood. The sly, amusing tale of one man's dogged determination to get a better life.


• "Plato's Academy," 5 p.m., Regent Square Theater. Stavros lounges around outside his little shop watching other people work, while never exactly doing so himself.


• "Pink Saris," 7:30 p.m., Kelly-Strayhorn Theater. Sampat Pal Devi is a tough-cookie enforcer for the Gulabi Gang, who fight the abuses of forced child marriages, burning of widows and routine beating of girls.


"Neukolln Unlimited," 5:30 p.m., McConomy Auditorium. For three Lebanese virtuoso street-dancer siblings, Germany is the only home they've ever known. Their dancing keeps the family afloat -- unless they're deported.

Forthcoming in April:


• "Gitmek: My Marlon and Brando," 7 p.m., McConomy

• "Cuban Shorts: The Daily Experience of Living," 7:30 p.m., Future Tenant Gallery.


• "Immigrant Nation: The Battle for a Dream," 4 p.m., 105 College Hall, Duquesne University (and April 9, 6:30 p.m. McConomy)

• "Dooman River," 7 p.m., McCon­omy.


• Competitive Shorts Program, 5 p.m. Kelly-Strayhorn; "Diplomat" 7 p.m. SouthSide Works.

Opening night tickets for tonight (including reception) are $15/$10 student; regular film admission $7/$4 student; full-access festival pass $40/$20 student. For more information, contact festival director Jolanta Lion at 412-445-6292 or go to


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