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Feast of fests

Plenty of alternatives for Charlotte cinemagoers

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Spider-Who? Harry What? Shrek Which?

Given the barrage of Hollywood hype during the summer months, it's sometimes easy to forget that pockets of cinema do exist outside the realm of the big-budget blockbuster. That venerable art house on Providence Road, the Manor, continues to offer indie alternatives, as does the fairly new kid on the block, the Ballantyne Village Theatre in South Charlotte.

But this week, local audiences on the prowl for even more eclectic fare can rejoice at the addition of three area film series.

Every year since I can remember, the Main Library has offered a themed summer film series that showcases classic motion pictures. This year is no different: On tap is "All About Mank: Classic Films of Joseph L. Mankiewicz." Mankiewicz, a true Hollywood craftsman (and one whose name should be more well-known among the masses), earned his keep as a prolific screenwriter before turning his attention to producing and eventually directing. No stranger to awards, he's the only person to win back-to-back Oscars for both writing and directing in consecutive years (1949's A Letter to Three Wives and 1950's All About Eve).

The Charlotte series will present six of his 23 films as director, but that's not all. As an added bonus, the program will also include two silent classics presented just as they were back in the day -- with live musical accompaniment (pianist Eytan Uslan will do the honors).

Unlike the Library series, the NoDa Film Festival has only been around a short period -- since February 2006, to be exact -- but it's already made a mark on the Charlotte scene. Following festivals dedicated to African-American cinema, Asian flicks and the French New Wave, the next go-around is "Exploring Animation," offering a look at all types of toons. So bring the kids -- well, to some of the programs anyway; other titles are strictly for adult audiences only. (In other words, read the fine print on the promos.)

Meanwhile, over at The Light Factory, the museum again borrows from the recently wrapped Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, which has long established itself as the top documentary fest in the country. As before, the local venue will present a couple of the most noteworthy films to screen at that prestigious festival.

Following is a complete list of the titles presented in all three film series.

All About Mank: Classic Films of Joseph L. Mankiewicz

June 10: Safety Last (1923). One of the greatest of all screen comedians (from either the silent or sound era), Harold Lloyd shines in this classic that features the legendary clock-hanging sequence.

June 17: Our Hospitality (1923). The other non-Mank title on the program, this gem finds another great silent comic, Buster Keaton, taking death-defying risks for the love of a woman.

June 24: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947). The Mankiewicz run begins with this (literally) haunting love story about the relationship between a spectral sea captain (Rex Harrison) and the new occupant (Gene Tierney) of his home.

July 1: All About Eve (1950). My all-time favorite film, this set an Oscar record by capturing 14 nominations before going on to win six statues, among them Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Supporting Actor (peerless George Sanders as critic Addison DeWitt). As aging theater star Margo Channing, Bette Davis has never been better, and look for Marilyn Monroe, hilarious in a small role.

July 8: Guys and Dolls (1955). The Broadway musical hits the screen, with Marlon Brando (interesting casting, to say the least) and Frank Sinatra as gamblers Sky Masterson and Nathan Detroit.

July 15: The Barefoot Contessa (1954). Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner are just fine in this drama about a director and his discovery, but it's Edmund O'Brien who snagged the Best Supporting Actor Oscar as a press agent.

July 22: Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). Perhaps Mank's eeriest picture (with Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams adapting the latter's play), this lurid melodrama concerns a family secret affecting its all-star teaming of Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift.

July 29: Sleuth (1972). Mankiewicz's final film is an entertaining puzzle in which a husband (Laurence Olivier) invites his wife's lover (Michael Caine) to his estate for a series of mind games.

The 2007 Summer Film Series will be held at 2 p.m. Sundays June 10-July 29 in ImaginOn's Wachovia Theater. The exception is The Barefoot Contessa, which will be shown in the Main Library's Francis Auditorium. Each film will be preceded by an introduction from Sam Shapiro, Manager of the Main Library's Movies & Music Room. Admission is free. For more info, go to http://plcmc.org/programs.

Exploring Animation Film Festival

June 10 (Animation for All): The Looniest Tunes (3 p.m.); The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (5 p.m.); Creative Claymations With Wallace & Gromit (7 p.m.). Daffy Duck and Betty Boop are among those taking part in the wild and crazy shenanigans on display in the first film, a compendium of classic shorts; not to be confused with Terry Gilliam's big-budget 1989 version, this Munchausen comes from 1961 and mixes live action and stop motion animation; claymation is the star in the third entry, with an inventive lineup including the Oscar-winning Creature Comforts and capped by the Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit marvel, The Wrong Trousers.

June 11 (Anime): Akira (7 p.m.); Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat In Space (9 p.m.). The post-apocalyptic sci-fi epic Akira arguably set the standard for the anime boom; Tamala was described by The Boston Globe as "Hello Kitty meets David Lynch in outer space."

June 12 (International): The Best Shorts From Around the World (7 p.m.); Alice (9 p.m.). The first feature offers 90 minutes of toon tales hailing from England, Italy, the Czech Republic and other global sites; Jan Svankmajer's Alice -- not to be missed under any circumstances -- is the best screen adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, a brilliant, bizarre work that combines live action and puppet animation.

June 13 (Cutting-Edge): Cutting-Edge Animated Shorts (7 p.m.). Drop the kids off at Surf's Up before heading to check out these avant garde experiments that employ computer graphics, stop motion and claymation.

The Exploring Animation Film Festival will take place June 10-13 at the Neighborhood Theatre. Admission is free. For details, go to www.nodafilmfestival.org.

The Best of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

June 7: Radiant City. Canadian comedian Gary Burns and journalist Jim Brown join forces for this piece that takes a humorous look at suburbia.

June 8: Moving Midway. N.C. native and film critic Godfrey Cheshire (who will attend the screening) helmed this documentary in which he follows a cousin who attempts to relocate the family's Raleigh plantation.

Both films will be screened at 7:30 p.m. in Spirit Square's Knight Gallery. Admission to each movie is $7 per person at the door. For further information, call 704-333-9755 or go to www.lightfactory.org.

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