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November 29 - December 1 , 2002

Directors in Focus
Alexander Payne: American Allegories

In a brief career that has brought both popular success and critical acclaim, director Alexander Payne has laid claim to a kind of distinctly American filmmaking—a strain that has not been seen, perhaps, since the 1940s, when Preston Sturges trained his keen eye and sharp wit onto the manners and mores of small-town America. Payne applies his own brand of absurdist humor and progressive politics as he places contemporary heartland values under a comically incisive and critical lens.

November 29 (Friday) 7 pm

About Schmidt

Directed by Alexander Payne
US 2002, 35mm, color, 124 min.
With Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis

In this acerbic comedy about disappointment and failure, Jack Nicholson portrays Warren Schmidt, a man in the midst of a late-life crisis. The film opens with Warren’s retirement dinner and dramatically concludes with his daughter’s wedding to a waterbed salesman, a fellow the increasingly reflective father finds not "up to snuff." Between these events, Payne concocts a geriatric version of the road picture in which the aging protagonist travels from Omaha to Denver, revisiting old haunts and finding himself through the long letters he writes to a child in Tanzania he is sponsoring for seventy-three cents a day.

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November 30 (Saturday) 7 pm
December 1 (Sunday) 7 pm

The Passion of Martin

Directed by Alexander Payne
US 1991, 35mm, color, 49 min.
With Charles Hayward, Lisa Zane

It is rare for a student film to garner international attention, but Alexander Payne’s The Passion of Martin, made for his M.F.A. degree at UCLA Film School, did just that after its premiere at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival. The story of a young photographer who falls instantly in love with a woman he sees admiring his work, the film laid the foundations for the director’s satirical investigations of the American psyche.

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November 30 (Saturday) 8 pm

Citizen Ruth

Directed by Alexander Payne
US 1996, 35mm, color, 102 min.
With Laura Dern, Kurtwood Smith


Payne stretches reality to the borders of absurdity in this satire on the politics of abortion in contemporary America. Ruth is a glue-sniffing addict who finds herself at the center of the national battle over abortion rights when a judge orders her to have an abortion or face felony charges for criminal endangerment of her fetus. Ruth becomes the cause celebre of both pro-life and pro-choice zealots, portrayed in satiric dueling symmetry.

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December 1 (Sunday) 8 pm


Directed by Alexander Payne
US 1999, 35mm, color, 105 minutes
With Reese Witherspoon, Matthew Broderick

Shot in Payne’s native Omaha, Nebraska, Election caustically reinvents the genre of the high-school movie as it follows the machinations that surround a campaign for student council president in a suburban school. Boldly tackling issues of teenage sexuality, cruelty, and self-absorption, Payne explores the persistence of these traits long past the adolescent years into their adult incarnations. A biting satire of the American electoral process and moral hypocrisy, Election caught the attention of both critics and audiences for its scathingly humorous snapshot of a pre-millennial America.

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