One of the biggest hits of last year's MicroCineFest was "Existo," a wackily subversive musical comedy made by the same Nashville artists who brought us the "Ernest" movies.
The film, which stars Nashville performance artist Bruce Arnston, won the festival's grand prize and audience awards for best feature and returns tomorrow to the Charles Theatre by popular demand.
Baltimore filmgoers were not alone in their enthusiasm for the film, according to Arnston, who plays the movie's title character -- an inspired, slightly addled poet-provocateur fomenting an anti-fundamentalist revolution.
"We splashed fairly big in San Francisco also, at another microfestival," Arnston said during a telephone interview the other day. "We won the audience award there and connected with lots of folks that reminded us very much of the Baltimore gang. There were also a lot of people from the WTO (World Trade Organization) experience, so it was definitely preaching to the choir, but it was a blast."
Arnston added that at a screening in New York in December, he joined forces with a manager/producer who is determined to bring "Existo" to off-Broadway. Arnston will spend the next few months writing, then will put the show up in Nashville "to work out the kinks" and hopes to land in New York by late summer or early fall.
"It'll be what Existo would do if they let him out of the asylum long enough to rally the masses and hit the street," Arnston said. "I'm pretending that [the show] is a compendium of all the performances that Existo has been doing in three deades, in all the various hot-spots all over the world."
In a sad irony, Jim Varney, who also co-starred in "Existo" and whose Ernest movies indirectly made the film possible, died two weeks ago of lung cancer. "Existo" was Varney's penultimate film; he appeared in Billy Bob Thornton's "Daddy and Them" last year.
"In fact, Jim found out the extent of his illness right as he was starting that gig," Arnston recalled, "so they actually held off the production while he was in chemotherapy."
In "Existo" Varney was finally able to flee the persona that had been a boon and a curse for so long.
"Coke [Sams, the director of "Existo"] and I had been talking about projects with him for years, about doing anything not Ernest," Arnston said. "So this was finally our chance to do something that was on the other end of the spectrum, and he enjoyed himself a lot."
"Existo" will play at the Charles Saturday through Wednesday. Arnston and Sams will be in attendance at this weekend's evening screenings.
Series on nuclear menace
The Hiroshima-Nagasaki Commemoration Committee continues its "Film & Social Consciousness" video series this evening with a screening of "WarGames," John Badham's 1983 thriller that stars Matthew Broderick as a computer hacker who delves further into Pentagon secrets than he ever thought possible.
The film kicks off a series of videos that addresses the theme of "Resisting the Nuclear Menace."
All videos are shown at the American Friends Service Committee office, 4806 York Road. Doors open at 7 p.m. The video begins at 7: 30. A discussion follows. Admission is free and refreshments will be served.
For information: 410-323-7200.
Cinema Sundays at the Charles this weekend will present "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg," Aviva Kempner's acclaimed documentary about the late Detroit Tigers player whose prowess and comportment made him a hero in the Jewish community in the 1930s and 1940s. The day's speaker has not been announced.
Doors open at the Charles Theatre at 9: 45 a.m. Bagels and coffee will be served before the screening, which begins at 10: 30.
Mini-memberships for the last three films of the Winter 2000 series are available for $39. Individual tickets may be purchased at the door for $15.
For more information, call 410-752-8083
Lecture on women in film
Gayle V. Economos, president of Women in Film and Video of Maryland, will speak about "Women in Film and Video: On-Screen and Behind the Scenes" at noon on Wednesday in Shriver Hall on the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus.
The lecture is part of the Wednesday Noon series presented by the Johns Hopkins University Office of Special Events. Admission is free.
For more information, call the Office of Special Events at 410-516-7157.
Peter Rose seminar
There is still room at next Friday's film seminar with Pittsburgh filmmaker Peter Rose at the Maryland Institute, College of Art. Rose, an avant-garde artist who works in film, video, installations and performance and whose work as been presented at the Centre Pompidou, the Museum of Modern Art and the Walker Art Center, will present and discuss older and current work.
Works to be shown include Rose's 1981 film "the man who could not see far enough," as well as the 1999 videos "Revolt of the Masses" and "Requiem," the first installment of a three-part video/sound opera.
An Evening With Peter Rose will take place March 3, from 7 until 9 p.m. Registration is $20.
Call 410-225-2219 to register or for information.