Cinema Alfresco 

Bring a blanket and join Lola's Film Frenzy.

East Bay filmmaker Laura Plotkin is hoping the weather will be balmy when The Weather Underground opens her third annual alfresco alternative cinema series, lovingly christened Lola's Film Frenzy.

The Oscar-nominated documentary about the violent 1970s anti-Vietnam-war anarchist group of the same name kicks off the monthly summer film-and-arts series this Saturday in the industrial-cool nook the Frenzy calls home, an open-air quad nestled between old corrugated-metal warehouses on the Oakland-Emeryville border. The all-around cultural event begins before sundown with performances by local bands (on the debut evening it will be Conspiracy of Beards, a men's chorus devoted to 1970s Leonard Cohen songs), works by local artists, and a raffle with prizes donated by local businesses such as Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe, Pixar, and Trader Joe's.

The Film Frenzy draws diverse and interesting crowds. Plotkin says proudly: "I have a group of grandmothers that comes every time, as well as little punk rockers on their bicycles," all drawn by the fact that "the audience never knows what to expect." The first two years' series were compilations of short films with a wide variety of moods. "I don't like theme shows," the series doyenne declares. "I like putting together things that make you laugh and make you cry right next to each other. [But] this year I'm getting more into the narrative format," thanks in part to Underground codirector Sam Green, who will be in attendance at the May 1 event -- quite a coup for this little film festival that could. "I know Sam. I think he's trying to support my efforts to keep this art event [and] community film event going."

Plotkin says that in the wake of The Weather Underground screening, she may beg off short films for 2004: "I think I'm gonna go with features." Although, reinforcing her anything-can-happen claim, she admits she's not yet sure what's on the program for the June installment, except that the film will be preceded by a fashion show put on by Twisters Vintage Clothing.

She does plan to keep her focus on Bay Area filmmakers like Green, who suggested that the proceeds of the screening go toward helping to publish a book by jailed Weather Underground member David Gilbert. "Every time is a benefit for somebody or something," explains Plotkin, who is currently working with Terry (Crumb, Ghost World) Zwigoff on a documentary called Women in Sinema, about the history of sexploitation films. "That's [why] I'm looking for corporate sponsors," she laughs. "I'm always giving away the money!" Tippett Animation Studio of Berkeley donated the screen, and Plotkin is seeking a benefactor to upgrade the projector and sound system, but if she could find a sponsor for the whole shebang she would be tickled pink.

For those without such deep pockets, admission to Lola's Film Frenzy is a relatively easy $5 to $10. Bring a lawn chair or blanket, but no dogs, please, to 929 Grace St. in Oakland, tucked just behind the AllPosters.com warehouse on Stanford Avenue (that's Powell Street if you're coming from Emeryville or the Bayshore Freeway). Look for the iron sculpture garden, then look for parking. Arrive before 7:30 p.m. to get a good spot and hear Conspiracy of Beards. Directions and contact information at LolaFilms.net

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