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Just ask Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben

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It looks like something you'd see on PBS, with self-important talking heads, dramatic voiceovers, and vintage photos lovingly caressed by the camera, but writer-director Kevin Willmott'sCSA: The Confederate States of America is an audacious mockumentary that induces both laughs and squirms as it explores the last 150 years in a country where the South emerged victorious from the Civil War.

Disguised as a banned documentary of British origin --- "not suitable for children or servants" --- CSA uses both real and ingeniously faked footage to illustrate the direction this country could have taken. Lincoln flees (in blackface, naturally) with the help of war criminal Harriet Tubman, while the abolitionist and suffragist movements take root in Canada behind the Cotton Curtain. Native American children are snatched from their families and sent to boarding school, and, after much debate, the Jews are allowed to stay in a reservation on Long Island. Not surprisingly, the CSA enjoys good relations with Hitler, though our administration couldn't get behind the notion of exterminating a perfectly good source of slave labor.

Willmott re-imagines nearly every aspect of American life (the CSA has very little success at the Olympics) with ironic tongue firmly in cheek, approximating a '50s horror film in which a wife learns that her husband has been reading The Confessions of Nat Turner, as well as a Cops-type TV show called Runaways, with the original'sreggae-tinged theme song giving way to banjo and jaw harp. But Willmott makes some very sobering points about the current state of racial inequality and US imperialism in the guise of defense, pointing out "What is terrorism to one is patriotism to another." And vice versa.

CSA is sprinkled throughout with ads for accoutrements attendant to living in a slave-based economy, such as a Ronco-type contraption called The Shackle, as well as products that only seem outlandish, like Darkie toothpaste and Niggerhair cigarettes. CSA opens with a title card bearing an admonition from George Bernard Shaw: "If you're going to tell the truth, you better make them laugh; otherwise they'll kill you." Willmott saves himself from an untimely death by doing both, positing an alternate reality that isn't as far from actuality as one would hope.


About town

National Guard Sergeant Jeremy Lewis served in Iraq for a year as part of the military police, and he will lead a discussion at the Little Theatre following the 7:05 p.m. screening on March 17 of Eugene Jarecki's award-winning documentary Why We Fight, which shines a light on the big business of war. A member of the nonpartisan organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Sergeant Lewis has spoken to various groups around the country about the unique issues facing veterans of the current conflict as well as the war's larger implications on the state of our union. Go to the Little's website, www.little-theatre.com, for more information.

Like a Roman emperor, he decides fates with an outstretched thumb and a twist of the wrist. He's arguably the most famous film --- hell, art critic in the world, and Roger Ebert visits Rochester this weekend as the latest George Eastman Honorary Scholar. Besides attending a reception and a private screening, Ebert will also present two of his selections from the ongoing Dryden series Ebert's Great Movies. On Friday, March 17, Ebert introduces Vittorio De Sica's neorealist classic Umberto D, and on Saturday, March 18, the Pulitzer Prize winner presents Robert Altman's 3 Women, answering questions following the screening and perhaps explaining the distinction between an ordinary vixen and an ultra-vixen. For further details visit www.eastmanhouse.org.

You probably won't see its entire title splashed across the marquee of the host googolplex, but at 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 23, the Beastie Boys documentary Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That!enjoys a one-night digital stand at selected theaters in advance of its March 31 release date. Awesome was filmed by 50 camera-wielding fans in October 2004 at a sold-out Beasties show in Madison Square Garden, giving the clichéd concert film an unusually enthusiastic perspective, though hopefully the amateur shooters were neither too short nor too wrecked. The special screening of Awesome will be preceded by a 30-minute short called A Day in the Life of Nathaniel Hornblower, starring David Cross (not Adam Yauch) as the reclusive director. Advance tickets are available online at www.bigscreenconcerts.com and at the individual theater box offices. Participating venues at press time include the Regal outposts at Eastview and in Henrietta, so click on www.awesomeishotthat.com/march23 to verify. Rock stars are notoriously unreliable.

Confederate States of America(NR), directed by Kevin Willmott, is playing at the Little Theatres.

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