WorldFest is close to director Randal Kleiser's heart
By LOUIS B. PARKS
April 12, 2011, 5:04PM
Randal Kleiser, director of Grease, Flight of the Navigator and The Blue Lagoon, will be running hard Saturday at the WorldFest-Houston film festival.
At 10 a.m., Kleiser hosts a master class for actors and directors at the Hotel Marriott Westchase. At 3 p.m. he hits the AMC Studio 30 to introduce a screening of the special Grease Sing-A-Long version. At 7 p.m. he's back at the Marriott, in the Grand Ballroom, for the festival's Remi Award Gala, where he will receive the Career Achievement Award.
Kleiser has a special affection for WorldFest. He showed his first film at the festival — at its original Atlanta location - in 1972.
"I was right out of film school (the University of Southern California), and this was the first festival I went to with Peege, my master's thesis," Kleiser says.
"It was about a young man's last visit with his grandmother in a nursing home. It was my experience with my grandmother. My father came down to see it, not knowing what it was about. It was very emotional."
The film won a Gold Medal.
"We gave Randal his first award," says festival founder Hunter Todd. "Randal still calls me up now and then."
Peege has a history as impressive as the inexhaustible Grease. Distributors grabbed it up at the festival, and Kleiser's no-budget short has been in distribution ever since.
"It has grossed more than a million dollars" Kleiser says. "They sold it to libraries and gerontology centers and old age homes as a way for nurses and students to learn about communicating with people who are noncommunicative.
"What's really wild is in 2008 it was (one of only 25 films chosen annually for preservation) by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress."
Kleiser seems as proud of Peege as of Grease, which has grossed $386 million worldwide since opening in 1978, when the average U.S. movie ticket was $2.34, less than a third of today's $8.01. Kleiser had a hand in the creation of the Sing-A-Long edition, which played in Houston last year. He thinks this is the first time it's played a festival.
He's been asked a million times why Grease is so enduring. Make that a million and one.
"It's the Energizer bunny movie; it keeps going and going," he says. "It has lots of hit songs, we have the chemistry of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John at their height, and before it was a movie it was a (hit) Broadway play. And it has all those things most people can identify with about their own high school experience; peer pressure, unwanted pregnancy, falling in love, all the things that happen in every high school. They came together in the perfect storm to make it something that even now works all over the world for all ages. Which baffles me a lot."
Kleiser's Saturday Master Class is built around a new DVD he and George Lucas financed, based on the teaching of actress Nina Foch (Spartacus, An American in Paris), who was on screen and TV from 1943 to 2007.
"She taught for 40 years at USC and at the American Film Institute. I took her class when I was 18 and learned so much. We became friends, and I kept saying we've got to record your class. George Lucas put up the money, and we filmed a whole semester (www.ninafochproject.com). I'll show selected clips from it, and then we'll pull people from the audience and do those exercises live."
Even after 33 years of Grease, Kleiser is excited about WorldFest's Sing-A-Long screening.
"We ran it at the Hollywood Bowl (in 2010), and 17,000 people showed up and sang and danced in costume. It was one of the most fun nights of my life."
WorldFest patrons are encouraged to dress in Grease style for the showing. Individual tickets for the screening are $7.
Information on the Awards Gala, the Master Class ($50) and all other WorldFest events, is available online at www.worldfest.org.
Film tickets are available online or at AMC Studio 30, 2949 Dunvale.
Louis B. Parks is a freelance writer and a former Chronicle film critic.