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At this very moment, all eyes are on this Friday's opening of Brokeback Mountain, which seems to be the most eagerly awaited specialty film since Fahrenheit 9/11. While this tale of gay cowboy love looks to dominate discussion this month, January is also the kickoff to the busiest period on the Triangle film schedule, from the Winter Film Series at the North Carolina Museum of Art, to do-it-yourself extravaganzas in local clubs, to the Full Frame and Hi Mom! festivals in the spring.

CLASSICS
This year's NCMA series starts off next Friday, Jan. 13 with a not-to-be-missed screening of Luchino Visconti's The Leopard. Adapted from the Giuseppe di Lampedusa novel in 1963, this ravishing epic stars Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale and dramatizes the decline of a 19th-century aristocratic family. The film was notoriously butchered and dubbed upon its original stateside release, but series curator (and Indy contributor) Laura Boyes has booked a restored, subtitled print. The following week, NCMA will show another gorgeous 1960s Italian film, Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura. The biggest curatorial coup of the season, however, is Helen's Babies, a 1924 silent film starring Clara Bow, Edward Everett Horton and "Baby Peggy" Montgomery. The hook is that Montgomery, now known as Diana Serra Cary, will be on hand for a post-film Q&A. In her heyday in the early 1920s, her only rival among child box office stars was Jackie "The Kid" Coogan.

Other NCMA highlights include Gillo Pontecorvo's timeless, and timely, masterpiece Battle of Algiers, Sam Fuller's electrifyingly pulpy Pickup on South Street and Stanley Kwan's Centre Stage, a little-seen but finely polished gem from Hong Kong. (Centre Stage will be introduced by yours truly.) For a complete schedule, visit www.ncartmuseum.org.

Over at N.C. State University, the film faculty has put together a month-long series entitled Super Cinema of the 1970s. With the tag line of "Cops, Dicks, And Real Bad Chicks", this quartet is organized around justice and revenge. The series begins Thursday, Feb. 2 Witherspoon Campus Cinema with William Friedkin's The French Connection and continues in weekly succession with Richard Sarafian's Vanishing Point, Jack Hill's Coffy with Pam Grier at her bodacious peak, and Night Moves, Arthur Penn's downbeat, pessimistic counterpoint to the thrills of The French Connection. All films are 35mm and these screenings are free. More information is located at www.ncsu.edu/cinema.

FESTIVALS
The Carolina Theatre of Durham will once again mount a slate of horror and fantasy films in its popular Nevermore Film Festival Feb. 17-19 (http://festivals.carolinatheatre.org/nevermore).

One of the Triangle's most unique and ambitious homegrown affairs is the Ms. Films Festival, a venue for new work by emerging women filmmakers that will also includes a slate of panels and tutorials. Set to run Feb. 23-26 in Durham, Ms. Films is a teaching and advocacy movement as much as it is a local event, and accordingly, a slate of festival hits toured last fall through West Coast hipster havens Berkeley, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Olympia. More information is at www.msfilms.org.

Also in Durham, Full Frame fest will run from April 6-9, with another slate of excellent documentaries. As always, the festival will organize its theme around issues of topical concern. Where terrorism, war and peace have dominated the last few years, the festival turns its attention to the fissures of race and class that were exposed by Hurricane Katrina. A Southern Sidebar will showcase the earliest work coming out of the devastated Gulf Coast region, and a keynote event will be a performance by New Orleans natives Branford and Ellis Marsalis. Find the full schedule and volunteer information at www.fullframefest.org.

The Triangle season of festivals will wrap up in June with Carrboro's Hi Mom! Film Festival, which promises an international program of lo-fi, experimental and downright Dadaistic filmmaking. More information will be posted on their Web site, www.himomfilmfest.com. The festival is tentatively scheduled for June 9 and 10.

This spring there will be one notable omission from the calendar. The Cucalorus Film Festival in Wilmington, which for a dozen years has been a strong showcase for Southern filmmaking--with a side helping of international art film--will no longer provide the best excuse to make an early spring jaunt down to the beach. Instead, the festival is moving to November.

IN THE CLUBS
The Durham-based progressive social club Traction will begin a monthly series of films with political and social themes. Look for film screenings at Durham's Broad Street Café, Kings in Raleigh and other venues on their Web site at www.gettraction.org.

Keep an eye out for events produced by Fight Big Media, a loose collective of lefty film lovers in Raleigh who are dedicated to spotlighting political documentaries. They're holding a second Sundays screening a King's. E-mail collectivereform@hotmail.com or call 838-5057 for details.

Lovers of quirky films all over the Triangle can count on a visit from Skip Elsheimer, better known as A/V Geeks, who will begin another year of the world's best vintage educational films this Friday at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences with a short film to precede a showing of the original King Kong. Other A/V Geeks offerings this month will be at Raleigh's Bickett Gallery, Durham's Center for Documentary Studies and Chapel Hill's The Cave. Elsheimer's well-stocked Web site has all the details: www.avgeeks.com.

In Carrboro, the estimable Flicker Film Festival, headed by Nicole Triche, will continue with its series of Super-8 and 16mm shorts, beginning on March 5. The season finale in April will be an event called Bars and Tone, in which local participants will show short films that feature area bands. This event is intended for the participation of the general film and music loving public, and information is available at www.flickerfestival.com.

MEANWHILE, AT THE MOVIE THEATERS...
Riding on the sturdy Brokeback, January is a strong month in area theaters. The Libertine, an intriguing Johnny Depp-Samantha Morton vehicle, will tell the scandalous story of the Earl of Rochester beginning Jan. 13. Later in the month, look for Match Point, Woody Allen's best-reviewed movie in years, and Terence Malick's long-gestating The New World, his version of the fall of Edenic America in the Virginia Tidewater region. Also start looking for two other films that have been getting sensational reviews: Caché (aka Hidden), a new film from Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher, Code Unknown), and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, directed by Tommy Lee Jones.

After the high-water mark of January, the following months will be enlivened by such titles as Idlewild, a Prohibition-era musical that features André 3000 and Big Boi of OutKast. A Scanner Darkly, Richard Linklater's rotoscope adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, is due in March, as is V for Vendetta, adapted from the underground classic graphic novel of the same name, with a script by the Wachowski brothers. In what could be the year's camp classic, Basic Instinct 2--yes, that's right--will open on March 31, with Sharon Stone but without Michael Douglas.

In May, the blockbuster season opens with three films that promise to improve Hollywood's profits over the lackluster 2005. First out of the gate is Mission: Impossible 3 (May 5), to be followed in quick succession by The Da Vinci Code (May 19) and X-Men 3 (May 26).

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