ORINDA -- For years, Jo Alice Canterbury and Efi Lubliner have screened feature films at various film festivals throughout the country and have helped bring those noncommercial films to Orinda and the East Bay.
They began the International Film Showcase two years ago, to help the Lamorinda Film and Entertainment Foundation fulfill its goal to make Orinda a cultural center.
That move, Lubliner said, has paid off since then as hundreds of theater-goers have flocked to the Orinda Theatre to see these films that he said can't be viewed just anywhere.
"The foundation was created to help preserve the Orinda Theatre," said Lubliner, an Orinda resident and longtime film screener for local film festivals.
He said the historic theatre is the perfect site for these very-limited-release films that are not available through Netflix, cable networks and DVD. Lubliner also emphasizes that these films are not arty films with esoteric themes but movies with meaningful stories.
"Jo Alice and I attend what I consider to be the best place to see international films -- the Palm Springs Film Festival," Lubliner said.
Through the festival circuit, Lubliner has developed several contacts with companies from whom he's been able to obtain these films to show to a local audience, he said.
One thing he wants the public to know -- the International Film Showcase is not a film festival where a film may be shown only once. But the monthly showcase features a seven-day run of a film that has never been released commercially in the Bay Area, either on the big screen, on DVD, cable TV or accessible for rent or download. Most of the films are celebrating a U.S. premiere, he added.
"The movies we bring are 'cream of the crop' special films," Lubliner said. "Many of the movies are based on true stories."
For instance, "Chronicle of My Mother," a Japanese film which begins its seven-day run at the Orinda Theatre on Feb. 22, is a drama about the relationship between a writer and his aging mother based on an autobiographical novel by Yasushi Inoue. The writer is played by actor Koji Yakusho, who starred in the acclaimed film "Shall We Dance?"
Canterbury said when she first saw the film at the Palm Springs Film Festival last year, she was captivated by the visual and emotional impact of the film, which showcases compelling characters.
"The scenes are beautifully drawn like paintings," Canterbury said. "It's just a feast for the eyes. It's also a poignant story."
It's also a film filled with realizations about life and family secrets. Exterior as well as interior scenes capture the essence of Japanese culture including a scene that shows the family at dinnertime, she said.
"Jo Alice and I love films that are based on true events," Lubliner said. "We're looking for films with character development. It has to have more than just action. We don't show avant garde movies. With our middle-of-the-road movies, we understand what's going on from beginning to end."
Lubliner believes in exposing these films to audiences beyond Orinda, giving a chance for more people to see these hard-to-find releases. "Chronicle of My Mother" will also be shown at other theaters, including El Campinil in Antioch and Four-Star Theatres in San Francisco.
"None of these theaters are next to each other," Lubliner said. "The key is exclusivity. We're bringing good films to the public."
To celebrate the International Film Showcase's two-year anniversary, the foundation has recently launched a more user-friendly Web site.
"They can see the showcase history, movies we've shown before and what other theaters are part of our family," Lubliner said. "Our wish is to share the joy of these films from around the world that simply don't make it over here."