aesthetic pleasure; more water than you'd need to float an ark; and a plot with vital statistics that flatline.

Thanks to your patronage, the untamable forces of "The Perfect Storm" have clearly washed out the competition for this summer's box office returns.

Enter an independent film. Director Kamshad Kooshan cannot compete at the box office with Wolfgang Peterson's unbeatable equation for success.

Without the formulaic elements of big names, mind-numbing special effects and overly simplistic story lines, Kooshan's"Surviving Paradise" cannot draw large audiences in its first weeks in limited release. Nevertheless, the independent film is a force to be reckoned with, offering summer audiences a refreshing break from ritualistic blockbuster brain damage. In the movie, Pari (Shohreh Agdashloo) is kidnapped from the airport upon her arrival in America, and her two children are forced to navigate the streets of Los Angeles alone. Ten-year-old Sam (Keyan Arman Abedini) and his younger sister Sara (Lauren Parissa Abedini) encounter potentially dangerous characters as they attempt to find their only relative in town.

But the gangsters, prostitutes and transients in this movie turn out to be a source of empowerment rather than a fountain of vice.

"Surviving Paradise" offers a refreshing view of diversity in Southern California. Instead of a paradise lost to these outsiders caught in violent negotiations, Los Angeles is a paradise where unity is found in celebrating diversity.

For the Iranian American children, who must navigate through a rainbow of ethnic neighborhoods, hope and help come in all colors, ranging from African Americans to Asian Americans to Mexican Americans.

Diversity is power to Kooshan. The Iranian-born writer, director and producer attempts to reconcile race relations in a "salad mix" metaphor.

The film offers some beautiful episodes of idealistic equality that bridge class and culture, including a homeless man who gives his blanket to the children asleep on a park bench and a gangster who gives Sam his pager number (which is usually reserved exclusively for "customers").

Even the bad guys aren't your typical villains. They are actually incompetent gophers for a boss who only exists in conversation.

Since the kidnappers do not appear to be inspired by inherent evil, motivation remains ambiguous.

The driving force behind the villain, Mr. F., is especially equivocal, as the short story writer-turned-hit man is left to ponder the effects of his present occupation. His multi-faceted character solicits deeper inspection, much like the other disenfranchised characters of the film.

In the honorable tradition of independent films, Kooshan's feature debut offers an alternative to the larger-than-life "Storm" and proves that you don't need a deluge to tell a story.

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Tale of lost kids is relief from formulaic flood

By Emilia Hwang

Daily Bruin Senior Staff
Monday July 10, 2000

Welcome to the summer blockbuster. This year's big-budget Hollywood production would like to introduce you to a company of actors who appear purely for your