"Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" was critic Pauline Kael's succinct summary of cinema's allure. This week, Shots in the Dark, Nottingham's seventh crime, mystery and thriller festival, shows the myriad ways in which sharp- shooting film-makers have elucidated on that primal pull, screening premieres, classic prints and cult crime drama from the small screen.

The festival begins with a round of fresh fire from the likes of Simon West, director of Con Air (an Airport for the 90s with John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi and Nicholas Cage slugging it out at high altitude) and Kevin Spacey, making his directorial debut with Albino Alligator (a claustrophobic hostage drama starring Matt Dillon, Faye Dunaway and Gary Sinise).

Also showing will be Unforgettable, John "The Last Seduction" Dahl's latest slice of noir, featuring the fearsome femme fatale Linda Fiorentino as a mousy scientist and Ray Liotta as a Frankenstein-ish coroner (not averse to syringeing brain fluid from coma victims for his own dark experiments), and Night Falls on Manhattan, Sidney Lumet's latest courtroom potboiler starring angry men Andy Garcia and Richard Dreyfuss.

Jim Thompson, the godfather of pulp fiction, is the inspiration behind two new movies: Steven Shainberg's hard-boiled Hit Me and This World Then Fireworks, a surreally styled noir based on a controversial story of incest and madness, deemed too taboo to publish in Thompson's lifetime. Billy Zane and Bound's Gina Gershon (above) are the amoral brother and sister scamming their way through a low-life landscape and preying on Sheryl Lee's repressed policewoman, Lois.

If the seedy supremacy of American writers and film-makers is everywhere in evidence, the festival is not without a scatter of European buckshot. Julian Richard's Darklands plunges in where Twin Town left off in a kind of negative reappraisal of Wales. Set in the post-industrial wastelands of the Welsh steel towns and exploring a sinister Druid cult, it inhabits an interesting psychological hinterland somewhere between Rosemary's Baby and The Wicker Man.

The Pulp Royale season, meanwhile, traces the influence of crime l'Americain on French film-making, from coinage of the term "film noir" by film-maker Nino Franck, to the obsessive references to paperback thrillers found in the work of New Wave directors such as Truffaut and Godard. Screenings include Shoot the Pianist, Le Samourai and Plein Soleil, Rene Clement's masterful adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's psychological thriller.

So, whatever kind of cinematic kiss kiss bang bang hits your target, Nottingham has the whole damn shooting match. Broadway Media Centre, Broad St, Nottingham (0115-952 6600/6611) from 5 Jun


What better way to stop your sun-soaked brain from corpsing than a little Lift, the capital's international Festival of Theatre? This year's intercontinental imports include South American sense terrorists Periodo villa villa, who invite you to crowd into a dark cavern. Feeling as though you're underwater, you look up to where shadowy shapes float overhead. As the music increases in tempo flying figures chase round the walls and into the crowd. A small disclaimer warns that "some members may get wet during the performance" - whether this is through the carnivalesque effects or sheer excitement, it's a small price to pay for such muscular chorerography and Latin American verve.

After the excitement of May's glorious revoluion, the new production from German company Deutsches Schauspielhaus should prove a striking lesson in satirical realpolitik. Set in a surreal training school for politicians, the piece puts the statesmen through a crash course in leadership as they practice shaking hands and walking on red carpets. A monumental performance piece that is as funny as it is disturbing, as the modern Machivellies take respite from their training in haunting songs from Schubert to Coward.

It's probably also worth booking a ticket now for I Was Real, the new work by Japanese shock trooper Saburo Teshigawara. Famous for the virtuosity and velocity of his performance, Teshigawara has, in the past, proved his ninja dance credentials by walking on broken glass and burying himself in mud. His more salubrious set for this production is designed by the fragrant Issey Miyake.

Other productions dispose of sets altogether and make use of found spaces to present a kind of fluidly interactive promenade theatre. At Trinity Buoy Wharf 50 years of Indian independence are commemorated with a celebratory procession wending through canopied walkways, where historic events blend with personal memories. At Meard Street, meanwhile, solipsistic Soho life reaches its apotheosis with live cinema, simultaneously recording and playing back the ebb and flow of fashionable humanity on to surrounding buildings. Alternatively, enjoy the Columbian theatre of Oraculos, which sucks shoeless visitors into the labyrinthine cellars of the Roundhouse building where, among the darkened winding passages, a host of guides will lead you through chambers filled with sounds, textures, evocative smells, rituals and strange apparitions. The sensual odyssey was described by liberation newspaper as a heightening of perception "better than any drug", praise indeed from cartel country and sure to give your spirits a legal lift.

Lift at venues around London 3-29 June. Box office (0171-312 1995) 8am- 8pm. Information (0171-336 0508)

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