When Phil Neufeld wants to see a foreign movie from start to finish, he heads to Los Angeles, where he can tuck into a plush chair and a bucket of popcorn like any other anonymous film fan. But when he's running the show, he's just plain running.

And with FLICS -- which for decades has been satisfying Bakersfield's appetite for foreign films -- Neufeld is indeed running the show, as he will prove again when the new season kicks off Friday.

"I'm the crazy, sweaty guy running around," said the funny, always-charming Neufeld.

And the big news for Friday's season kickoff is not that the wine is coming out of bottles instead boxes this year ("the class factor is going to shoot way up," Neufeld promises), nor that the feature presentation is the Oscar-winning Iranian film "A Separation."

The real treat is that FLICS has landed the West Coast premiere of a short film, an opportunity that fell into Neufeld's lap after a professional filmmaker was sent to do a segment on FLICS for Yelp, an online review service powered by users.

The filmmaker, Gerald Emerick, mentioned that he had completed a short, "The Heart's Eye View." Intrigued, Neufeld saw the "Walter Mitty type film" and was thoroughly charmed.

"Two people have sort of fantasy lives and they're just living their regular mundane existence and they imagine their perfect loves and all that kind of stuff, and they find out that there's no place like home."

The 15-minute film will start a few minutes before the 7:30 p.m. screening of "A Separation," and the filmmaker is expected to attend.

"I'll introduce him while I'm doing my spiel. I'm a little famous for droning on and people yell, 'C'mon, start the show!' But, hey, I paid for that stage, so I ought to be able to use it like I want," Neufeld joked.

There are 17 films this season, which will conclude on May 10 with the French film "Nobody Else but You." Admission for each film is $5, or $50 for the entire season.

Highlights include "The Other F Word," a U.S. film about punk rockers navigating their way through fatherhood that recently aired on premium cable; "Marley," which chronicles the life of the late reggae icon; and "The Skin I Live In," a psychological thriller from the Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar, one of the most acclaimed filmmakers working today.

But opening night usually is reserved for the most anticipated film of the season, which is certainly the case with "A Separation." FLICS offered a synopsis of the 125-minute film, in Iranian with English subtitles:

The Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film begins with a couple, at odds and in distress, arguing in front of a judge. Simin wants to leave the country with her daughter, but her husband, Nader, insists on staying at home in Tehran to care for his frail and elderly father. This film sketches a portrait -- perhaps an unnervingly familiar picture that transcends cultures -- of a society divided by sex, generation, religion and class.

Neufeld reserves the right to tweak the lineup, which he did just before the current season's fliers were printed after noticing that Maya Cinemas had plans to screen two of the films on FLICS' list. But logistical kinks aside, Neufeld is gratified by the increasing willingness of local commercial theaters to offer more challenging fare.

"It's not like I want to fold up the tents, but if tomorrow I woke up and found there were so many foreign films and American independent films showing in Bakersfield that we didn't need FLICS, I wouldn't cry a tear."

The film society has about 200 subscribers and fills about 6,000 to 7,000 seats a season. At the end of each season, FLICS typically donates money to the Fox Foundation for the ongoing restoration of the Bakersfield landmark, the latest improvement being a sound system upgrade.

"Iwould love to have 17 audiences that were 20 precent bigger than last season," Neufeld said. "That would make a big, big difference at the end of our season. I have a lot of hope." Season-opening reception

What: Food provided by Cafe Crepes; spirits provided by Imbibe Wine and Spirts Merchant and punch from Dewar's

When: 6 p.m. Friday; short film at 7:10; feature presentation at 7:30

Where: Fox Theater, 2001 H St.

Admission: $5 or $50 for all 17 films in the series

Information: flics.org or 428-0354