Easy distractions

Who's got time to sit through another Hollywood feature?

SHORT FILMS are all the rage, it seems, particularly on the Internet, where various sites are using the lure of exposure to gather content—that magical word—from countless would-be auteurs. (How companies profit from said content is an entirely different matter.) These Spielberg wanna-bes may not get any money for their sundry works, most of which don't merit viewing on anything larger than your low-res computer monitor. However, the newfound interest in short-form filmmaking has resulted in a bumper crop of submissions to the fifth 1 Reel Film Festival.


Intiman Theater Friday-Monday, various times

Why should you bother forsaking sun and music outdoors to sit in the dark for a bunch of short flicks? Certainly your ringing ears and burning skin deserve a break. It's also a good way of ditching your loser friends who want to drag you to see some hippie band. And every last title on the schedule is guaranteed to be better than Space Cowboys.

Boasting 90-plus titles, 1 Reel "has been evolving" over its half-decade history, according to festival curator Warren Etheredge. "[The festival] hasn't grown that dramatically," he explains of its size, while "the number of films has gone up slightly." Eighty-five percent of the movies are premieres, he estimates, all of which were produced during 1999 or later. With some 30,000 filmgoers packing into the Intiman Theater last year, he adds, "We are close to maxing out."

"In the past, Bumbershoot had film components, but it never really had a vision to it," Etheredge declares. Hollywood films were occasionally premiered (including L.A. Confidential three years ago), along with "cult-type features" and "crazy experimental shorts," he notes. Also, coming a few months after the 800-pound gorilla of SIFF, which monopolizes the attention of fanatical Seattle filmgoers, 1 Reel needed "to find a new niche." For Etheredge, short films are the logical way to go. "There's more [shorts] now, especially with the proliferation of the dot-coms. We got tons of submissions. I personally watched over 500 shorts," he recalls, "but it was painful." After his selection of some 60 deserving titles for the live-action category, "there's a huge drop-off in quality."

Yet live-action is "the most important thing for the Festival right now," he notes, where "the real breakthrough stuff" is taking place. Appropriate to Seattle's amorphously emerging digital-filmic connections (described in these pages last week), Etheredge says 1 Reel's mission is "to try to increase the festival's relevance within the industry as a whole, and in the local community."

By contrast, Etheredge explains, animated fare—requiring far more time and technique to produce—is scarcer and tends to come from foreign film festivals. "We generally solicit more," he says of such animation—unlike the glut of live-action.

In his first year as 1 Reel curator, Etheredge has introduced thematic packages that break up each day's schedule. Titles are arranged into various miniprograms, as indicated on the official Bumbershoot program. If you didn't save it, here's an overview of some films worth seeing.

LIVE-ACTION: Titler (Sun, 6pm) stars Greg Roman, who performs his own fragmentary musical meditations on Hitler, homophobia, and thoroughly skewed torch songs. It's kind of a Cabaret-in-the-ruins, with a welcome Pythonesque absurdity. The very polished The Pogie King (Sun, 5pm) tells a purportedly true story of a bickering Gulf War tank crew that nervously encounters surrendering Iraqi soldiers. It ventures into Three Kings territory, but with a better coda. In God We Trust! (Sun, 6pm) is the brisk but very Run Lola Run-indebted work of Jason Reitman—son of Father's Day director Ivan Reitman (the bane of American cinema). Rafael Hernandez's very futuristic Oregon recalls George Lucas' THX 1138 and features some sharp camera work and a memorable shootout (Sun, 5pm). Funniest among titles previewed is Hate (Sat, 6pm), a spot-on spoof of all those creepy neighbor suspense flicks, featuring a car-driving, cigarette-smoking, vengeful animatronic chicken. (Movie references abound, particularly Rear Window and Cape Fear; the clich餠score is just right.) The enjoyable Zoe Loses It (Mon, 1pm) plays like an amusingly distaff take on After Hours. Zen and the Art of Landscaping (Sun, 2pm) puts a comic spin on family dysfunction, while Troublemaker (Sun, 4pm) concerns a relentlessly optimistic but ill-fated heavy metal drummer. For those of you who can't get enough of serial killers, Chuck (Sun, 8pm) fills that niche adequately.

'TOONS: Surprise Cinema (Sat, noon) is a recent effort by Bill Plympton—famous for his entirely hand-drawn cels and humorously violence-filled works. The hazily metaphoric The Well (Sat, 4pm) can be interpreted several ways, but loosely concerns a spindly ratlike figure riding a bubble through a dreamscape to possible transcendence or salvation. Its CG animation is definitely worth seeing. Little Milosh (Fri, 3pm) places a creepy old man's puppetlike head on the child protagonist of a Czech fable, another visually impressive CG effort. Better is the Canadian The Indescribable Nth (Sat, 7pm), which uses a pencil outline style to relate the story of a fragile but reparable heart.

CELEB-SPOTTERS will note the presence of at least a few A-list stars—well, maybe B-list is more accurate—in the fest. The Sopranos' James Gandolfini anchors A Whole New Day (Sun, 1pm). With his All the Pretty Horses due out this fall, Billy Bob Thornton dons Western attire in The Last Real Cowboys (Sun, 6pm). Currently on view in Whipped, Amanda Peet shows up in Zoe Loses It, which also features Gretchen Mol, a supporting player in Sweet and Lowdown and Cradle Will Rock.

TALKING FILM, not seeing it, is the focus of two panel discussions to be held on the Interview Stage. The entire subject of short film will be addressed Friday at 7:15pm, with various experts expected to talk about marketing concerns, the Web, cable, and maintaining a distinct short film aesthetic (instead of merely using the form as a calling card for Hollywood). The jury prizewinner in the live-action category is also expected to attend. Saturday at 4:45pm, Trixie director and Northwest resident Alan Rudolph will discuss the art of music scoring for film with his longtime collaborator Mark Isham and fellow film composer Hummie Mann (yes, his real name).

Screening outdoors, there's a dream-themed package of shorts running all four nights at the Northwest Court Stage at 9pm. Subjects will range from old silents (including M鬩鳩 to sight gag comedy to surrealism (like Kenneth Anger) to Tim Burton's excellent Vincent to the just plain weird (like the Brothers Quay).

If you're really pressed for time, 1 Reel also offers best-of-fest compendiums in the live-action (Mon, 3pm) and animated categories (Mon, 4pm). Then go catch the hippie band.

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