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Filmlets Go Manhattan

Twelve films compete for the love of viewers in 'The Manhattan Short Film Festival'

By Richard von Busack

ALL THOSE who are seriously crazy about watching movies have been, at one time or another, sold a pig in a poke by a film-festival jury. That's why the Manhattan Short Film Festival—landing in San Jose this week—has a likable gimmick. The selection of a dozen films was winnowed from 504 entries from 30 countries. The rules of the jurying are simple: viewers vote for one film and one film only, and a prize is given to the clear favorite in New York at the end of the month.

It's troubling that none of the finalists were from Asia, that continental laboratory of the cinema of the future. And the narrative film is clearly favored in these selections over anything too surreal. Still, it's hard to go wrong in 10 minutes, and almost all the entries deserve applause. The fest's people asked me not to influence the voting by mentioning a favorite, so let's count three that deserve particular attention.

Crickets (14 min., directed by Matan Guggenheim). In Jerusalem, this movie tells us, there is a littered corridor with a keypad at the end of it with the marks of greasy, smoke-stained fingers on it. Inside is a special sort of private club/betting shop with a widescreen TV tuned to the news. Crickets sums up the too-tight, too-easy humor of a war zone, the nonchalance that conceals a scream. Guggenheim's speculative-fiction short perfectly depicts the strain of living in an infitada, when any building can crumple and any city bus can suddenly evaporate into a spray of blood. Ever so slightly influenced by Fight Club, Guggenheim's work is still brave, eerie filmmaking.

The Ten Steps (Brendan Muldowney, 10 min.) evinces the simple sturdiness of a folk tale, or a dream of terror, and it transcends what could so easily be hackneyed elements: a lone baby sitter (Jill Harding) and a haunted house. The elements of humor are funky and unforced—note the cross-grain casting of a jolly, stout woman to play the big boss's wife. The low-light digital photography is fine enough to make you think of Georges de La Tour instead of The Blair Witch Project, and the payoff has the snap of a trap door. What do you know—your spine really can tingle.

The Lump (Ed Godsell, 13 min). In Cork, Ireland, a street wino gets a new chum. Godsell pays his debt to David Lynch in interviews, but The Lump is more than a retread of Eraserhead. As in The Ten Steps, Godsell and co-writer Brendan O'Connell put their own touch on material that has been handled before (in How to Get Ahead in Advertising and in Alison MacLean's short Kitchen Sink). Essential to the film's strength is the touching, convincing acting by Mick Lynch and Owen O'Sullivan. Seeing the shot of the harbor at first light or the image of bare feet projecting from a doorway at dawn, you can tell Godsell is no poseur; he's heard the chimes at midnight.

The Manhattan Short Film Festival (Unrated; 143 min.) opens Friday at Camera 12 in San Jose.

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From the September 14-20, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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