Reel Ingenuity

This Saturday evening, the dramatic architecture of the Arizona State University Art Museum serves as the backdrop for an outdoor showcase of inventive filmmaking -- the sixth annual Short Film and Video Festival. But rather than the glamour and gloss of Hollywood, expect low production values and some shaky camerawork. The reward is in the unexpectedly cunning imagery and insightful storytelling.

These short films, submitted by up-and-coming filmmakers from around the country, are wonderfully odd. In Jack & Diane, a couple breaks up using nothing but song lyrics for dialogue. Great Balls of Fire, one of the two Juror Choice Award winners, records the stream-of-consciousness, street-performance reaction of a homeless man to the events of September 11. Drive-In Chapel, winner of the AZ Award for a local filmmaker, profiles a Tucson church where worshipers attend service in the comfort of their own cars.

Essentially a no-budget production, the festival does not charge filmmakers to submit their short films, and there is no admission fee for the event itself. "We don't take ourselves too seriously," says organizer John D. Spiak. "We just want [the festival] to be a place where people will get exposure for their work."

Shorts from the festival have gone on to greater success. One piece that premièred in Tempe -- made by a 14-year-old high school student with some clay, his father's camera and his sister's dollhouse -- was picked up by HBO. Another year's entry went on to win the Oscar for best animated short.

No one is going to enjoy every film in this diverse group. Still, nothing is longer than 12 minutes. "If you don't like one," Spiak says, "just wait a few minutes."

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Sage Dillon