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`FESTIVAL’ IS COLLECTION OF WACKY SHORT FILMS

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A man hanging upside-down at Pete's Bar & Grill philosophizes about life, speaking directly to the camera. A cigar-chomping, overweight woman and her put-upon husband, viewed through a fisheye lens, declare war on a cockroach in their rundown apartment. And a mousy accountant feels free enough to break out of his humdrum existence only when he is alone in an elevator.

These are just some of the images offered by the nine movies - ranging from 9 to 20 minutes in length - collected for "The 1st International Festival of Short Films," which opened Friday at the Tower Theater.Some are better than others, of course - but overall they offer an interesting perspective of what the young filmmakers of tomorrow are up to.

In my view, the best is the lone documentary in the bunch, "Stealing Altitude," a student film from the University of Southern California, which was also a much-discussed short at the Sundance Film Festival. This 10-minute black-and-white exercise in cinema-verite gets right to the point as it chronicles the adventures of "base jumpers," people who steal into half-constructed high-rise buildings at night, then wait until dawn to parachute to the street below. What we witness, of course, is a covert sport, and the film neither endorses nor condemns the participants, as it shows both the hazards and the thrills connected with base jumping.

The eight fictional shorts have one thing in common - they are all pretty strange. Whether that strangeness works for audience members is probably a very personal thing. For me, it was about 50-50.

The first entry, "The Lounge Bar," is a three-character story with flashbacks and a light musical narration, a 12-minute film from New Zealand that is witty and dark and quite inventive.

The Welsh entry, "The Childeater," is also quite enjoyable, a surprisingly emotional and poignant look at a young girl who slowly learns that her uncle may not be the evil old man she thinks he is.

And "Metamorphosis," though it overplays its hand a bit, is an amusing, black-and-white comedy about a nerdy accountant who rebels against society by cramming an amazing amount of activity into a brief elevator ride.

The others were less satisfying for me, including the odd, philosophical "Tom Goes to the Bar," and several dark comedies that try too hard to be "wacky" - "An Urban Tragedy," "Safari Holiday," "Rushes" and "Happy Birthday Bobby Dietz."

Though unrated, the presentation as a whole is in R-rated territory, for some language and the strange sexual behavior of "Rushes."