Short film may be suffering a crisis of distribution these days, but you'd never know it from this series (10 distinct programs altogether) of international micro-films, which likely wouldn't be found in your grocer's freezer, anyway. Certainly there's nothing lacking on the part of the filmmakers' avant-prowess or imagination, although while subtitles may translate language, they don't always serve as well with ideas. Case in point: Sylvie Boisseau and Frank Westermeyer's "The Free Man," a German-language production that follows Westermeyer through a cause-and-effect, question-and-answer day during which he's repeatedly queried by an off-camera interviewer ("Do you have a chance?" "Is that understood?") with little rhyme or reason. The intent -- that a "free man" is subject to a constant barrage of fatuous questions and choices by dint of being free (I think) -- is, however, no more revelatory than it sounds. Not so with Kent Lambert's video-shuffle "Ken Burns Give You Something," which subverts the famed documentarian's notoriously finicky filmmaking with a jittery cut-and-paste style worthy of William Burroughs. At 17 minutes, the Japanese digital short "Pellet" is a lengthier piece, with a more traditional storyline. A young woman, kneeling in her too-green garden, reveals that she's "dissecting the one I loved," and then continues on to tell a tale of insects, forbidden (or semi-forbidden) love, and the transfigurative power of death. Cleanly shot, tightly edited, it's less a narrative video than a visual tone poem, albeit one that has characters you can identify, if not identify with. "Magic: Forcefield Video Collection" comprises four short pieces that answer that eternal question: "What would happen if Guy Maddin and E. Elias Merhige were trapped in a time portal with the Lumière Bros.?" At last, tangible proof that old-school filmmaking techniques (including hand-tinted, small-gauge film stocks, guys in devil suits, and those bottle-bound mini-people from Bride of Frankenstein) are infinitely cooler than any CGI effect on the lot. Closing short "Hostage: The Bachar Tapes" is a pair of brief glimpses behind the mind of one Souheil Bachar, a South Lebanese artist kidnapped in 1983 and held for 10 years, more than nine of them in solitary confinement. For several weeks in 1985 he shared a cell with American Terry Anderson and four others; they each penned books on the experience, while Bachar made a series of 53 tapes, of which these two are the only ones he allows to be screened for Western eyes. The tapes consist of Bachar speaking directly to the camera (in a mid-shot distressingly reminiscent of the recent Daniel Pearl hostage-videos) and discussing the nature of imprisonment, and his life before and after.
"The Free Man" screens in Int'l. Competition 2: The Leisure Class on 9/18, 6:15pm, at the Hideout, and on 9/20, 8pm, at the Hideout Cabaret. "Ken Burns Gives You Something" screens in Int'l. Competition/Parallax: An Injury to One on 9/17, 9:30pm, and on 9/22, 7pm, both at the Alamo. "Pellet" screens in Int'l. Competition 1: The Animal on 9/19, 9:30pm, and on 9/22, 6:15pm, both at the Alamo. "Magic: Forcefield Video Collection" screens in Int'l. Competition Midnite 2: Silence, Foolish Humans on 9/20, midnight, at the Alamo. "Hostage: The Bachar Tapes" screens in Int'l. Competition 10: Discipline and Punish on 9/20, 3:45pm, at the Hideout Cabaret, and on 9/21, 11pm, at the Hideout.