Portland International Short Subject Film Festival

Fri-Sat, 7 pm

Itisness, 3016 NE KIllingsworth

Short films are a peculiar genre. Not long enough to completely unpack a character's nuances and quirks, they are usually one-trick ponys. Instead of character development and plot twists, short films introduce an idea, a gimmick or a simple concept--get in, kick it, get out.

In "Extra, Extra," one of the shorts at this weekend's Portland International Short Subject Film Festival (PISS), the filmmakers follow an overly earnest bit actor as he explains why he is Hollywood's best extra. It is a faux documentary directed as convincingly as the likes of Best In Show. With absolute sincerity, the toothy and coiffed young extra explains how he'll use method acting to play his next scene, a non-talking part where he blends into a crowded street setting. "In this scene," he explains, "I'll take on the character of a tennis pro." It is a gentle chide, well suited for a short film, compelling enough to entertain for five minutes.

The same can be said about more--but not all--of the shorts at PISS: bite-size productions that work well when they don't try to process too much in their short time span. In its first year, PISS is an ambitious and mostly successful mini-festival. Organizers collected more than 100 films from all over, from France to White Salmon, Washington. They choose the best 30 to screen at PISS.

Although the submissions guidelines were loose, most entries fall into three categories--documentaries, claymation, and treatises on love. The films from the first two genres pack the most punch. The least successful center on romance; perhaps five minutes is just not enough space to fully develop complex ideas.

One entry from local Will Vinton, "Killer Tomatoes," has impressive animation, but ultimately spoils itself by overstating its anti-bioengineering message. "Seeing Is Believing" is a much more compelling claymation entry. Although the story has a clear meaning, it is tempered by its Gumby-like monsters emitting goofy sounds and, like the best cartoons, by providing a detailed and distorted altered reality as a set.

All told, the films are a remarkable survey of budding talent and a glimpse into the thoughts, theories, and jokes that are bouncing around young filmmakers' heads.