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The Other Venice Film Festival:

The fourth annual Other Venice Film Festival took place over a four-day period from March 15 through the 18 at two Venice venues, the Electric Lodge and Switch Studios. More than 90 filmmakers – many of them locals who live in Venice or around the Westside – screened their works. As with any film festival, there was an abundance of films to see and tough decisions to make about what to see and when.  Following is a run-down of some of the festival’s offerings as sampled by one on-the-run reporter.

Friday night’s program was the shorts compilation “Highs and Lows.” The highs here included One Sung Hero by Samantha Kurtzman-Counter, which drew laughs with its portrayal of a karaoke “missionary” who pops up in bars and tries to change people’s lives by encouraging them to sing; Luis Fernandez Reneo’s A Better Life, beautiful in its scenes of the desert, but also unflinching in its depiction of the brutal conditions faced by those who enter the country secretly; and Beyond the Pretty Door by Dutch filmmaker Bobby Boemans, a depiction of child abuse that could easily be expanded into a feature.

More laughs came with the animated short Puppet by Patrick Smith, in which a boy’s hand puppet develops an attitude of its own, and with Casey Walker’s The Morning After, a wacky story about a guy who wakes up in a strange room with a blonde female companion in his bed and contemplates several theories of what may have taken place the night before.

Saturday morning the Festival’s “Kids Films” program featured films made either for or by kids. The program kicked off with Peter Elbling’s hilarious Mr. Vinegar and the Crossword, about a grumpy older man who tries to do a crossword puzzle in a series of outdoor cafés but is stymied by too much noise – from everyone’s cell phones (including a baby’s!). Films made by the young included Christopher Jarvis’ The Fly, a funny short about a boy fighting a buzzing creature, and Steve Anthopolous’ Tree in the Forest, a moving portrait of a deaf, musically talented teenager.

Another emotionally moving film was Jeff Prugh’s Thomas in Bloom, about a boy who becomes intrigued by ways that modern communication devices might help him talk to his very elderly grandmother. While the film caught some children’s attention, it also caused some less mature kids to drift away.

Later on Saturday, My Bollywood Bride, directed by Rajeev Virani and starring TV hearthrob Jason Lewis, was shown. Virani’s goal was to make a film that incorporated elements of the “Bollywood” musicals made in India while retaining the format of an American romantic comedy. The result was uneven, with the brightly colored, energetically choreographed musical numbers the highlights of the film, but the storyline (an American goes to India to win the love of a girl who turns out to be a movie star) failed to rise above the clichés of the genre.

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