Short films hardly ever show up on TV. Film festivals, yes, but not the small screen. A rare exception is on the season premiere of "Alive TV" tonight (at 10:30, KCET-TV Channel 28), a PBS summer showcase for "unexpected television."
Trouble is that it's only marginally unexpected.
"A Short Film Festival for Television" is indeed a short collection--four black-and-white films that together run under 30 minutes. Three of the pieces are by women, two of them about a young heroine's Angst and her deteriorating relationship with loved ones, particularly parents.
The only genuinely fresh work is the shortest and least ambitious of the four, the fetching 4-minute "Sour Death Balls" by L.A. filmmaker Jessica Yu. Popular on the film festival circuit, the film experiments with the puckering faces of 25 subjects coping with the world's most potent sour candy, most of them 3- and 4-year-old nursery school kids.
The longest and strongest of the lot is the 13-minute curtain-raiser, "Fugitive Lover," by Tamara Jenkins. Shot in leafy Cherry Hill, N.J., in the quirky style of a silent movie but with sound, it centers on a young Italian-American woman (the amusingly underplayed Stephanie Silverman) suffering from a broken romance while having to endure a family of maternal man-haters: a pushy mom, a banal grandmom and a cackling aunt. The rooftop ending is perfectly nutty and logical at the same time.
Columbia film grad Nicole Holofcener's 5-minute "Angry" is a self-described 16mm study of divorce. Only here the young heroine (played by writer-director Holofcener) "divorces" her mother. This ending, too, says plenty about unhappy young women, with the final image being a jet zooming our adventuress as far away from home as possible.
The singular disappointment is an MTV-influenced rap discourse, "Television, The Drug of the Nation," by the group the Disposable Heroes of Hiphophrisy (writer Michael Franti and Rono Tse). Directed by Mark Pellington, the film is predictable in both its style and subject matter.