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Rochester International Film Festival 2014 

Always a highlight of my annual film-going calendar, The Rochester International Film Festival — better known as "Movies On a Shoestring" — returns to its home at the Dryden Theatre this week. Boasting the auspicious title of "The world's oldest, continuously held short film festival," the RIFF presents four programs of shorts over the course of three days starting Thursday, April 10. The films are submitted from across the globe and span a variety of genres, making this festival nirvana for any cinephile. Each program feels like an expertly curated sampler platter of cinematic delights, ensuring that there's bound to be a film to suit whatever mood you happen to be in. Plus, with seven films in each program, audiences get more bang for their buck than with the average film festival (even more so when you consider that admission to RIFF is completely free). What follows are a few highlights of this year's film lineup.

For more information on the festival and the complete schedule, check rochesterfilmfest.org.

Thursday, April 10 (8 p.m.)

The festival starts with a bang in Andrew Fairbank's domestic thriller "9-1-1," in which an emergency phone operator finds that the method of dispassionate response she preaches is a bit more difficult to uphold when you recognize the voice on the other end of the line.

"Distance" is an emotional as well as an physical barrier to a father and his daughter in Aimee Long's exquisitely acted sci-fi drama, which takes place in a future where pollution has forced the government to ration the amount of miles its citizens are allowed to travel.

Two opposing soldiers in WWII find the truth behind their belief that "We Are Enemies" in Ilya Rozhkov's wrenching period drama.

The highest compliment I can pay the sole documentary in this year's lineup, "Cinema Time Capsule" — about the 75th anniversary of the Avon Cinema in Providence, R.I. — is that I wish it went on longer than its all-too-brief 6-minute running time.

A mother and her young son find that their strained relationship isn't beyond salvaging in the locally made film, "Tin Cans." Impressively, as an entry in the Rochester Movie Makers annual Mind-To-Movie Challenge, the entire film was produced in only 72 hours.

Friday, April 11 (8 p.m.)

Though no physical pyrotechnics are deployed, an exasperated office worker reaches the end of his rope in "Explosive," a workplace drama from directors Ivan M. Valencia and José Ramón Soriano.

A muddled tone hinders the otherwise engaging dark comedy "Tag," in which a young boy watches as his father engages in a rather dangerous game.

A grizzled Russian farmer and his wife are tasked with safeguarding a crate of paintings while awaiting their son's return from war in the richly evocative "Way In Rye."

Digital inkblots dance hypnotically in Thomas Stellmach and Maja Oschmann's mesmerizing experimental animation, "Virtuoso Virtual."

The ingenious production design behind the titular establishment is the true star of "Hotel," a fantastically entertaining Twilight Zone-esque thriller from Spanish director José Luis Alemán.

Saturday, April 12 (4 p.m.)

In Clinton Cornwell's sensitive drama, "A New Leaf," a 20-something woman vies for a supervisor position at the supermarket where she works, ignoring the larger question of whether her life has gone off course.

Joanna Davidovich pays homage to Tex Avery in "Monkey Rag," a lively music video set to the music of the Asylum Street Spankers.

On his way to meet a stranger, a man impulsively picks up an alluring hitchhiker in "The Choice," a beautifully photographed road movie from director Evan Kaufmann.

A group of septuagenarians resort to desperate measures in order to avoid being evicted from their retirement home in the comedic "Bingo Night."

Saturday, April 12 (8 p.m.)

Trygve Nielsen uses often-abstract animation to weave a myth-like tale of a traveling cowpoke and his magical hat in "The Cowboy - In Color."

Having become romantically involved while isolated in space, two astronauts must decide the future of their relationship now that they'll soon be returning to Earth in the sci-fi drama "113 Degrees."

Exploiting every parent's worst nightmare, the comedy "Shenanigans" explores the consequences of a boy's mother and father inadvertently getting wrapped up in his teenage drama.

A determined young Indian girl longs to escape a life of exploitation in a clothing factory by learning to read and write in "Butterfly Dreams."

A cast of familiar faces, including Ron Livingston, Lizzy Caplan, and Jordan Peele, turn up in Michael J. Weithorn and Rob Benedict's hilarious "The Sidekick" — a film about what happens when a lifelong superhero sidekick suddenly finds himself unemployed.

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