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Film preview: Rochester International Film Festival 

With more and more media competing for our collective attentions, it seems shocking that the makers of mainstream feature films have yet to learn the value of a slim running time (just look at the recent "Avengers: Endgame," which clocked in at a whopping three hours).

Maybe it's for that reason the Rochester International Film Festival -- also known by its unofficial title "Movies on a Shoestring" -- has remained so popular for so long. Celebrating the art of the short film, RIFF presents a program of films that pack as much compelling plot, character, and visual interest as a traditional feature in only a fraction of the time. And every year the filmmakers behind these cinematic amuse-bouche show Hollywood how it's done.

Kicking off its 61st year this week, the RIFF will screen four separate programs of short films over the course of three days (May 9-11) at the Dryden Theatre. In addition to the films themselves, a number of the festival's international roster of filmmakers will be in attendance to participate in Q&A sessions after the screenings. Admission to the festival is free, though donations are accepted.

What follows is a preview of just a few of the films from this year's lineup. For more information on the festival and a complete schedule of films, visit rochesterfilmfest.org.


Thursday, May 9, 8 p.m.

Yasmin Mistry's "For a Better Life" uses vivid animation to let audiences experience the life of a courageous young man named Fekri, born to an impoverished family in Tunisia and sold for $100 at the age of five. The hope was that he'd find a better life; instead he suffered through years of abuse at the hands of his adoptive mother. But he survived, eventually finding hope and the support he needed through the foster care system.

"Moved to Tiers" comes from director Avery Herzog, and blends live action footage with animation to tell the whimsical story of a wedding cake topper couple who take it upon themselves to search out their own happy ending.

From the Kyrgyz Republic, "Tash Kømyr" follows two boys who dream of escaping their dire circumstances by selling coal harvested from a nearby mine. Director Evgenii Chistyakov balances this unrelentingly bleak tale with some beautifully stark cinematography.

The inspiring locally-produced documentary "Why We Push," from Nathan Sengillo, takes a look at the close-knit skateboarding community of Rochester and the as-yet-unfulfilled dream of the Roc City Skatepark.

In Indian filmmaker Rahoul Daswani's bittersweet "To Remember Me By," an old 8mm camera offers a chance for a young man to revive the memories of the loved ones he's lost.


Friday, May 10, 8 p.m.

Jhosimar Vasquez's crime thriller "The Scorpion's Tale" uses the classic fable of the "Scorpion and the Frog" to weave an operatic tale of murder, greed, and vengeance.

The stunning "Double Exposed" packs a wallop in under four minutes. Filmmaker Julie Buck uses the inadvertently layered images of the Super 8 home movies filmed by her grandfather to contemplate the picture these films paint of her family and what pieces of their stories are left out of frame.

Delving into the difficulties of supporting a long distance relationship, Nathalie Lamb's German stop motion animation "Him & Her" focuses on a couple who are in love, but find themselves apart. Through a phone call, they conjure up a rich fantasy in which they might be together.

A seasoned ice fisherman gets in over his head while on his latest excursion in Lewis Leon's darkly amusing animation "L'Homme et le Poisson."


Saturday, May 11, 4 p.m.

In the compelling doc, "Martin Hill: Cameraman," Joanne Hock trains her camera on one man's quest to preserve a bit of Hollywood history by collecting the cameras that shot some of the most iconic movies of the last century. In the process, she examines the value we place on preserving the past through Hill's sincere desire to share his passion with the world.

Expression is key in Adam Vincent Wright's exuberant "Welcome to the Ball," which finds a creative young child working to make a connection with a deaf neighbor.

The mysterious "Misappropriation," from Spanish filmmaker Ana Maria Ferri, takes the familiar story of a young man struggling to come to terms with a recent breakup, and gives it an enigmatic twist.

In the touching film, "Free," returning filmmaker and choreographer Ben Hartley uses the medium of dance to tell the story of an enslaved young man whose world opens up when he's taught how to read and write.


Saturday, May 11, 8 p.m.

Though his close relationship to his grandfather, a young boy experiences loss for the first time in the poignant "Ashes," from director Prashant Singh.

In 1965 Sicily, a strong-willed woman runs afoul of the local Calabrian mafia when they attempt to seize control of her recently murdered husband's business in Brendan Young's tense black-and-white crime drama, "The Widow."

Through richly-detailed animation, Mark C. Smith's imaginative fantasy "Two Balloons" finds two lemurs on solitary journeys of exploration, as they suddenly learn that some adventures are better taken together.

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