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Movieside Film Festival

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Some night after dinner with friends, gather around the electronic hearth with adult beverages to watch Movieside Film Festival (new to video). The Chicago-based film and performance series has assembled 20 shorts ranging from bizarrely comic to thought-provoking. It's ideal group viewing, with as much to discuss as to laugh over.

The opener, Todd Rohal's "Knuckleface Jones," sets the tone: a bound, nerdy trombonist, a hacked-off ex, "You Really Got Me," sadistic Cub Scouts, a rap crew of half-naked middle-aged honkies -- it's a primer in inspired weirdness and narrative feints.

Other comic highlights include "Monkey vs. Robot," a gloriously low-rent Super 8 piece set to an hilarious James Kochalka song; Bryan Boyce's "State of the Union," which casts W in Teletubbies, to some bunnies' dismay; and "Monkey Walken: An Intimate Portrait," Jason Woliner and James Dean Conklin's series of faux promos for a reverent A&E profile of a dung-flinging movie star who coulda been. And then there's "And Knowing Was Half the Battle," in which Eric Fensler does a What's Up, Tiger Lily? on the old animated G.I. Joe show: These recut cartoons with new soundtracks verge on the surreal, and they made me laugh until my stomach hurt.

But this 80-minute anthology of films dating to 1999 is quite varied, from the neo-Happening eye-candy of Usama Alshaibi's "Dance Habibi Dance" to the agreeably distressing, satisfyingly arty black-and-white of Carl Weidemann's "A Primer for Dental Extraction." Bryan Lefler's anti-war-toys mini-drama "Warplay," meanwhile, is not unsubtle, but so smartly conceived and edited you won't mind. And "30 FPS," by Micah Scarpetti, is a slick, diverting urban skateboarding vid, even if its minutes (six) are one too many.

But just when you think you have its number as sheer amusement, Movieside grabs you by the collar and compels you to really watch, and think. Mark Hejnar's "0502" uses appropriated footage to construct a wordless and quietly unnerving narrative. In "A Moment," Bob Hurst creates a haunting, dreamlike collage from animation, self-help audio, and a still image of a kid on a pogo stick. And the collection's closer, Christian Matts' "Forced Entry TV State," is a genuinely chilling experimental study of a murder that was presaged by security-camera footage.

A well-curated set of short films can be as engaging as an album; you might even be tempted to give Movieside a second spin.

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