The problem with a lot of movies these days is that they're too damn long. King Kong, which clocks in at over three hours, would have been twice as good at half the length. Meanwhile, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe might have made a perfectly acceptable 15-minute featurette. And just imagine how much less objectionable Underworld: Evolution would have been at, say, 35 or 40 nanoseconds.

It's this "less is more" ethic that propels the 90 short films in the 15th annual Florida Film Festival. The longest is 33 minutes and the shortest is just a minute and a half. These mini-movies are live-action and animated; imported and domestic; funny and dramatic; fiction and non-; family-friendly and risqué; straightforward and elliptical. Whatever your taste in cinema, there's something here for you (unless, of course, your taste runs exclusively to films longer than 33 minutes).

If you're a Wallace & Gromit fan, you'll want to catch "Creature Comforts: Monarchy Business," a nine-minute gem from W&G's studio, Aardman Animations. Like Aardman's earlier "Creature Comforts" shorts, this one puts real-life conversations into the mouths of stop-motion animated animals, with much of the humor arising from how surprisingly well the voices fit the creatures. In this case, bats, birds, a goat, a bear, a horse and an irascible rodent chatter on about British royalty.

Britain's "Creature Comforts" is part of the international-animated-shorts program. Also in that program is "Overtime," a haunting five-minute masterpiece from France in which a group of puppets, who all look suspiciously like Kermit the Frog, pay tribute to their fallen puppet master. While undeniably poignant, this short is never sentimental; at times, in fact, it verges on the macabre.

The international animation program is one of nine shorts programs, which also include collections of Florida shorts, international narrative shorts and midnight shorts, plus five programs of American independent shorts. Some shorts will be offered in separate programs.

At least two festival shorts should appeal to unrepentant movie-centrics. The "Welles" in "Five Minutes, Mr. Welles" is, of course, Orson, played by Vincent D'Onofrio, who also directed. Set entirely in a London hotel room, this 30-minute movie speculates on how Welles "found" the immortal character of Harry Lime in The Third Man. You'll get more out of this short if you've seen the 1949 classic, but D'Onofrio's performance is astonishing in its own right – it captures Welles' swagger, humor and unexpected reasonableness.

"Mr. Welles" is part of American independent shorts program No. 4. "My Dad is 100 Years Old," a 16-minute Canadian production on the international narrative program, features Isabella Rossellini in a tribute to her late father, director Roberto Rossellini. Despite its artiness, the film is worth watching for the actress' loopy impersonations of Fellini, Hitchcock, Chaplin, producer David O. Selznick and her mother, Ingrid Bergman.

The Florida shorts program ("The Best of Brouhaha") contains student films, among the most impressive of which are such mini-marvels from the Ringling School of Art and Design as "Abigail," "Football Toys," "Rue du Tordu," "Bella Musica," "Things That Go Bump in the Night" and my favorite Ringling offering, "Food for Thought" – a delicious animated parable in which a little red devil and a big green demon explore the theme of cooperation. Also of Florida interest is "City of Mermaids," a documentary about the mermaid attraction at Weeki Wachee Springs; it will be presented on a bill with Muskrat Lovely and "Playing the News."

Other short-film highlights include the clever "Full Disclosure" (program No. 2), in which a man insists that he and his date disclose everything negative about themselves the first time they go out together, and the moving "Afraid So" (shown with Hand of God), in which narrator Garrison Keillor poses a series of daunting questions – "Will it leave a scar?"; "Was the gun loaded?" – that can be answered by the film's unhopeful title.

The funny, outrageous "Fauna Sutra" is a Dutch cartoon in which human characters act out the bizarre mating rituals of lower forms of life. It's on the international animation program along with two Oscar nominees, the whimsical, British "Badgered" and the elegant, Australian "Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello." "Moongirl" from Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) and "The Fan and the Flower," an uncharacteristically benign entry from grossmaster Bill Plympton, are both in program No. 5.

And if you remember those earnest anti-piracy ads celebrating the unsung heroes of the movie industry, you'll get a kick out of "Who Makes Movies?" (shown with American Stag), a satirical tribute to "Handy" Randy Palmer, a humble "fluffer" (i.e., penis stimulator) of the porno-film biz. At a tidy five minutes, it's just the right length. As all these shorts go to show, bigger isn't necessarily better – though Randy might not be inclined to agree.

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More by Jay Boyar


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