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Upstate Start-Up 

Flick Chick

Published April 2, 2003 at 5:00 p.m.

Tom Matthews, Meritt Billiter and David Gonyo seem an unlikely trio to be launching the Strand International Short Film Festival. They are, respectively, a Clinton County deputy sheriff, a DJ at a Christian-music radio station, and a senior at the local state college. But the young men - none older than 23 - also happen to be devoted cineastes. Their 'first annual" event takes place this Thursday and Friday in Plattsburgh.

Matthews, a resident of nearby Altona, explains that he is a writer and director, 'and the other two guys are my actors." He has shot five short productions. Two of them - A Killing and Retribution, fitting titles for a deputy sheriff's resume - are included in the festival lineup.

The pictures are slated to unspool at the Strand Theatre, a 1924 movie palace that looks something like Burlington's Flynn Center, according to Matthews. One of its two screens will be used to showcase at least seven short features and documentaries. A few late entries also might be added to the schedule.

Among the celluloid or digital video selections: Paris Beat, by Mike Matzkin, is a kind of atmospheric 1970s travelogue concerning the French 'city of light"; the experimental Melodrama, by Jason Andrew Torrance, conveys a dream-like sequence; Puerto Rico, by H. Louis Carrascie, taps into the culture of that Caribbean island; No Deposit, No Return, by Tom Connelly, is about an encounter between a homeless man and a young woman who wins money from a rigged horse race; and Jamie Cabeza's Hippie Hypocrite addresses the duality of humankind.

Matthews found inspiration for A Killing at the REO Speedwagon concert he attended a few summers ago at the Champlain Valley Fair in Vermont. 'I noticed that everybody was lip-synching along," he recalls. 'But none of them seemed to know what the songs were called. I found that so intriguing."

To transform that experience into a work of fiction, he devised a plot about a door-to-door knife salesman obsessed with the country-rock band responsible three decades ago for such hits as 'You Can Tune a Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish." The 30-minute film is based on a stage play Matthews wrote while still a theater major at Plattsburgh State. In the new version, the REO fanatic is played by his first cousin, fellow festival organizer David Gonyo.

Only four minutes long, Retribution is a silent film that follows two brothers searching for the source of a mysterious sound emanating from upstairs in their own house.

With about two hours' worth of programming, the festival is 'an opportunity for filmmakers who normally might not be able to have their work screened in public," Matthews says. 'Until now, the only people who've seen A Killing are our friends and grandparents."

Tickets are $5 at the door. For more information, email Matthews.

Why did Femme Fatale skip Vermont during its limited theatrical release this fall? Lukewarm reviews in New York might be to blame. Too bad. This taut Brian De Palma thriller - playing the Hopkins Center in Hanover at 6:45 and 9 p.m. on Wednesday, April 9 - is actually a lot of fun. It's part of Dartmouth College's 'You Kill Me: Film Noir Meets Screwball Comedy" season, as good a reason as any to travel to New Hampshire.

Many critics were enthralled when Femme premiered at the Toronto festival in September, but perhaps that's partially due to industry self-adoration: The movie opens with an extended sequence at the annual cinematic extravaganza in Cannes. De Palma's script bubbles over with subtle and not-so-subtle references to the medium he loves.

Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is terrific as a calculating woman immersed in a jewel heist, a career choice so well suited to the Riviera that Alfred Hitchcock immortalized it in To Catch a Thief. She's an inveterate double-crosser who starts to think twice about the criminal life when she encounters a handsome photojournalist (Antonio Banderas). Or does she? The word 'double," as in doppelganger, figures significantly in this twisty plot that never settles for the obvious.

Although De Palma makes much moola with big-budget Hollywood blockbusters like Mission: Impossible, his heart of darkness is clearly captivated by less formulaic fare. Femme Fatale puts a glitzy, humorous veneer on an art-house homage to all the great classics in the genre of atmospheric nihilism.

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Susan Green


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