The hand of fate, the chance encounter, the unexpected twist, the deus ex machina -- all staples of cinema. And they're in abundant supply in the short films that comprise the Jan. 11 Film Kitchen.
The strong and varied program features recent and older work by three artists, including Tess Allard, Ryan Quinn and Glenn Syska.
Writer-director Quinn's "Iowa Is Closed Today" is a loopy romantic comedy about a "media bootlegger" -- he hand-copies books! -- torn between his profession and his girlfriend. One twist: When the fast-paced 23-minute film begins, Andy Adams (Eddie Szewczyk) is dead, and conducting a comic tête-à-tête with a rather smarmy Angel Gabriel. Other heavenly beings are implicated; meanwhile, "Iowa" actually showcases an impressive array of Pennsylvania locations, from the Presque Isle beach to a vintage diner in Lewistown.
Also appearing is State College, where Pittsburgh native Quinn works at his alma mater, Penn State, filming, editing and uploading sporting events for the Web, and running replays on the Beaver Stadium Jumbotron. "Iowa," meanwhile, was named Best Short Film at Washington, D.C.'s 2010 REEL Independent Film Festival and Extravaganza, as well as Best Student Film at the Pocono Mountains Film Festival.
Twists abound in the short films of Glenn Syska. The Pittsburgh Filmmakers grad's high-production-value ouevre includes 2004's "5 Day Rental," a slick 15-minute thriller with a Tales From the Crypt come-around. The creepy "Captured Through the Lens," about a stalker and his subject, is artfully rendered as a photo roman -- a series of still images. (It was made, in fact, for a Film Kitchen photo roman contest.) Still, Syska's most impressive production yet is "Fortunex," a wickedly satirical 2010 piece (set in a corporate boardroom) about a new pharmaceutical that makes poor people think they're rich. (Slogan: "Erasing poverty, one mind at a time.")
"Fortunex" played at the 2010 Three Rivers Film Festival. Syska, 30, is a Pittsburgh native and freelance editor and soundman.
Tess Allard's work, mostly non-narrative, doesn't at first echo the other films' twists. Shorts like "Broke Down Milltown" evoke industrial decay in coarse-grained black-and-white, with a contemplative, rootsy musical soundtrack recorded at one of Pittsburgh's "Sync'd" film-plus-live-music events. "Journey" is a travelogue, with beautiful imagery shot largely out a car window.
But her work does invoke fate, or something like it. Allard, an education assistant at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, offers a narrative approach in the 9-minute "Dreamer," a partly surreal story about a guy with a guilty conscience. "Red Radio" is a dreamlike, dialogueless piece that springs a trap on both protagonist and viewer. And "Birdland" (also from Sync'd) summons the supernatural with its audio montage of voices telling ghost stories paired with beautiful color footage documenting Allegheny Cemetery, and the wildlife, as well as the tombstones contained therein.
Film Kitchen 8 p.m. Tue., Jan. 11 (7 p.m. reception). Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Ave., N. Oakland. $6. 412-681-9500