High-concept, low-budget movies 

The origins of the Hi/Lo Film Festival — where big ideas outweigh big budgets — can be traced back 10 years to the seminal space voyage of a piece of chocolate and a pizza box.

The voyage, better known as the short film "Space Chocolate," chronicles the flight of a confection through an outer-space star field — that is, a kitchen in the Mission District adorned with some black fabric and white Christmas lights — as it navigates its way into a pizza box embellished with Sharpie markings to look like an intergalactic space cruiser.

The five-and-a-half-minute short, created by Marc Vogl, Paul Charny and Brian Perkins of the sketch comedy troupe Killing My Lobster, essentially became the first selection of Hi/Lo in 1997 when the creators figured it best to start their own festival rather than submit the film to a fest that would likely not have a place for — let alone know what to do with — such an entry.

And so, the Hi/Lo Film Festival was born.

"It’s a timeless piece, really. ‘Space Chocolate’ will live on forever," jokes Hi/Lo juror Daniel Cavey, of the 10th anniversary of the quirky short that started it all.

For the last decade, films lofty in creative spirit but meek in finances have found a home at Hi/Lo, which celebrates its longevity this week with three new short film programs and a retrospective of highlights from the last decade.

With the exception of the 30-minute cap on length, there are relatively no restrictions for filmmakers, which makes for quite an eclectic bunch of submissions to sift through.

This year, Cavey and a handful of other Hi/Lo jurors who were previously contributors themselves screened more than400 submissions from around the world and settled on 40-plus shorts for the festival.

"To quote Marc Vogl, the film has to have gumption. When you see it, you just know it was meant for Hi/Lo," Cavey says of the selection process.

The 10th installment of Hi/Lo features such new shorts as "Help is Coming," a post-Katrina look at New Orleans and the sexy Spanish film "Amar," which explores what it means to give and receive in a relationship.

The "Best of Hi/Lo" program revisits such selections as "Fast Forward," a Michael Bay-inspired stop-motion short made with LEGOs; "Three Legged," a three-minute short about two guys bound together at the leg in front of a tennis ball launcher; and, of course, the classic "Space Chocolate."

"A film like ‘Fast Forward’ captures the action genre perfectly. It has all the thrill and excitement of a Michael Bay film, but on a minimal budget. The soundtrack, after all, is someone beatboxing," says Cavey. "And that’s just great. That’s what Hi/Lo is all about. It shows that all you really need is a big imagination. And, I guess in this case, a really big desk."

Hi/Lo Film Festival

Where: Brava Theater Center, 2789 24th St., San Francisco

When: 7:15 p.m. today; 7:15 and 9:15 p.m. Friday; 5, 7:15 and 9:15 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $8 to $9

Contact: (415) 558-7721 or www.hilofilmfestival.com

Note: Screenings also at 2 and 5 p.m. Sunday at Parkway Speakeasy Theater, 1834 Park Blvd., Oakland

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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