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We've all had the experience of being in movie hell at one point or another. It starts out serenely enough: You purchase your ticket, popcorn and other goodies. You find the appropriate theater and hunker down in a seat. After about 10 minutes of commercials and previews, your movie starts. So far, so good.

But time creeps by slowly, and you start to feel uncomfortable. This movie isn't what you expected. You can't watch any more. You turn to your friend and watch in horror--he's enjoying the movie. You can't ditch your friend, but sitting through the movie will be torture. You're trapped in movie hell. All you want to do is scream, "Make it stop!" But you can't.

Luckily, there's a place in Tucson where movie hell doesn't exist. If the movie sucks, you have the freedom to yell, "Make it stop!"--and the film operators stop the film. Imagine that. Such is the magic that happens at the monthly Loft's Short Film Contest, held at 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5, at 3233 E. Speedway Blvd. Tickets cost $5. Call 322-5638 or visit loftcinema.com for information.

The contest began in May and was the brainchild of the folks at the Tucson Cinema Foundation--the nonprofit that runs the Loft Cinema. Operations Director J.J. Giddings says the contest will continue on the first Friday of each month through next spring. In May 2005, winners of each monthly contest will compete for the grand prize, a trip for two to the CineVegas Film Festival in Las Vegas in June 2006.

The rules for the monthly contest are simple. Filmmakers are invited to bring in a short film, less than 10 minutes long, on a DVD, VHS or mini-DV. Films are introduced by a host and the filmmaker, and are played for three minutes. After that allotted time, the audience can request the movie be gonged. If so, the movie ends, and another film begins. At the end of the evening, the audience votes (by applause), and the winner takes home $100 and is invited back for the finals next year. The evening usually ends around 11:30 p.m., with about 15 films shown. The goal is to show each film that is entered.

The contest fulfills an appeal made by local artists. "We got requests from local filmmakers to show their work," says Giddings. "We wanted to help local filmmakers have an outlet. When you make a film, there aren't that many options to get your work shown. We think this is a nice outlet for them."

Since films are not previewed, the staff at the Loft never knows what will appear on the big screen. "We play anything," says Giddings. "We have no idea (what it will be). That's part of the fun. ... I don't know what we will do if there's a dirty tape. Hopefully, that won't happen."

Films thus far have been from a wide variety of filmmakers, ranging from high school students to people in their 50s. "That shows how diverse filmmakers are in this town," says Giddings. "Two to three people have entered more than one film, but there's always a group of new faces."

To match the variety of filmmakers, films have ranged from animation to documentaries. "There's complete variety," continues Giddings. "There's live action, drama, comedy ... a little bit of everything. It makes it interesting."

Another interesting part of the evening is the host, Max Cannon, creator of the comic strip "Red Meat. " Tucsonan Cannon has hosted all of the prior contests except one. "We're all fans of his comic strip," says Giddings. "Peggy (Johnson, executive director of the Tucson Cinema Foundation) asked him. He was excited to do it. He's contributed some ideas of his own. Having Max Cannon as a host brings a lot to it."

Cannon helps introduce each film by doing a short interview with the filmmaker. In between films, Giddings says, Cannon cracks jokes and fills in the down time. At the end of the evening, Cannon announces the name of each filmmaker and films that played completely and asks the audience to choose a winner. So far, Giddings says there hasn't been a tie, and it's been clear what the audience liked the best.

For those filmmakers who have been gonged, Giddings says some have gotten upset and taken it personally. "One average, one-third get gonged. You have to make a film the audience likes. Your friends will like it. But you get honest feedback from the audience."

With the audience able to clap, yell "gong" or scream "make it stop," there's a lot of freedom available as a spectator of the Loft's Monthly Short Film Contest.

"It's a fun night of film watching that's different from anything else in town," says Giddings. "It's the only time you have a say of what's on the screen and what's not."

More by Irene Messina

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