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The FLO Film Fest is as unpretentious as they come. Organizer Kris Kemp doesn't go for the glitzy gala thing. He wants you to plop down on a cushioned couch, sip coffee or soda, and munch some popcorn -- maybe even a Pop-Tart -- while checking out short films by independent filmmakers.

"It's kind of like having a film festival in your living room," says Kemp, age 30. The couches, however, are those at Respectable Street Cafe in West Palm Beach, where the movies will be shown on a big screen inside and on video monitors on the outdoor patio. And instead of grabbing a stack of vids from Blockbuster, Kemp, a West Palm Beach Web-page designer, 'zine publisher (the fest is named after his poetry and music mag, FLO), and part-time carpenter, has done the legwork to bring together an eclectic collection of films.

Kemp spent several hours a day for months surfing the Internet for indie film sites and e-mailing director-producer types. His solicitations brought in more than 100 entries, which he screened and winnowed down to 30 for his festival. The national response was far better than the local one, to put it mildly. Just three of the 30 films are local, and all three, it turns out, were shot by West Palm Beach painter and part-time cinematographer Matthew McCarthy. Kemp says he chose the films because McCarthy "puts a surreal microscope on the real." Don't expect to recognize any local landmarks, though. L.A. Ramble, Beauty Is Everything, and Head Money were shot in Los Angeles, where McCarthy, age 49, worked with his brother Patrick McCarthy, also a painter, during vacations.

The smart, quirky films were shot on 8mm stock, then transferred to video for editing. L.A. Ramble is just that: an audiovisual ramble featuring grainy, black-and-white shots of L.A. street scenes set to a campy, '60s jazz tune. A voice-over is provided by Patrick, the film's director. Originally from the Midwest, he waxes philosophical about life in the big city while images of palm-lined streets, gang-symbol graffiti, and homeless people flash across the screen in jump cut fashion. As a former small-town boy, Patrick finds L.A. "a strange partisan caravan of humanity" filled with "vulgarity, crudeness, wildness, beauty, majesty, and folly." But as a billboard commanding L.A. denizens to "Resist Satan" fills the screen, the narrator intones: "I like it all. It's just grist for my mill."

Each McCarthy brothers' film is no longer than four minutes in length, and most of the festival entries -- including comedies, dramas, documentaries, and animated pieces -- are short-format films. Two exceptions are Equivalence Relation, a 90-minute color film about a misogynist, and the 78-minute The Electric Urn, an experimental movie that mocks New York City's East Village art-scene culture.

Matthew McCarthy considers his and his brother's films experimental. And he wouldn't have it any other way.

"When you see my films, they are rather crude," he admits. "We want to find our own, or unique, form of expression, instead of trying to come up with an Academy Award."

-- John Ferri

The FLO Film Fest takes place March 27 to 28 at Respectable Street Cafe, 518 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Saturday screenings run from 1 to 3 p.m., 4 to 6 p.m., and 8 to 11 p.m. Sunday hours are 8 to 11 p.m. Admission ranges from $5 to $7. For more information call 561-804-9393.

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John Ferri