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Chicago post/production house Swell Inc. has announced its ninth annual Video Playhouse. The festival of film, video and animation shorts has become something of a cherished local institution. The Playhouse idea originated lo these many years ago with Swell president Mike Topel, 42. What was his motivation? "I started out in the music side of the business, but I was always doing other things besides jingles," he explains. "I knew that most everyone else in the business was doing other things besides 30-second spots, too. The idea was just to loosen up, hang out together and look at our other work."

That other work is submitted in a wide range of styles, with entrants ranging from agency creatives to independent filmmakers. "We get weird stuff from people who aren't even in the business," Topel happily notes, and he points out that this is not a local or regional show - entries are welcome from anywhere in the country. While Topel stresses the friendly nature of the Playhouse - "It's not a competition, there are no awards" - only about half of a year's entries are selected to be shown. "That's the tough part for me," Topel says. "There's a panel of judges, a cross-section of the industry who pick them. There have been some things that were rejected that really saddened me, and there were some pieces that got in where all I could say was, 'What did anybody see in that?' "

So you can make unintended enemies doing this? "Yeah, I think we could," he laughs. "That's something that could worry me."

This year's event will be held June 29 at the Athenaeum Theater in Chicago; entry deadline is May 15. For details call Melissa von Dornburg at Swell: 312-464-8000. Seen here is a frame from a Playhouse promo produced in-house. (TK)

Extracurricular Activities

Mark Littman and Marshall Dostal

Dogs of War

Mark Littman, VP-partner/editor, and Marshall Dostal, head of sales, at New York post house Northern Lights, have proved they can cut the mustard with their documentary Red, White & Yellow. It's the very funny and touching story of 6-6, 330-pound Ed Krachie (seen below) and his quest to recapture the Nathan's international hot dog-eating belt from a little Japanese guy who's not even overweight. It all started when Littman (above, right) and Dostal saw an article in The New York Post by Gersh Kuntzman about the contest. "From the tone of the article, we knew we had to get involved," says Dostal. They called Kuntzman, who is interviewed to great effect in the film, "and that started the ball rolling."

Shot on Beta SP, posted on the Avid in-house and blown up to 16mm, the 79-minute production was completed last October, just in time to win the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Hamptons International Film Festival on Long Island. To stir up excitement, "we staged a hot dog eating contest just before the showing," admit the 27-year-old co-directors. The film has since been rejected by Sundance and Slamdance, but it was in the New York Underground Festival last month and it's been accepted at a festival in Thailand in September.

Another feature is a sure thing, they say, subject yet to be determined. Why a documentary the first time out? "We couldn't have written anything funnier than this, and we could never have gotten performances as good as these guys just being themselves," explains Littman. On their bio, it's claimed Littman can eat six hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes, and Dostal can eat seven. So they take the sport that seriously? "Uh, it's a lie," Littman confesses. "We never even tried

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