WALNUT CREEK -- Even though 42-year-old Bill Hargreaves no longer grabs $2.50 in quarters and races off to the theater hoping to sneak in to an "R" rated film, movies still get him pumped.

Modern evidence of that is the Walnut Creek International Short Film Festival, is returning for its sophomore year May 2-4 at Century 14 Theatres on Locust Street.

"The downtown drew me, with its great atmosphere," the San Jose-based festival organizer and Walnut Creek festival co-founder said in an interview. "With the support of the city and all the people who came out last year, I knew I'd made the right decision."

Hargreaves, who's run the San Jose International Short Film Festival for five years with co-founder Sinohui Hinojosa, a Silicon Valley businessman, said his "day job" -- running his interior plant company -- allows him "this labor of love." Although the City of Walnut Creek doesn't provide financial support, he said city staff members "get the word out." The Downtown Association and local merchants help, too, he said. A recent nod to the San Jose festival from MovieMaker Magazine, naming it one of the nation's top 50 festivals "worth the entry fee," he said, is adding momentum and awareness for the younger festival.

Last year, the Walnut Creek festival received 500 entries and screened close to 75 films. The entries are up to 600 in 2014, and Hargreaves said word of their emphasis on quality presentation -- films are screened digitally from HD masters and viewed through 2K and 4K projectors--has shown they "make sure these films look exactly like filmmakers want them to look." Attendance was approximately 500 in 2013, Hargreaves said, with a few programs selling out and a move to a larger theater on the final night.

Even with the first year's success, special effort has been made to insure the films are what the audience wants to see, Hargreaves said.

"We have a Northern Filmmaker block, devoted to local filmmakers," he said. "And we took feedback from last year about comedies and divided them into a regular comedy program and a darker comedy block."

Comedy, he acknowledges, is subjective. Last year, a film with humor that came at the expense of a dog drew mixed reactions. Some people howled with laughter; others howled in protest. "It's a challenge," he admitted.

Family films are less controversial, and a full program of short kid-friendly films is new this year. "Back in the day, when my mom was going to films, they got treated to three to four shorts before the feature," Hargreaves recalled.

Partly driven by nostalgia, but primarily motivated by a passion for a strong, concise story, Hargreaves said the short films he and a small list of invited screeners review for selection are all under 30 minutes in length.

One animated film, "Chopper," runs barely as long as it takes to order popcorn.

"Just three minutes to deliver a full timeline story," he declared, proudly. "Smaller films pay more attention to detail and dialogue. Every moment counts."

Films made available for pre-festival screening delivered a clear impression -- intergenerational family dramas, couples in love, time travel, technology's dominion, global connectivity and films ultimately about survival, are favored by makers of short independent films as routinely as they are made the subjects of feature-length films.

In addition to comedies, dramas, animated and family films, and the Northern California Showcase, the festival has two World Film programs, a War and Action segment, Documentary shorts and an "Audience Choice - Best of the Festival" wrap up. Opening night's after-party will be at the Walnut Creek Yacht Club restaurant, and a box office in the theater will open at noon on Friday, May 2 for advance purchase tickets.

Already planning for 2015, Hargreaves said they are seeking more sponsors and hoping to "ramp up."

What might the third annual event offer? Screenings paired with winemakers and tastings, multiple venues, cash or equipment prizes supporting promising filmmakers' future work and more, Hargreaves said. Short film festivals prove you can take one scenario, idea or location -- or one man's dreams -- and turn them into a full-fledged story.

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