Shelley Levinson's "Violet" won the 1981 Academy Award for best live-action short subject, but that really didn't help get it shown. Most short films, no matter how good, are condemned to the land of the Great Unseen. Until now. At 10:30 tonight, Channel 26 begins a series that will televise eight short student films under the title "From the American Film Institute." It's no millennium, but it is a beginning.
All the films are getting their national TV premieres, and all were produced under AFI auspices. "Violet" is the slight but affecting story of a young southern woman whose right cheek was badly, and inoperably, scarred when a carburetor blew up in her face as a child, and of her Greyhound odyssey to the empire of a television faith healer who she hopes will work a miracle.
She never meets the faith healer but she does meet two soldiers on the bus and, through them, also meets, and accepts, herself. Levinson directed and cowrote the screenplay, with Susan Baskin, from a Doris Betts story; occasionally it seems we are in Carson McCullers country, though the tone is too simplistic for that.
The young woman is played by Didi Conn, one of those actresses who falls into the category of Hard-to-Take; her wee little cupcake voice sounds like Robin Williams doing baby talk. But she does bring off a difficult soliloquy in the shadow of a crucifix, the woman's moment of confrontation after the evangelist has failed her.
Levinson seems to have a nice touch with actors, though she has the two soldiers exchanging knowing glances far too often. Certainly the least that can be said for "Violet" is that it deserves the chance to be judged by an audience, which is obviously what this AFI series is about.