"I feel that when I choose local films it's like betting on a horse," says Kelly Gordon, curator of the Hirshhorn Museum's weekly independent film series. "We're a national museum, not an arena for Washington artists." Tonight, however, she is putting her money on three short films by area directors Tim Gordon (no relation), Alex Pacheco and Gene Sullivan. The three are part of a close-knit team of local filmmakers, and while their program, billed "4/0 Film Shorts," includes some familiar local scenes, their themes reach far beyond the Beltway.

"Furious Seasons" is an adaptation of Raymond Carver's story about a couple challenged by a dark childhood secret. "Unfortunate Man" frames one day in the life of a 25-year-old man who may have a brain tumor. "Third Meridian" is a science fiction drama. All three will premiere at tonight's program.

According to Gordon, only two or three local films meet her standards each year. "This group first came to me because they wanted to rent the auditorium, and I said, 'You can't really do that because we're a federal agency and it has to be official.' So I said, 'Why don't you let me look at what you've got?' "

She loved what they showed her.

"Lots of times if somebody gives you several films by the same pool of friends and associates, they aren't that diverse," she explains. "These are that diverse."

Even though director Gene Sullivan calls his project, "Third Meridian," a work in progress, Gordon thinks it accomplishes a lot--it "does transport you, which I think is difficult for sci-fi to do in this day and age."

Gordon says she found Tim Gordon's "Furious Seasons" very appealing. "I was especially drawn to the direction of the actors in that," she says. "They kept to the story, which was well told. The places they shot gave it authenticity. And all on a low budget."

In Alex Pacheco's "Unfortunate Man," a shot of a single blood drop in the kitchen sink propels the action. "I tried to take a minimal approach," says Pacheco, "so the way the main character reacts focuses viewers." He could be describing any of the three films. In each, dialogue is kept at a minimum. Pacing, lighting and framing of shots suggest unspoken connections. Flashbacks fill in the characters' backgrounds.

Both "Unfortunate Man" and "Furious Seasons" owe much of their professional look to Gordon's cinematography. "He's the camera guy, but more," says Pacheco. "He's also the lighting director and the art director. He creates scenes that look really good."

But the others are no slouches either. They met while working for area production companies and on the sets of big-budget Hollywood films shot in Washington. Now they trade their skills with each other. Because they donate time to each other's projects, costs stay low and quality remains high.

Kelly Gordon believes an art museum like the Hirshhorn can offer certain advantages to young filmmakers. "Short films are hard to market," she says. "They're too creative for television. Most of these are done for the passion or poetry or personal vision of it. One reason to place film within an art museum is because we treat film as art."

Another reason is the museum's resources. "We can take them from the point they are now and show them how to promote films, what film festivals need from them. We can tell them contact names," she says.

Gordon has confidence that her bets are well placed. "These are films that I think could hold their own in any international competition, like the Rotterdam Film Festival, the Toronto Film Festival, or Berlin. But the local aspect is how much pride we can have that it's happening here."

"4/0 Film Shorts" will be screened as part of the Hirshhorn's Independent Film Series at 8 tonight. At the Smithsonian Institution Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue at Seventh Street SW. Films are free. Seating is available on a first-come basis. 202-357-2700.

ARTS BITS

The $100 Art Sale at Bardo returns this Sunday. More than 40 local painters, photographers, sculptors, jewelers and mixed-media artists will showcase original, affordable works. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Bardo Rodeo, 2000 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington. 202-321-9353 . . . SiteProjectsDC is offering free guided tours of nine vacant storefronts that have been transformed into art installations. Many of the exhibits are interactive, allowing pedestrians to manipulate the design elements. Today's tour starts at noon at the top of Metro Center at the corner of G and 13th streets NW. Other noontime tours are scheduled for July 29 and Aug. 26. Evening tours take place at 6 p.m. July 6, Aug. 3 and Sept. 7. 202-639-1828.

CAPTION: Denise Wilbanks and Clint Jordan in Tim Gordon's "Furious Seasons," an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story.