Call it the Little Film Festival That Could.

The Twin Cities Film Fest, presenting its third season Friday through Oct. 20, has swiftly established an identity for itself in the teeming local movie scene. It's a trim, tightly edited autumn alternative to spring's expansive Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival, whose entries number in the hundreds. Rather than scouring the globe for undiscovered treasures, TCFF founder Jatin Setia and his team seek out a handful of worthwhile studio films, locally produced movies of note and socially conscious documentaries.

MSPIFF's partisans sometimes schedule their vacations around the extravaganza. TCFF invites grazing, rather than full immersion. Admissions in 2010 were about 2,500, growing to 3,200 last year. The staff expects 5,000 visitors for this year's selection of 40 features and 20 shorts screening at St. Louis Park's Showplace Icon.

Setia chooses entries with programmers Bobby Marsden, who focuses on local productions, and Steven Snyder, whose team pursues independent films, festival hits and studio projects. This year they considered more than 300 submissions, including shorts -- an increase of 35 percent over last year. Clearly, word is getting out.

Looking for laughs? Check out the apocalyptic comedy "It's a Disaster" next Saturday night, with Julia Stiles, David Cross and America Ferrera as L.A. hipsters whose regular Sunday brunch is interrupted by Doomsday. Feeling nostalgic? Next Sunday's matinee is a 30th-anniversary edition of "E.T." with those previously censored images of guns and Halloween jokes about "terrorists" restored, as in the 1982 original. Feel like giving a hand to local talent? There are scads of Minnesota-shot shorts and even a feature (closing night's Justin Long romantic comedy "Lumpy") in the mix.

TCFF traditionally presents a first-night documentary about an issue of social concern. The earlier offerings, "Waiting for Superman" and "Bully," set off national discussions around education and victimized youths. This year's opener, "A Place at the Table," is a well reported and devastating look at hunger in rural America. Deftly combining portraits of families lacking food security, expert interviews and info-graphics, the film by co-directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush opens eyes, minds and hearts. Raj Patel, author of "Stuffed and Starved," addresses the paradoxical link between malnutrition and obesity, both signs that poor people can't afford food they need to stay healthy. Experts detail the problem's connection to agricultural policy, what we subsidize (commodity crop ingredients in processed foods: wheat, corn, rice and soy) and what we don't (whole grains, fruits and vegetables). The film also digs deep into the stories of dignified, persevering people dependent on charity food banks for their next meal. It evenhandedly addresses America's emotional and ideological tug of war between wishing to help the less fortunate and worrying that someone might be getting a free ride. Throughout, it offers resonant landscape images of a country so fertile it could easily feed its own population abundantly if national priorities favored that outcome.

The lineup embraces intriguing indies and big-name awards bait, as well. There's already energetic Oscar buzz about "The Sessions," with John Hawkes as a man in an iron lung and Helen Hunt as the sex therapist who helps him lose his virginity. Expectations are also high for "The Silver Linings Playbook," a kooky romance from writer/director David O. Russell ("Three Kings," "The Fighter") starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener headline "A Late Quartet," concerning the interpersonal challenges facing a celebrated string quartet facing an uncertain future. "Sopranos" creator David Chase makes his feature film debut with "Not Fade Away," a 1960s story of would-be rock stars in suburban New Jersey.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186 • Twitter: @colincovert