This week of September 28 – October 8 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Manhattan Short Film Festival. Every year the festival selects ten short films that are screened all over the world. This year, the festival took place in 250 different cities across six different continents, which includes Lewiston! The Public Theater in Lewiston hosted the festival for three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The audience watched ten short films with an incredible variety of genres, styles, and languages and then cast a vote for Best Actor and Best Film. I expected quite a bit from the films since over 100,000 people watch the festival every year.
As a sophomore, I was quite surprised to realize that I had never been to The Public Theater, which is as close as a 25-minute walk from the Bates campus. The unusually warm night and vibrant moon made for a pleasant slow-paced stroll to the theater. Only upon arriving there, I realized how well known the festival is – the organizers received over 1,600 entries. Indeed, the ten finalists were amazing. The short films were from New Zealand, Spain, USA, United Kingdom, Latvia, Syria, Italy, the Netherlands and Georgia. It is hard to give a sense of the diversity of themes in these movies, who presented very different and unique works of art dealing with politics, identity, violence, illusionism, love, ghosts, and so on. They were all incredibly well done – it was sometimes hard to let go of one short film and start the following one immediately.
One interesting fact about the Manhattan Film Festival is that every short film among the ten finalists is qualified to run for the Oscars. On 2015, two films from the festival were actually nominated! After watching the screenings, I could understand how the festival has some much traction. The quality of the films is indeed incredible, with a combination of strong direction and skilled acting. A few of the plots managed to render me speechless. Short films have a magic way of working out color, composition, repetition, silence, and other components of filmmaking. There is a sense that every single shot in a short film is very carefully planned to bring the audience into an entire world in less than 20 minutes. Bringing emotion, climax, and character development in such a short amount of time is fantastic and every film was quite stunning in their own ways.
The genres in the festival included comedy, action, horror, visual essays, dramas, and historical dramas. In a Nutshell directed by Fabio Friedli, a stunning stop motion film about humanity itself, was completely different from Hope Dies Last directed by Ben Price in which a simple haircut summarized the fears of a true story based on the Holocaust.
While I appreciated the thematic diversity of the festival, it would unethical of me to ignore that of the 250 film venues, only three of them are placed in Asia, Africa and South America. Though the festival received submissions from many countries, it is problematic to prevent accessible viewing spaces for all populations. Moreover, the lack of people of color in film festivals is not particularly new or surprising, but must be noted in this article.
For more information and in order to take your own conclusions about the festival, venues, or short films, I invite you to check out the Manhattan Short website as well as their trailers for the 2017 festival, available on YouTube.