DANBURY — You could fly to Tehran, Cape Town, Mumbai, Stockholm or any of the other 200-plus cities around the world where the Manhattan Short Film Festival will be open September 25, but you wouldn’t have the opportunity to talk with Nicholas Mason, who founded the event in 1998 in New York City and has since developed it into a worldwide phenomenon.
For that you’d have to hop in the car and drive to Danbury, where founding director Nick Mason will open the 18th annual Manhattan Short Film Festival at 8 p.m. Friday, September 25, at Danbury’s historic Palace Theatre, 165 Main St.
With a logo of “One World, One Week, One Festival,” Manhattan Short consists of a series of 10 short films screened simultaneously between September 25 and October 4 in more than 300 venues, including 47 states and 250 cities on six continents, showcasing the work of emerging filmmakers from around the world.
More than 100,000 film lovers are expected to not only view the films but judge them as well. Each cinema-goer is handed a ballot upon entry that allows them to vote for the Best Film and Best Actor, with the winners announced at 10 a.m. Monday, October 5, at ManhattanShort.com.
This is the fifth consecutive year that the film festival has been screened at the Palace Danbury, where it has gained a wide following.
“It’s an honor to have Nick Mason open this prestigious film festival in Danbury,” said Managing Director Carol Spiegel.
“I’m picking five venues that I’m going to attend,” Mr. Mason told Voices in a phone interview. “I’ll be in Danbury the first night of festival, so I guess I’m opening it there.”
He expects to speak briefly before the film; to answer questions from the audience. But what he is really looking forward to is interviewing audience members after the screening.
“I love to get out and hear people’s opinions,” he said. “I want to ask people ‘what did you vote for and why,’ bring all that back and edit it, then put it on the website.
“I’m trying to inspire people all over the world to interview the audience after seeing the films,” he said. “I’d really like to see such a thing happen in Latvia, Russian, Ukraine, London, all different states, different age groups, different nationalities. I think it will be a very interesting thing, but unless I go out and push it, it won’t happen.”
This year, Manhattan Short received 672 short film entries from 52 countries. The 10 finalists hail from eight countries, including Finland, France, Chile, Germany, Kosovo, Turkey, Switzerland and USA.
As always, the short films are set in a wide range of locales, from Turkish beaches to mountains on the Balkans, the streets of Berlin to the backroads of the U.S. West Coast.
The first Manhattan Short Film Festival took place September 27, 1998, when Nick Mason attached a screen to the side of a truck on Mulberry Street in New York City’s Little Italy and projected 16 short films to an audience of about 300 New Yorkers.
The following year, the event moved to Union Square Park, with the finalists’ films critiqued by a panel of celebrity judges that included Susan Sarandon, Eric Stoltz, Laura Linney, Roger Corman and Tim Robbins.
The festival stayed low-key and local until 2001, when it was scheduled to run less than two weeks after 9/11.
“During the days leading up to this, Union Square Park became a shrine, a place where people gathered to grieve the loss of loved ones,” Mr. Mason explained on the festival website.
“The park was also surrounded by news satellite trucks covering New York City and Ground Zero to the rest of the world.
“On September 15, I received a call from the New York City Parks Department, who requested no matter what, to please go ahead with Manhattan Short in Union Square Park as scheduled on September 23.”
He did, and as a result, the event received a lot of attention in the global media. Subsequently, the following year, the festival received twice the number of entries as the previous year.
“When I went through all 500 entries in 2002, I found the films collectively were more revealing to what was happening in the world or how people in the world were feeling at that time, than, say, watching the ABC or NBC or any other form of news channel,” Mr. Mason said.
“The idea of sharing this event with a wider audience outside Union Square Park, NYC, was inspired by all the films that entered this festival during the years after 9/11.”
These days, the director said, cross-border events like Manhattan Short that contribute towards greater tolerance and understanding are needed more than ever.
“This event is not going to cable TV or Video on Demand,” he said. “It’s not streamed on the Internet. Manhattan Short is about communities bonding together via their local cinema.
“It’s quite a long show this year, but we’ve put together something that I know, at the end of it, an audience will say ‘I haven’t seen anything like that this whole year.’ It’s possibly the most unique film playing across the world.
“There’s nothing quite like giving the public a vote,” he said. “That’s what theater’s all about, allowing you to have an opinion.”
While Mr. Mason declined to predict what this year’s winners will be, he did share some insight on how he narrows the field.
“I don’t know if I look at a film and say what’s best,” he said. “I’ve got 10 different films, 10 different styles. When I review films now, I look at them and say, ‘they’ll like that in New England,’ or ‘they’ll like that in Russia;’ ‘that crowd will like that’ or ‘that’s a film that’s really good for after intermission.”
At the Palace Danbury, refreshments will be available in the lobby during intermission, along with complimentary wine, but viewers would do well not to linger too long.
“After intermission is always a very hard spot to program,” the director said. “You need a film that really carries you into it in the first two or three minutes, so you forget about what you just had to eat or drink and you’re completely transfixed. This year, I have the best film I’ve ever programmed for after intermission.”
Tickets for the Manhattan Short Film Festival at the Palace Danbury are $12 and can be purchased online at www.thepalacedanbury.com, by phone at 203-794-9944, or at the box office starting one hour before showtime.
Free parking is available in the theater lot behind the building.
Those seeking additional information may visit www.thepalacedanbury.com.