Screens Get out the vote

Manhattan Short Film Festival

September 16, 17, 23, 24
$7.50 adult, $5 students

Urban-15 Group
2500 S. Presa

Finalists in the Manhattan Short Film Festival include, from top, The Instructional Guide to Dating, Hibernation, Crickets, Cuco Gomez-Gomez is Dead, and La Ruta Natural. Viewers can participate in selecting a winner from the dozen remaining entries during the local voting events at Urban-15 Group.

Mark your ballots at the Manhattan Short Film Festival and give a filmmaker a break

Nicholas Mason sums up the goals of his short-film festival with an anecdote. Long ago, as a young acting student in Australia, he was watching the Stella Adler documentary Awake and Dream. She was talking about Marlon Brando and the interviewer asked her, If you come to the Stella Adler studio do you become a star? She said, No, the public creates stars. So, heres 20 of us actors, in Perth, looking around going, How do we do it?

This week and next, San Antonians will have the opportunity to make a filmmaker a star at the Manhattan Short Film Festival. The film festival will screen simultaneously at Urban-15 Group and at 54 other theaters in 30 states across the country where the audience will watch and vote on 12 films. The Festival culminates on September 25 in a screening at Union Square Park, Manhattan, where the winner will be announced. The grand prize is the funding and equipment to make a feature-length film, with the director choosing the actors and a script, and the Film Festival producing, marketing, and distributing the film.

Although this is the first time it will screen nationally, the Short Film Festival began in 1998 as a way to showcase New York University student films. Mason, who was traveling at the time, had acted in some of the short films, and was distressed that, outside of friends and family, no one came to the screenings. Mason and filmmaking friends decided to use reverse psychology to draw them out. People only want to know you when you say, Fuck you, Mason says, so we decided to put something up and invite everyone but them.

The first film festival was a comedy of errors. The students had an easier time raising the $250,000 prize than they did getting New York press. So, they publicized the festival abroad. The first story about them appeared in an Irish paper, and their first entry came from Yugoslavia. Eventually, they had a handful of films, which they planned to show outdoors on a borrowed screen and projector on Mulberry Street in Little Italy. But somehow, Mulberry Street turned into a bitch something about a thug, a broken screen, and a bar brawl and the films were projected onto the side of a van. The next year, the festival was shown at Union Square Park, and Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins were among the judges.

This year, the festival received 504 entries. The 12 finalists are from Israel, Australia, England, Wales, Spain, Ireland, and the U.S. The films are as harsh as a young Israeli losing his parents to terrorists, as innocent as a 1950s guide to dating, and as cute as a Cantonese orphan in Wales. Theres no formula for the finalists, but Mason knows a winner. They pick themselves, Mason says. We show it outdoors in New York; theres a fire truck going by, someone getting robbed, someone getting rich. It has to hold the audiences attention.

Mason isnt expecting the winners first feature film to garner an Oscar. There will be troubles and obstacles, he says. Success is making it and showing it.

Its not meant to be a big, massive business. If it doesnt stay fun for the audience and the filmmakers, if it gets too sticky, Ill sell it to Dreamworks and it will become a pretty shitty gig. I mean look, right now, Im making coffee and were all going to eat. Its a lot of fun.

By Susan Pagani


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