Festival creating global unity through short film
September 15, 2008 · Updated 11:44 PM
The Lynwood Theater screens the largest short film festival in the world for its second year — the only venue in Washington state, for now.
This Sunday afternoon, patrons at the Lynwood Theatre will join people around the world in viewing and voting for a worldwide “American Idol” like contest for short film.
It’s called the Manhattan Short Film Festival, brainchild of founder and director Nick Mason.
A little over a decade ago, the festival got its legs as a grassroots event showcasing short film in New York City. At the time, a fledgling actor, Mason said he was really just looking for a way to network with other directors.
But, with his relentless promotion, the Festival bloomed into a seven-city North American affair by 2004, and has expanded even further into what is now the largest short film festival in the world.
More than 3,000 entries came in this year from 42 countries on four continents across the globe. Mason and crew then whittled the list down to 12 finalists which will be screened and voted on over the course of this week in 295 venues, in 115 cities across the world.
“One World ... One Week ... One Festival,” is the mantra; they’re expecting a gross audience of about 100,000, Mason said.
Festival-goers will be asked to vote for the one film that they feel should win. Votes are then tallied and the winners will be posted on the festival Web site (www.msfilmfest.com) Sept. 28.
What makes this festival different from something like “American Idol” is that it has a purpose beyond a mere popularity contest.
It’s the difference between making a scene and making a point, Mason notes.
And while he didn’t set out with a specific purpose in mind when he founded the festival a decade ago, Mason now sees the globally growing event has taken on an incredibly powerful point.
“What I respected about Nick’s collection is that he chose films that are trying to say something, trying to get to the heart of some cosmic truth,” Lynwood manager TJ Faddis said of why the island theater decided to screen the festival for the first time last year.
“The first thing you do when programming any film festival, or anything really, is expect nothing and let it come to you,” Mason said.
With that same mentality at the beginning of each new year, the festival receives cinematic snapshots of all types and topics, from all over the world. Then, whittling the list down to 12 finalists, those shorts are put together into the framework of a more global story for the festival feature.
“It’s amazing how it differs on different years,” Mason said. “It definitely, in a way, I think, it would always sum up a feeling of what was going down at that time.”
Around 2000, when the festival was just beginning in North America, Mason said the shorts were all pretty rich. With the dot-com boom akin to a 21st century gold rush, there was a sense that everyone was about to strike it rich. Then, in the years following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mason said you could see, through the films in festival, how scared the world was at that moment.
This year, he described the festival’s docket as having even “more meat.”
In one entry from America, filmmaker Chris King (whose mother, interestingly lives in Hansville) takes a poignant, “Juno”-like look into the trials of teen pregnancy in a short called “Rachel,” based on a true story that made national headlines. In another entry from Australia (a country new to the festival this year), director Mark Alston looks into the unbearably high-pressure situation of a young couple with a child, trying to make ends meet, living a farm in a part of the Australian Outback that’s been ravaged by climate change and drought.
That one’s called “Change Coming.” It’s a film that Mason said he “wouldn’t have seen a couple years ago,” but also one that gets to the heart of the festival.
Another significant keynote of the Manhattan Short Film Festival is its ability and tendency to create community. It seems to have grown almost organically, through communities which have been created around it.
In the years following 9/11 and into the Iraq war, Mason said the festival got a boost with those events giving the festival something to rally around. Anything to do with those topics were typically the overwhelming winners and would usually get the most action online.
“It was very much the fact of unity, of people wanting to join with something peaceful with other people around the world,” Mason said. “It was also in an area where it’s not on the T.V., it’s not on the Internet — it’s a place that was bringing people out into the community.”
Nowadays, in places like New Milford, Conn., the festival is front page news and towns plan parties around its screening. In places like Russia and Ukraine, cinema managers have welcomed the festival and encouraged colleagues in other parts of the country the screen it as well, providing that organic growth.
Here at the Lynwood on Bainbridge, Faddis is doing the same thing. In the theater’s second year screening the festival, Faddis has put out an invite to other theater managers in her network around the state.
“I want them to come see it on the big screen with our audience,” she said, noting that last year, deciding who to vote for seemed just as much a part of the experience for the audience as seeing the actual films.
“These filmmakers are tackling some pretty big issues,” she went on. “And because we have 12 films from around the world, not only does each film have a different subject matter, each film has its own intrinsic flavor.”
The Lynwood Theatre will be screening The Manhattan Short Film Festival at 4 p.m. Sept. 21 at 4569 Lynwood Center Road on Bainbridge, joining almost 300 venues across the globe in the week long event. Festival-goers will be able to cast their vote for the best short, and winners will be announced online Sept. 28. Info: www.msfilmfest.com, www.lynwoodtheatre.com or call the theater at (206) 842-3080.