By McCray Sutherlin
“I like the idea of clusters of people coming together. It’s about getting out and seeing your community. Too much is dictated by your living room and your computer. The films I remember most weren’t on my laptop; I saw them with an audience in a theatre…It’s not something you can see from your living room. It’s something you have to go to your local art house for, and the public has responded well to that.”
The Manhattan Short Film Festival is the world’s first and only global film festival. Baton Rouge filmgoers, along with audiences in over 300 cities spanning six continents will have the opportunity to simultaneously view and judge 10 never before seen short films from all over the world. This year, the festival received 589 entries from 47 countries; finalists include filmmakers from England,
Norway, Australia, Netherlands, France, Mexico,
Germany and the USA.
DIG caught up with Nicholas Mason, the founder of
Manhattan Short Film Festival, on this year’s event, his views on contemporary short film, and what impact it has on a fragile global economy.
DIG: I read that you started the festival with a screen mounted to the side of a pick up truck back in 98. What was your inspiration?
Nicholas Mason: Well I used to be an actor. And then, after 9/11, it changed the focus of what I found important in the world, and what I wanted to do in the world. I didn’t even think about acting again; I just wanted to bond and blend cultures together. When I watched the towers come down, there was so much destruction, so much hatred and pain. Walking through the streets I would see people holding up signs looking for their lost loved ones. I didn’t realize it until much later, but it changed how I look upon my life, and how I look upon the world. I use short films as a vehicle in which to do that.
DIG: Such profound beginnings – when did you have the idea to make the festival a worldwide event?
NM: After we moved to Union Square, I thought, let’s not just have this film festival here…let’s have it here, and Boston, and then here and Indiana, and so on. Watching all the films that were entered is what made me want to take it to a wider audience. It was the films and how they were so good at showing you how the world was feeling at that moment in time.
DIG: You’ve mentioned before that this festival won’t go to Cable TV or Video on Demand, but rather involve communities in a global cinematic event. Amidst some pretty dire global circumstances, why do you think this is so important?
NM: I like the idea of clusters of people coming together. It’s about getting out and seeing your community. Too much is dictated by your living room and your computer. The films I remember most weren’t on my laptop; I saw them with an audience in a theatre. It has more of a festival feel and more of an impact. It’s definitely affected the growth of the festival. It’s not something you can see from your living room. It’s something you have to go to your local art house for, and the public has responded well to that. There is such a wall between governments; the bottom line is that the people that attend this festival love it. They don’t want a war; they don’t want any part of [war]. In some parts of Russia, students even do an opening ceremony for the festival. I never asked them to do it, but they just love the connection. That they’re doing something in the middle of Russia, and they’re connected to people in South America, Asia, and all over the world. When so much bad is happening in the world, this festival usually resonates a little louder.
DIG: You’ve even brought the festival into some of the most controversial places in the world – most notably, the Middle East. How’d you accomplish this?
NM: I was at a big push to put this across the Middle East. Now mind you, I hit up 35 countries or something and they told me things like, “You’ve got no hope of being there.” But that’s not the case. When you open up a few doors, these people are just like you and I. To span as many cultures and age groups as possible is a wonderful sense of being for a film festival.
DIG: How were these films chosen out of the nearly 600 entries? Was the goal to choose a variety of different ideas, one or two from each country? Or is that just how it worked out?
NM: I wanted to create certain arcs with the variety of it, and I want you to remember every film. You also think about age groups, cultures, and you create a flow that works.
DIG: In your opinion, what is special about short film content as opposed to feature length content?
NM: A short film, to me, is simply showing the audience what you can do as a filmmaker. If you have the goal of being a career filmmaker, it’s like applying your trade. I don’t think there’s a filmmaker out there that goes to features without making a short first. You learn, and you get better, and then you make a feature. It’s the steps. From a film festival standpoint, what better way for a filmmaker to showcase their talent? Everyone gives their insight on something particular in the world that we aren’t seeing on the news or in the newspapers. They’re a wonderful cultural insight into specific times and how people are feeling.
Manhattan Short Film Festival
September 26 – 7:00 p.m.