What began as “a screen mounted to the side of a truck in Mulberry Street,” according to its founder, has exploded over nearly 25 years into a global event spanning six continents, with more than 400 venues participating.
And from Sept. 23 through Oct. 2, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art will be a part of that number.
“OKCMOA has a longstanding relationship with the Manhattan Short Film Festival that stretches back more than a decade,” the museum’s Head of Film Programming and Theatrical Operations, Lisa Broad, said. “I’m not sure when the museum first started serving as a venue for the Manhattan Short Film Festival, or exactly how the partnership came about. The earliest mention of the festival at OKCMOA that I’ve found dates to 2005-2006.”
During the ten day event, the OKC metro community will have multiple opportunities to watch the Festival’s 10 finalist short films in one of several back-to-back viewings and then cast a ballot for their favorites.
“The Manhattan Short Film Festival has been described as ‘the world’s first global film festival,’” Broad said. “It creates a connection between filmmakers and audiences that transcends linguistic and national barriers. This year’s ten finalists were selected from more than 800 submissions from 70 different countries.”
- Photo provided
The short films are only available for viewing at the host venues, during the festival showings.
“If you don't go to the venue, you missed it,” Manhattan Short Film Festival Founder Nicholas Mason said. “You'll never see it again. You'll just hear about it. Because people always talk about it. For the next six months, you'll be in the bank and they're talking about it. They'll be in a supermarket and hear someone talking about a certain thing they saw.”
Unlike other festivals, the Manhattan Short Film Festival places its emphasis on public participation.
Mason said he realized the importance of this when he witnessed the public’s response to when Little Terrorist, which had won the Manhattan Short Film Festival, was nominated for an Oscar in 2005.
“I saw then that even though it was called ‘Manhattan Short Film Festival’ that the people owned it,” he said. “It was their film festival. And I went ‘ah, this is it.’ And that was when the festival found itself. So it wasn't necessarily going back to them saying ‘the bigger the celebrity gets to judge it, the bigger the festival.’ It was: ‘it's the public that creates stars.’ And it's not about celebrity, and it was about letting the public have an opinion.”
From then on, that focus was front and center.
“I think it’s an exciting opportunity to be a part of something that unites film lovers in so many different places,” Broad said. “The voting process encourages us to think deeply and critically about the artistic merits of each short film and performance, which can help to make us more engaged film viewers. It also provides material for fun post-film debates between friends who attend the festival together.”
She said the process of preparing for the event at OKCMOA has been relatively challenge-free. Meanwhile, the festival's international organizers have had to overcome several major challenges, starting with the impact of a global pandemic on the collective experience of watching and discussing films in community events.
“I think on the first year we lost like 80 percent,” Mason said. “Last year it got back to about 50.”
Mason created a virtual festival in February, named Manhattan Short Online, to keep the festival going. The online event lines up as just a few weeks before the Oscars each year.
Meanwhile in 2022, the Manhattan Short Film Festival itself is back to its in-person global scale, but military and political conflict in Eastern Europe has disrupted previous venues and attendees’ ability to participate.
“We're gonna do it in Belarus, but I just hope the people there don't get put in jail, who were showing it. I mean, that's a challenge,” Mason said.
He said one of the most fundamental aspects of the festival is how it unites film lovers together around common human themes and needs across the globe.
“In Russia, there were 40 cities involved,” he said. “I mean, like, what American film festival could sell out 40 cities of Russia in the past?”
Mason said the festival’s partner in Russia is unable to help do the festival this year.
“So this year, the greatest challenge defeated us because the greatest challenge is that Vladimir Putin is doing what Vladimir Putin does, and the only person that's content with that is him,” Mason said.
Despite the conflict, the festival's resurgence after many of its venues nearly had to close encouraged him, as 180 United States venues are bouncing back from nearly closing during a pandemic to host the Manhattan Film Festival this year, he said.
The event is a fan favorite at the museum, Broad said.
“The Manhattan Short Film Festival is one of our most popular annual programs and it’s exciting to see the OKCMOA film community unite around this event and show their support for the festival and the Museum,” she said.
This year’s selections include The Big Green; The Blanket; Don vs Lightning; Fetish; Freedom Swimmer; Freefall; Love, Dad; Save the Bees; Treatment; and Warsha; and the short films’ content includes animation, documentary storytelling, and HDR LED Wall filming techniques.
“Each film selected as a finalist is automatically Oscar-qualified, which means that it can be nominated for an Academy Award in one of the three short film categories,” Broad said. “It’s always exciting to see a film featured in the Manhattan Short Film Festival return to the theater as part of our annual Oscar-Nominated Shorts program, and it gives everyone who attended the festival something to root for during the ceremony.”
Showings at OKCMOA are scheduled for 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sept. 23; 2 p.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sept 24; 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sept. 25, and 7 p.m. Sept. 29, according to the museum website. Additional dates and times may be added.
Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $8 for 13-18 year-olds, and $6 for children age 12 or younger.
Parents may wish to look over the short film summaries on manhattanshort.com, as some address challenging themes, including 9/11 and the fetishization of Asian women.
For additional information visit okcmoa.com.