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Carrboro Gets Access and a Vote in International Film Festival Manhattan Short

Carrboro Gets Access and a Vote in International Film Festival Manhattan Short

Manhattan Short festival premiered in 1998 by showing films on the side of a truck on Mulberry Street in New York City.  It now reaches six continents and over 350 cities, including Carrboro. 

Manhattan Short will be coming to Carrboro on Oct. 4 for its third year at The ArtsCenter.The short film festival begins with thousands of entries from filmmakers all around the world. 

Nine finalists are selected and their films are shown at venues across the world, from New York to Argentina to Russia to North Carolina, where audience members vote for their favorite. The nine selected films are eligible for an Oscar nomination.

Manhattan Short is a highly anticipated, international celebration of arts, but it started as one individual’s outlet for creative expression. Nicholas Mason, a Sydney, Australia native, was 21 in New York, acting on Off-Broadway shows when he thought of the idea for Manhattan Short. 

Mason said he wanted to create a “filmic olympiad of short films,” bringing together different cultures in one evening in an attempt to meet filmmakers and actors like himself.

It began as one small event in Union Square Park in New York City with a small panel of celebrity judges. The unexpected turning point for Manhattan Short came three years later: Sept. 11, 2001. Manhattan Short proceeded in Union Square Park 12 days after 9/11. 

For weeks following the tragedy, Union Square was a shrine for media coverage, and the film festival was no exception. International news coverage brought vast amounts of supporters who were interested in Manhattan Short, which Mason said helped the festival find its voice.Mason said the films were revealing about the way the world was feeling — themes of hatred, religion and war brought new meaning to the festival. 

“The films were more revealing to me than watching anything else I was reading or seeing in any news channel or publication,” Mason said. 

In 2004, the festival branched out to seven states and eliminated the panel of judges, now relying entirely on the general public to choose the best film. Mason said the element of audience interaction is what makes the Manhattan Short Festival unique. Currently, there are no sponsors and no celebrities involved.

"It wasn't until you handed voting to the general public that it became what it is," Mason said. 

Mason said he sees the future of Manhattan Short as a community-based event and wants to focus on small towns across the U.S. where the community may not have access to non-mainstream art like this. 

“There’s people who need to see this and it makes it a better country, a better world if they do see this,” he said.

One of those small towns is Dexter, Mich. Librarian Lisa Ryan said she is looking forward to hosting Manhattan Short at Dexter District Library for the first time. There are no theaters in the town and the library is one of the central hubs for community events. Ryan said she hopes that the festival’s presence in Dexter will broaden the community members' horizons by giving them access to international short films which they wouldn’t otherwise see. 

Other venues across the globe share Lisa’s sentiment. Patrick Phelps-Mckeown, marketing director at The ArtsCenter in Carborro, said they’ve included Manhattan Short in their programming season to broaden and diversify their programs. The festival aligns with The ArtsCenter's mission to provide creative expression that is accessible to all the community.Phelps-Mckeown said the festival is “very democratic,” and attendees will be notified afterwards about the winners. 

"We're always looking for an opportunity to showcase quality, experimental films that you couldn't necessarily see at a major movie theater," Phelps-Mckeown said.