In 1998, Nicholas Mason attached a screen to the side of a truck on Mulberry Street in New York City and projected 16 short films to an audience of around 300 people. Now, 15 years later, Mason's festival, called Manhattan Short, has grown substantially, to the point where movie lovers in Vail and in more than 300 cities on six continents around the world will have a chance to see the top 10 finalists from this year's festival, and vote on their favorite. Beginning Saturday, more than 100,000 people from as far north as St. Petersburg, Russia, as far south as Buenos Aires, Argentina, as far east as Kathmandu, Nepal, and as far west as Perth, Australia, and more than 150 cinemas in 47 U.S. states will come together to view and vote on the 10 films. "While the goal of any festival is to discover and promote new talent, the real aim of this festival is bringing communities together via stories from around the world," said Mason, the festival director and founder. "Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that what started as a small, relatively simple event when I projected a handful of short films onto the side of a truck on a downtown Manhattan street 15 years ago, would grow into what it is today, with communities all over the world getting together to celebrate via 10 short films. It's become like Earth Day, but with film."The 15th Annual Manhattan Short Film Festival screens at CinBistro at Solaris in Vail on Saturday at 5 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. and Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. Last year 90 cinemas in America screened the film; this year, there are 155. "There's been a real jump in a year," Mason said. "It's interesting to me how this event has started to break into these mainstream cinemas, not just old cinemas and art houses. This year we're venturing into Cobb (the company that owns Cinebistro), which is the most professional company you could deal with."This week is the only time people will have the opportunity to see the 10 films together."It's not going to DVD, it's not going to cable TV," Mason said. "If you don't go, you'll miss it. It's one of those events where you grab someone you love, or someone you like, and you go and take two hours off and see this, and at the same time, there are people watching in Kathmandu, Sydney, 40 cities in Russia and all around the world who are watching as well."
Out of 520 entries received from 49 countries around the world, Manhattan Short selected 10 short films as finalists. Each film is 18 minutes or less and the films are not rated. Together, the 10 films take two hours and 10 minutes to screen. Countries represented this year include Norway, The Netherlands, Russia, England, Ireland, Peru, France, Romania, Spain and the U.S. in what festival organizers describe as the "United Nations of Film Festivals." "When people walk out, they're a little bit more worldly, possibly," Mason said. When choosing the films, Mason used to ask people in the industry - actors, directors and the like - to help him narrow it down, but that didn't work so well. "I want people who deal with the general public and look at the film for what it is and not get caught up with techinical aspects," Mason said.Now he searches out everyday people - bartenders, journalists and the like - for the task. "I've found journalists are really wonderful to judge and discuss films, they usually have a better grasp on issues happening around the world. Most journalists are very well read in global issues. I like to get a pack of them together.""I'm looking for 10 different countries, 10 different grooves; and each film should complement the others. The greatest trick is that you remember the first film after they're all done," he said.The short films will not only entertain a global audience but will be judged by them as well. Filmgoers will be handed a voting card upon entry and asked to vote for the one film they feel should win. Votes are tallied at each participating cinema and submitted to festival headquarters where the winner will be announced in New York City as well as posted online at www.manhattanshort.com on Oct. 7 at 10 p.m.Past finalists have achieved perhaps the ultimate recognition of an Academy Award nomination and win in the short film category. Most years, Mason sees a general theme emerge from the group of submissions. After 9/11 the films were "about terrorists, or why we were getting into a war, conspiracy theories. All the films were colored by disaster."And this year? "They're all triumphal, life's OK and we're going to get through it," Mason said.