Manhattan Short Film Festival brings new voices in a long-missed setting

The Manhattan Short Film Festival is a Dear hidden gem in the local Reno community, as well as the moviegoer world in general.

September 30 marked the opening of the Annual festival which was featured in a 20 foot tall full projection glory at the Joe Crowley Student Union Theater.

Wyatt Layland / Nevada mugwort
The 2021 Manhattan Short Film Festival takes place at the Joe Crowley Student Union Theater.

The party was first owned by KUNR in 2014. Since then, the self-proclaimed “First world film festival” brought the best competitive films to Reno audiences every year. This included last year’s iteration, at a time when the general caution surrounding the pandemic hampered attendance at the theater in person.

While the event’s claim to be the “world’s premier film festival” seems dubious, it is surprisingly true. While the vast majority of festivals take place in an exclusive location, Manhattan Short hosts screenings at venues. on six continents over a two week period. During the first day of the Reno festival, there were simultaneous screenings in France, United Kingdom, Bermuda and Australia-everything happens a few hours apart.

In a prerecorded intro that preceded two hours and 20 minutes of content, festival director Nicholas Mason noted that this year’s festival received 970 entries from 70 countries—A respectable jump from the 589 applications in 2014 from 47 countries.

Like the few other festivals of the genre, those who attend one of the screenings are invited to fill out a ballot naming their favorite film and actor among the 10 short films. “finalists”. The festival then counts hundreds of thousands of voices to determine the winners in both categories.

Regardless of the competitive aspect of the festival, each film featured in this year’s program has succeeded in conveying the sensitivities of cinema’s past to the realities of today’s multifaceted social culture. Deeply rooted in their stylistic influences and their respective national origins, they each represented a singular triumph for the universality of narrative cinema.

A dark room filled with a full audience and a basic introductory image of the festival.

Wyatt Layland / Nevada mugwort
An audience gathers in the Joe Crowley Student Union Theater to watch the collection of award-winning shorts.

The only entry that externally addressed the pandemic was also the opening film, “Death by handshake”.

It’s a love letter from Gen Z to New York City that serves as both a chaotic snapshot of the first wave of lockdowns. Director Hudson Flynn said in his introductory video that he was only 16 when he finished the short for a class assignment, which he said accentuated the longevity of the public health crisis.

Unlike other New York-centric filmmakers, Flynn’s compassion for his city and his feelings for pandemic life come together. At best, its fluid flow of thoughts and developments is relatable; at worst, they are banally idiosyncratic. He confronts his artful cinematic style with often brilliant anecdotes, but just as he hits an inflection point in his reflections, he abruptly pivots to the next idea and leaves the viewer begging for more.

Immediately after the conclusion of “Death by Handshake,” which features an electrifying compilation of images from New York City to a jazz rendition of “My favorite things”, the tonal trajectory of the scale changes immediately.

“Ganef” from the United Kingdom and “Bad omen” Afghanistan set a dramatic standard early on that was rarely matched for the rest of the evening.

In “Ganef,” an aristocratic family in post-WWII UK sets the stage for a generational trauma-fueled misunderstanding between a Holocaust survivor, her daughter and her maid.

The sheer technical polishing of the film was a realignment moment at this point in the program. Backed by strong production values, director Mark Rosenblatt left no particularly weak link in framing a contextually strained narrative.

Its abrupt end, however, left many viewers bewildered. Two viewers openly laughed at the tough cut in the credits, and given how ‘Death by Handshake’ featured a fake ending, there was a shared stillness among audiences as they waited for the story to unfold further. .

“Bad Omen” received an equally calm reception, but for radically different reasons.

For context, the short film was written, shot and released long before the Taliban takeover of the country in August. It documents a day in the life of a single mother who recently lost her husband in a Taliban attack, and chronicles her struggle as social barriers – not institutional barriers – prevent her from getting benefits. widower, a pair of functional glasses and a line of human work. .

In one particularly impactful scene, Pari goes to the cemetery to mourn his deceased partner. For several seconds, her figure fades as she slowly approaches. When her face comes into focus, it becomes clear that she is staring intently at the center of the camera and, by extension, the audience.

Director Salar Pashtoonyar strategically offers this moment for the character to express his abject judgment towards the viewer, and actress Faruq Afghan delivers in every way possible. His desperation is both palpable and tragic, serving as a haunting indicator of the country’s decline. during his last days.

Two other short films, “The scooter choir” from Norway and “Out of time” de France, were equally serious and complex pieces.

The first was a coming-of-age vignette that dealt with the treatment of refugees. Its topical subject and general approach made the entry by far the most accessible. Notably, the happy ending, which involved reconciliation between a refugee and the main character’s racist farm-owner father, drew much applause from onlookers.

Unlike how they responded to other films that night, many members of the audience turned to other attendees during the credits to briefly discuss the themes of the story.

In contrast, “Out of Time” abandons all the conventions of the story as it presents a poignant interaction between a young dancer struggling with emotions and his catatonic grandmother with dementia. The detached and chilling performances of the two actors are captured in intimate detail thanks to the keen cinematic eye of director Delphine Montaigne.

Another short film that subverted traditional storytelling to its advantage was The Transformation “Closed to the Light” of France.

It is a short film that picks up where the experimental filmmaker Chris Marker left out, as the camera travels freely through a world frozen in time. While the audio remains intact, the camera pans, tilts, and approaches critical areas of the still image to tackle Italy’s era of fascism and the country’s record of human rights violations. man.

At a fundamental level, the short film challenges the way in which reality can be represented through the moving image.

Is it movement that gives representations of real events a semblance of reality? Or can the viewer find the truth in the narrative by processing a single frame of a much longer sequence of images?

It was questions like these that left many spectators silent in their seats, just as frozen as the suspended images of human brutality studied in the film.

On the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, the festival also provided a very gratifying selection of comedies.

“Rough” Northern Ireland, “Archibald Syndrome” from France and “Mr. Cashmere” Canada brought fierce black humor and irreverent flair to the forefront of the program. These three charming works are full of exaggerated musical scores, fantastic narrative devices and true meditations on the human condition.

Adding to the variety of styles, the presence of “Dawn” deserves a shout out because it was the only animated short in the lineup. It was also written, hosted and directed by a Nevada resident, Jo Meuris.

The animation and presentation inspired by children’s books is off-putting at first, especially given the rigid professionalism of live-action shorts. However, Meuris’ airy storytelling abilities and emphasis on its main message resonate effortlessly in the viewer’s psyche despite its audiovisual shortages.

For many viewers, the balance of serious films with these titles has acted as a cleanser for the cinematic palate. The JCSU theater undoubtedly saw more laughter shared than tears shed that night. Yet the machines of human empathy behind all of these films were fully operational whether viewers knew it or not.

Although limited in duration, these short films gracefully carried the dramatic weight of their respective stories with natural ease. It was perhaps more effective than the average feature film project.

This is the main takeaway from the Manhattan Short festivities which take place two weeks a year. International filmmakers can take the opportunity to offer audiences small portions of their perspectives, conditioning them to what filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho calls the “1 inch barrier” to watch films in a foreign language.

Two of the short films, “Bad Omen” and “The Kicksled Choir”, provide excellent examples of this accelerated globalization of cinema. They strive to break down that barrier by condensing their screen time and focusing on their main message.

In doing so, they shed invaluable light on the history, tragedy and beauty of the world’s diverse cultural consciousness.

Wyatt Layland can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.



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Gerald R. Schneider