Manhattan Short Film Festival
On the street
I would consider it. I think it would be kind of fun to see smaller independent films by new filmmakers.
It started out small but potent. Nick Mason decided to set up a screening in New York's Union Square Park to showcase fledgling student filmmakers.
"I had to go over to a friend's house to borrow a computer so I could make the press release, but the T button never worked right on it," Mason recalls. "The T is a pretty pivotal letter to have in a press release. You had to massage it, then you'd have 1,000 T's on your page that you needed to delete."
A decade later, the working T on Mason's current computer comes in quite handy when listing countries such as Australia, Argentina and the United States - all part of 19 nations taking part in Mason's ongoing artistic showcase.
Now in its 10th year, the Manhattan Short Film Festival has developed into something unlike any other cinematic competition on the planet. For one evening in September, a dozen filmmakers will play their short works at 99 venues across three continents. Viewers will then have the opportunity to cast a vote that determines a winner.
The first-ever Lawrence screening takes place at 7 p.m. Thursday at Liberty Hall, 642 Mass.
"It was always meant to be a cinematic Olympiad," Mason says. "But it's evolved into something a little bit more important for certain states and certain countries. I don't know what it is anymore. It's becoming some sort of statement of world peace to some people."
"I was really drawn in by the audience inclusion aspect," says Rob Fitzgerald, Liberty Hall Cinemas owner.
"Also, I thought that a festival that not only showed some current shorts, but also embraced a 'world community,' resonated here in Lawrence. I think of Lawrence as one of those places that embraces this way of thinking."
Out of 456 entries received from 33 countries, Mason narrowed that down to 12 finalist films (all 12 minutes or less in length). Countries represented this year include the U.S., Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Kenya, Singapore, Spain and the United Kingdom.
"There's no specific theme. But of the nearly 500 or so films that we received, there is a theme that they're (angry) at this war. They're (angry), had enough, 'give us a break,'" says Mason, a former Australian actor who has lived in the U.S. since the '90s.
He points to "I Met the Walrus" from Canada as one of the standout entries. The project is the true story of a 14-year-old boy who in 1969 snuck into John Lennon's Montreal hotel room for an interview during the musician's "bed-in for peace." Using the original audio recording, filmmaker Josh Raskin illustrates every word through animation.
"When you look at that, it's amazing how relevant (Lennon's words are) today," Mason says.
Mason - who is no relation to the identically named drummer of Pink Floyd - deems the opportunities his festival affords the filmmakers as invaluable.
"They're going to have about 40,000 people voting for them, and that's a big word of mouth. It suddenly makes the filmmaker more bankable," he says.
"We were getting e-mails last year from people who almost wanted to adopt the filmmakers. They became so passionate about what (their work) said."
In the past, winners of the competition were given cameras and film stock as prizes. Now Mason is using his developing worldwide network to offer an even more coveted prize: distribution.
Although the Manhattan Short Film Festival began in 1998 with local celebrities such as Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Laura Linney judging the entries, the event really didn't start to connect with people outside of New York until 2001.
That year the festival was scheduled for Sept. 23 - not even two weeks after the terrorist attacks. By that point the outdoor venue of Union Square Park had become a shrine to the victims of 9/11. Mourners filled the park, lighting candles and leaving personal offerings. Consequently, TV crews began to surround the locale.
"As I was walking around the park - and there were more people than I'd ever seen at the festival - I could hear and see people running out and doing a news story. They were saying, 'Oh, they're showing films here. Here's one from Italy. Here's one from Australia.' The next year we started to get a (bunch) of films. People were making films just for this festival," Mason remembers.
In 2004, the fest savored its greatest artistic victory. The winning short, "Little Terrorist" from India, was nominated for an Academy Award the following February.
"I almost felt responsible for this film being up for an Oscar. I sort of owned it," he says.
The next year Mason started expanding the festival to dozens of states. It ultimately spread to Europe and South America.
"My eventual goal is to have 12 short stories from around the world play on every continent around the world," Mason says. "This gets people out of the house and away from their computers and unites that community together."
The 42-year-old Mason expects the festival "to become an institution in Lawrence." He also recognizes that there is untapped filmmaking talent within the Midwest that is fast becoming a creative force.
"How many films are getting made in Indiana or Missouri, places where I used to never get movies from? It's all done on digital cameras. It's all edited on computers. It's all done with no money. Yet they're all very competent," he says.
"A big goal for me personally is to encourage people to see these (festival) movies in their backyard, then let them go out and make movies in their backyard."