Manhattan takes Minneapolis (and London, and Buenos Aires, and Melbourne, and…)

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295 screenings. 115 cities. 12 short films. One week. This Saturday for the first time, Manhattan Short brings their festival to Minneapolis. Film lovers will unite at the Oak Street Cinema to view and vote for their favorites among 12 film finalists. The finalists hail from countries ranging from the U.K. to Denmark to Israel to New Zealand to the United States. The winner will be announced in New York City at 10 p.m. on September 28th.

Finalists in the 11th Annual Manhattan Short Film Festival will screen at 7 p.m. on Saturday, September 27 at the Oak Street Cinema, 309 Oak St. S.E., Minneapolis. For more information, see msfilmfest.com.


The 2008 Manhattan Short Film Festival will be held during one week in September across Europe, North, South and Central America, and—newly added this year—Australia. Director/Founder Nicholas Mason says the festival has been adding a new continent every year as part of their overall mission to “unite audiences around the world via the most creative short films around the world.”

Rapidly growing from its humble origins on the side of a truck on Moby Street in 1997 to becoming the largest short film festival in the world with 430 films from 42 countries was…sort of an accident, says Mason. An actor originally from Australia, now working as a film producer in New York, Mason has a passion for sharing films with the global community. “We wanted it to be the Olympics of films, but no one in New York would write about it.” Once it moved to Union State Park and started gaining recognition outside of New York City, major actors such as Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, and Sean Penn started judging the films.

The 2001 screening was scheduled to happen less than two weeks after 9/11. Mason was sure they were going to cancel the film festival out of respect for the candle vigils in Union Square Park. Instead, NYC asked Manhattan Short to go on with the films in Union Square, which caused the festival to receive media attention around the world. This became the turning point where the festival grew from local to global. Oscar-winning filmmakers came along as the festival gained worldwide recognition.

“We got so many more films after this,” says Mason. “We wondered, ‘How do we bring the world to see these?’” By 2004, Manhattan Short was showing films in seven cities to audiences who judged the films. In 2005, the festival had grown to 75 cities and one of the films was up for an Oscar. Last year, one film (I Met the Walrus) was nominated for an Oscar, one film was nominated for the Bafta, and three won Sundance awards. This year, the festival is holding screenings in 115 cities on four continents. Next year they are bringing in Asia and the Middle East; in 2010, Africa; and in 2011, Antarctica. “My goal is to successfully screen at the same time in 295 venues,” says Mason.

Of bringing the festival to the legendary Oak Street Cinema, Mason says, “I want Oak Street to stay alive. It’s pivotal. If it doesn’t stay alive, there’s something wrong with Minnesota. If it weren’t for the Oak Street, we wouldn’t be in Minnesota. It’s the only cinema in Minneapolis that understands this. If it dies in a year’s time, that’s a step backwards for Minnesota. It’s a true independent cinema.”

Mason has been touched by the extent to which people around the world have taken the festival to their hearts. “They’re taking this event as their own, in their own city and running with it! It’s their festival, not ours. It’s communities sharing an annual event during which people learn about what’s happening in the world, together. That’s the beautiful thing. This festival has got a point. Many film festivals don’t have a point. You get 12 different glimpses of how people are feeling in each part of the world.”

Cyn Collins is a Twin Cities freelance arts and culture writer. She is the author of West Bank Boogie, a substitute programmer at KFAI, and an assistant producer of Write On Radio.