A global film festival comes to Moorestown

The Moorestown Library is one of several locations around the globe screening the MANHATTAN SHORT Film Festival.

From Sept. 28 to Oct. 8, more than 100,000 film enthusiasts from around the world will unite to view 10 short films, and residents from Moorestown have the opportunity to be a part of a global jury. MANHATTAN SHORT gives audiences around the world a chance to cast their vote for the best film and best actor among 10 short films.

The 20th Annual MANHATTAN SHORT Film Festival will be screened at the Moorestown Library on Tuesday, Oct. 3 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and again on Saturday, Oct. 7 from 2 to 4 p.m. The library is one of more than 250 screening locations around the globe hosting a screening that week, as filmgoers from six continents will have the opportunity to watch the collection of short films.

Nicholas Mason, founding director of MANHATTAN SHORT Film Festival, said this year, his team went through more than 1,600 entries and whittled them down to 10. Each year, interest in participating has grown. Within the past few years, submissions to the MANHATTAN SHORT have gone on to be both nominated and win Oscars in the short film category.

The festival dates back 20 years ago to when Mason, a native Australian, got the idea to host a sort of “Olympics of short film.” He said he wanted to see one short film from as many countries as possible and set up a screen on the side of a truck on Mulberry Street in New York’s Little Italy section where he aired 16 short films.

The following year, Mason moved the festival to Union Square Park, and the event took off. He said in the years that followed, celebrities and actors — such as Susan Sarandon and Laura Linney — served as judges, and people came to the park to watch the show each year.

Things changed in 2001, when the events of Sept. 11 had Mason questioning whether he should host the festival as scheduled at the end of September. Following Sept. 11, the park had become a kind of satellite center with news trucks from around the world congregating there. Mason said the park was also filled with people just sitting and grieving.

Around Sept. 15, he got a call from the Union Square Park commissioners who urged him to put the festival on as planned. Mason said the commissioners thought the festival might help to wash away some of the grief that was hanging heavy in the park at the time.

The congregation of international news outlets in the park noticed Mason’s festival, and many of the outlets who had artists entered in the festival took the opportunity to feature their native artists’ participation.

“Whatever country the filmmaker was representing, the local news channels did a story on them in their own country,” Mason said. “The following year, everyone entered this film festival. Instead of getting 300 shorts back then, I was getting 600.”

With the festival steadily growing each subsequent year, in 2004, Mason decided he wanted to reach a wider audience. He said he got the idea to screen the festival in seven cities, in seven states in one week and to give every member of the audience a chance to vote. He said the events were such a success that it reinvigorated his passion for the festival.

“All this time you’re worried about getting celebrities and sponsors; you didn’t need them,” Mason said. “What it was, was great films and the public.”

In 2005, Mason wondered what would happen if he screened the festival in Europe, and so that’s what he did. In 2006, Mason decided he wanted to add a new continent every year, and so he did that too.

By expanding the screenings around the globe, each year the submissions have gotten stronger as more people find out about the festival. For the first time ever this year, the final 10 short films selected will all be Oscar-qualified because they are being screening for a week at Arena Cinelounge in Hollywood.

Mason said this year his team received a record 1,615 submissions from 75 countries, and his team began sorting through the films in January. He said the goal is to find a selection of 10 distinct films that each bring something different to the festival. He said it takes eight months of reviewing and arguing to reach the final product, and this year’s finalists hail from nine countries.

Participants in the festival often go on to do feature films, Mason said. Chris Wedge, director of the “Ice Age” films, is just one director who has gone on to acclaim after participating in the festival.

Two years ago, Mason decided he wanted to expand the festival’s reach again, but he didn’t want the festival screened in theaters. He said he wanted to target community nerve centers where people gather.

“That’s how the festival started,” Mason said. “It was something you had to be with your community at your community center or you missed it.”

Mason did a test run at a library in upstate New York, and the turnout was overwhelming. This year, he said he made concentrated effort to contact libraries through the United States, which is how he got in touch with Moorestown Library’s Reference Librarian Diane Cairoli.

Cairoli said she was immediately intrigued by the idea of having Moorestown residents participate in a global event.

“Not only is it a wonderful event for the whole community to get involved, but to see how we’re part of a bigger whole, that’s something special that we haven’t done before,” Cairoli said. “That was so appealing to me.”

This marks the Moorestown Library’s first year screening the festival. Mason anticipates it won’t be the last. He said something about knowing the event is happening in Moorestown, Moscow, Kathmandu and Dubai gets people excited and engaged.

The 10 films are distributed to the venues screening the festival on Blu-Ray, and the votes at each location are then are tallied and e-mailed to MANHATTAN SHORT headquarters where the winner is announced in New York City on Monday, Oct. 9 at 10 a.m.

Registration is required for the Oct. 3 and Oct. 7 viewings at the Moorestown Library. To register, visit http://www.moorestownlibrary.org/events/manhattan-short-2017.