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The 2014 Manhattan Short Film Festival

As a rule, I spend most of my movie-watching time on mainstream feature films. That's just the nature of the beast; part of my job is to see the (occasional) best and (far more frequent) worst that the major Hollywood studios have to offer.

But sometimes, I get a chance to take a step back and see not just the forest, but the trees.

The Manhattan Short Film Festival has been around since 1998, taking its inaugural bow when festival founder Nicholas Mason attached a screen to the side of a truck in NYC and screened 16 short films for a streetside audience of about 300. Since then, it has grown into an international phenomenon, with screenings held in over 300 cities all across the globe over the course of one week.

(This year's slate included seven different screenings in Maine Bar Harbor, Brunswick, Ellsworth, Lewiston, Orono, Portland and Stonington all played host at some point between September 26 and October 5. For the record, I attended the Orono screening, held at the Collins Center for the Arts.)

I admit to being relatively late to the party when it comes to short films. When you're used to seeing stories told over the course of two hours, seeing them told in just minutes can take some getting used to. However, the 10 finalists that made the cut for the Manhattan Short Film Festival all manage to tell compelling tales in timeframes ranging from eight to 17 minutes.

These films come from all over the world. There are two from the United States ('Crime: The Animated Series' and 'The Bravest, The Boldest') and two from England ('On The Bridge' and 'Mend and Make Do'), as well as offerings from Australia ('Shift'), France ('On/Off'), Germany ('Rhino Full Throttle'), Mexico ('La Carnada'), the Netherlands ('97%') and Norway ('The Fall').

In an added nod to the value of the audience, MSFF crowdsources the selection of its overall winners for Best Film and Best Actor. Viewers at each of the locations are provided with cards with which they can vote on their favorite film and favorite actor, with the highest vote tally taking the prize. It's a wrinkle that at least for me leads to much closer viewing.

This year's winner for Best Film is 'Rhino Full Throttle,' directed by Erik Schmitt. This 15-minute film follows a young man in search of the soul of his city who encounters a weird, wild woman who winds up capturing his heart. It combines innovative filmmaking techniques with a sweetly idiosyncratic love story; it is charming and a delight to watch.

In second place was 'Mend and Make Do,' an eight-minute animated short from Bexie Bush that brings to life one woman's reminiscences about her life before and after World War II. In third was 'The Bravest, The Boldest' by Moon Molson, a story about one woman's efforts to avoid a pair of military officers who are there to deliver the worst news imaginable.

The consensus Best Actor was Sameerah L. Harris for her work in the aforementioned 'The Bravest, The Boldest.' Her performance was layered and emotionally raw, calling forth the sensation of desperate avoidance of an unfortunate (and ultimately unavoidable) truth.

The Manhattan Short Film Festival provides an opportunity to get a glimpse of the work being done by innovative filmmakers from around the globe. While this year's festival may have come to a close, the MSFF does release its seasons on DVD, so if you're curious about 2014's slate, fear not you'll get your chance.

And keep your eyes open next year for the 2015 festival; chances are that it will be coming to a theater near you.


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