Scene from Rhino Full Throttle. Photo courtesy Folke Renken.
Scene from Rhino Full Throttle. Photo courtesy Folke Renken.

Now in its 17th incarnation, the Manhattan Short film festival is the world’s only global film festival. Hosted in San Antonio by Urban-15, this venue is one of more than 250 art house cinemas presenting it worldwide over the next few weeks.

Screenings will be held at the Urban-15 Studio, 2500 S. Presa St., at 8 p.m. Sept 26-27, and Oct. 3-4. Admission is $10 and $5 for students, seniors, and military.

What makes this festival unique is that the audience participates by choosing the best film and best actor. Winners will be announced on the Manhattan Short website on Oct. 6.

The votes really do count. In 2011, 79,383 votes were cast. Only 126 votes separated first and second place.

Make no mistake – the cinematic quality of the 10 films being presented, ranging from 8-17 minutes, is impressive. Countries from around the globe are on the program, including the Netherlands, England, Australia, Norway, France and Mexico. The United States is represented in two of the films. The finalists were chosen from 589 entries from 47 countries. Past finalists in this festival have been nominated – and even won – Academy Awards in the short film category.

 scene from On/Off. Photo courtesy Reynald Capurro.
Scene from “On/Off.” Photo courtesy Reynald Capurro.

Short films tend to be more popular overseas where there is more government funding for such endeavors, such as the renowned National Film Board of Canada. Government support for the genre is sorely lacking in the United States. Regardless, filmmakers are an intrepid and creative bunch when it comes to cobbling together funding from multiple sources. Producing short films tends to be a labor of love rather than a profitable venture.

This concept permeates the festival itself – it’s not about the money. It’s all about getting these films shown to a larger audience in a community setting.

“This project is not going to cable TV or Video on Demand, it’s about communities bonding together via local cinema,” stated founding director Nicholas Mason in a press release.

Although primarily known as a dance and rhythm troupe, the Urban-15 studio is housed in an old church with a large central hall. Add a video projector, a good screen and sound system, and voila – “It’s the best art house south of Hildebrand,” said Urban-15 director George Cisneros. “Actually it’s the only art house on the Southside.”

He’s not joking. The sound and projection quality are quite good.

Although San Antonio has a number of screens showing art-house films – most notably The Bijou – the city actually lacks a repertory cinema, in which different films are shown every night.

Scene from Crime – The Animated Series. Image courtesy Sam Chou.
Scene from “Crime – The Animated Series.” Image courtesy Sam Chou.

The Manhattan Short films demonstrate numerous cinematic techniques: animation, stop motion, and CGI-based special effects are all put to good use. Here’s a rundown of this year’s finalists:

  • “97%” (Netherlands, 8 min.): A man uses a smartphone app to find a potential love interest on a crowded train.
  • “Crime – The Animated Series” (USA, 14 min.): Done in graphic-novel style, this film documents the havoc that crime creates as told by those living through the events.
  • “On the Bridge” (England, 12 min.): Standing on London’s Waterloo Bridge, two men debate the merits of jumping into the dark river below them.
  • “Shift” (Australia, 11 min.): A genius creates a super power for himself and uses it for the perfect heist.
  • “The Fall” (Norway, 15 min.): During a climb, two mountaineers must depend upon one another. But one of them has a secret that tests this trust.
  • “On/Off” (France, 14 min.): In this science fiction thriller, and astronaut hears a mysterious audio message that turns a spacewalk into a life-threatening situation.
  • “La Carnada” (Mexico, 13 min.): A teenager trying to cross into the United States illegally discovers his trek is more perilous than he imagined.
Scene from La Carnada. Photo courtesy Rob Hauer.
Scene from “La Carnada.” Photo courtesy Rob Hauer.
  • “Mend and Make Do” (England, 8 min.): An elderly woman discusses her life before and after World War II, accompanied by a visual narrative utilizing numerous animation techniques.
  • “The Bravest, The Boldest” (USA, 17 min.): Set in a New York housing project, a woman tries to evade two Army chaplains who are attempting to deliver bad news.
  • “Rhino Full Throttle” (Germany, 15 min.): A whimsical tale in which a young man learns about the soul of the city, and how to express himself.

The festival grew organically from humble origins. The first event was held in 1998, when founding director Mason presented 16 short films onto a screen mounted on the side of a truck in New York City’s Little Italy. The following year, the event moved uptown to Union Square Park. After the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the festival rapidly grew to become a worldwide event in which more than 100,000 people participate.

“This film festival will unite people in all corners of the globe, from Sydney to Mumbai, from Buenos Aires to Cairo. Venues also include cinemas in 20 cities in the Ukraine, 40 cities in Russia, and 47 states in the USA,” Mason stated. “In times like these cross-border events like Manhattan Short contribute towards greater tolerance and understanding that are needed more than ever.”

Scene from The Bravest, The Boldest. Photo courtesy Kartik Vijay.
Scene from “The Bravest, The Boldest.” Photo courtesy Kartik Vijay.

 *Featured/top image: Scene from Rhino Full Throttle. Photo courtesy Folke Renken.

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Page Graham

Page Graham has been a resident of San Antonio – on and off – for over 30 years now. He has moved into the corporate world, making a living developing training materials and Powerpoint presentations...