Watching the Oscars is fun and all, but you don't get a vote. It's a different story at the Manhattan Short Film Festival, which comes to Burlington for the first time this Friday, September 19. The 11-year-old event has a novel setup: The program of 12 films - each 16 minutes or less - appears for one week at 115 venues around the world (Brattleboro is the only other Vermont location). At each screening, viewers get a ballot to check off their favorite finalist. The 12 shorts were selected this year from 429 entries. On September 28, the winner will be posted at www.msfilmfest.com, where viewers can also ask the filmmakers questions via a blog.
Like the fest's venues, the films are international and diverse - the glossy program describes them with tongue-in-cheek blurbs written in tabloid-journalism style. They range from a saucy animation called "Teat Beat of Sex," about a girl's coming of age in Latvia, to a harrowing Israeli drama called "Sour Milk" to a climate-change tale from Australia called "Change Coming." Last year, winner "I Met the Walrus" got an Oscar nomination.
Fest founder and director Nicholas Mason says, "We have a plan with this festival" that involves adding a few new U.S. venues and "one continent a year." While the MSFF has been in Brattleboro for three years, Burlington was a natural choice, because "The areas where this seems to be thriving are college towns," he explains. So Mason talked to officials at UVM, who suggested he call Merrill Jarvis III, owner of Merrill's Roxy.
"It's this New England mindset that really propelled the fest to where it is," adds Mason, who recalls when he first expanded the MSFF from its original venue in Manhattan's Union Square Park - where it used a panel of celebrity judges - to Concord, New Hampshire. A previous attempt to get the public involved using a live Internet broadcast had "failed dismally." But in 2004, a fest winner from India called "Little Terrorist" went on to get an Academy nod. Mason found himself talking for hours on a call-in radio show with New Hampshirites who "felt responsible for this short film, that it was up for an Oscar." He concludes: "It's about connection, it's not just about seeing films."
Local folks can make that connection at Merrill's Roxy from September 19 to 25, daily at 1, 4, 7 and 9:30 p.m. And don't forget to vote . . .