I spent 48 hours going back in forth in my head. Should I write a review for each of the short films in the line-up or review the festival as a whole? On an individual level each of the shorts range from above average to very good but none are particularly dense or intellectually challenging as to demand an in depth review in and of themselves. It’s like a box of bon-bons. You’re buying a gamble: a few will delight you, a few will disgust you and few you leave half-eaten. Unlike a box of bon-bons, there are no duds in the festival line up but no-home runs. The Manhattan Short Film Festival really is big on entertainment. It’s greater than the sum of its bon-bons.
I had never heard of the festival until last week. For those unfamiliar, the 16th annual festival is a global event. Various theaters are screening the event up through October 6. Audiences vote on best actor, actress and best film categories as they would at any other film festival. The festival website offers DVD collections of previous events. Based on this iteration I’d say it’s a worthwhile investment. Enough of the historical context, let’s talk about the candy.
How does one evaluate a short film? You look at traditional markers: acting, directing, cinematography, etc. In the case of short films though I have two additional criteria. One, does the short feel like a feature length piece crammed into a 20 minute story? Two, does the short, confoundingly, find a way to be too short, does it end prematurely? The short films in the Manhattan festival are entertaining because they address our traditional standards for film, but they have issues with my additional demands.
Taking all these factors into consideration my vote for best film is “Kismet Diner”. Here is a film comfortable in its romantic idealism, its length and the craftsmanship needed to create art. It’s the story of a shy singer songwriter working in a diner. There’s a guy. She’s dying to impress him, and oh the soft unrequited love feeds the film. There is longing without desperation in this straightforward story, and I like that. It doesn’t come off like a teen-drama, and it doesn’t have the crazed scratch-through-your-face-to-lick-your-soul froth that can send a film careening into the land of tortured artists. Damnit, she just wants him to notice her. Story-wise, there is another detail I could mention, but I’d rather not spoil it for you.
It is not just plot and pace alone that place Diner above the competition. All the films are well acted, and I have a soft spot for “Black Metal”‘s Jonny Mars. “Irish Folk Furniture” feels as much a study in stop motion animation and the collected videos of Tool as it does a documentary. “Friday” is a quiet, intense study of a traumatized boy, but doesn’t really add anything to the discussion on terrorism in our society. It plays it safe, too safe, for my tastes. (My standard for films on terrorism has been forever changed by “Four Lions”) However, despite these jewels, “Kismet Diner” is the only film with a sense of depth, not emotional depth per say, I mean physical by god three dimensions. The other films feel flat like graphic novels, which isn’t always a bad thing. In the context of the festival though, it makes the entries seem generic. Diner is the only short film to side step this problem. The physical depth heightens the emotional impact.
By all means, don’t take my word for it. Go to the website, see if the festival is playing near you. The Manhattan Short Festival is a boon for both audiences and up and coming film makers learning their craft. There’s big entertainment in these little bon-bons. If you don’t like my chocolate cream there’s sure to be a salted caramel to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Written By David Arroyo