Two Short Film Fests Hit New York
September 16, 2002 | New York film lovers have an exciting opportunity to check out short films from across the world this weekend at two exciting venues: The Manhattan Short Film Festival, an evening of free outdoor screenings in Union Square park and the Coney Island Short Film Festival which runs all weekend at the world-famous Coney Island Sideshow. Cinema Gotham chatted with organizers from both festivals to get a sense of where they're coming from.
Manhattan Short Film Festival
The Manhattan Short Film Festival, now in its fifth year, epitomizes the idea of taking the message to the people. The festival's director and one of the most enthusiastic guys around, Australian Nick Mason, has made sure that each year's show took place outdoors and was open to the public free of charge. While the festival started with different aspirations ("I was naive," says Mason, "I had the idea of having a film fest that was [broadcast] live across America. We're not doing what I planned but it's good to reach for the unachievable.") it has grown into a real international event. "New York is such a magnet to the talented few," says Mason, pointing out that this year's festival features films from Ireland, Belgium, Venezuela, Australia, the UK, and the USA. "Every year you get an idea of what's going on in the world. In 2000 you had very fast-paced films because of the [influence of the] internet. Last year you could see that the world was a little bit lost."
In fact, last year's festival was scheduled for September 23rd, less than two weeks after the terrorist attacks. "Union Square became a shrine," recalls Mason. "The park had been broadcast to the world. The people that control the park were very frightened. They said 'please go ahead with the festival and please help move this park forward.' Naturally we said 'Yes, we'll do everything we can.' It did achieve its objective of somewhat coming back to normality. I was very proud of the festival for that. If we managed to do it last year, nothing can stop us any more."
Mason's vision for the festival, which he sees as more than just a collection of short films, goes beyond Union Square. He'd like to expand to include other outdoor venues like Central Park, and he'd like to use it as a platform for gaining greater recognition for his filmmakers. "I don't take the films personally. I take the people personally. I interviewed every filmmaker and I thought 'My God, did I ever think I was an artist! A lot of people become a directors because they want to be famous. Every filmmaker I talked to did it because it was in their blood." Mason hopes to someday expand his program to include a showcase in Los Angeles, something that would make the films in his festival eligible for the short film Academy Award. "This is the best Manhattan Short Film Fest ever. I'm looking at these films and saying 'If that was nominated for an Oscar, it would win.'"
Mason's commitment to bringing quality films to audiences goes pretty deep. In addition to the festival he also runs a weekly warm-weather screening series on the roof of the Gershwin Hotel. This invitation-only series introduces films like Nicholas Triandafyllidis' I Put a Spell On Me, a documentary about the wild rock-and-soul singer Screamin' Jay Hawkins, to viewers who may be able to facilitate a release. A recent screening of the mob film This Thing of Ours brought out members of Aerosmith and the cast of The Sopranos.
But it's not star-power that attracts Mason to his films. When selecting his program he says he looks "for a complete story with a beginning, middle and an end. A film that grabs you by the balls." And when he needs advice in narrowing down his selections he looks outside the filmmaking community. "I really prefer to use people who like films and who don't make films. I've found that a lot of people who do make films are like acting teachers who sit down and say if they made that they could have done better. But you didn't. They did it."
Coney Island Short Film Festival
Meanwhile, at the end of the line in Brooklyn another short film festival will be braving the waves at Coney Island. Coney Island has been a vacation destination for nearly two-hundred years and over that time has seen some of the greatest showmanship ever to dazzle an audience. After a number of rough decades when the boardwalk and amusement parks were known more for drugs and crime, it's seen a renaissance of sorts, paving the way for the two-year old film fest, which is housed in Coney Island's Sideshows by the Seashore freak show.
Festival Director Rob Leddy says "The place has real history and definitely gives the festival a carnival atmosphere. In the 1950's and 60's it was home to Dave Rosen's Wonderland Circus Sideshow where such legends as Sealo the Seal Boy, JoJo the Dogfaced Boy, tattooed man Jack Dracula and talker Bobby Reynolds once worked and performed. Ours is the only film festival where you can watch enjoy some films and then take a ride on The Cyclone [the 75 year-old roller coaster that's still considered one of the best]."
The film selection veers towards the kinky, perfect for the freak-show atmosphere. Some of the titles include Nick Zedd's Lord Of The Cockrings, Richard Bluestein's Mommy Kills Best and Colin Powers' Toilet Bowl Confessions, films that Leddy says "would do any freak proud. When you walk along the boardwalk at Coney Island you're always struck by what an incredible mix of people you see. We program our festival the same way, selecting films from all different genres. We're definitely not film snobs, so you’re likely to see some pretty crazy stuff – films about Coney Island and films in the spirit of Coney Island."
Coney Island has long been a popular spot for locals and tourists. It's popularity peaked in the early-twentieth century when it was filled with legendary amusement parks like Luna Park and Dreamland, palaces of entertainment that modern amusement park fans would never dream of. In the 1970s Coney Island began a slide into seediness out of which it is only now beginning to crawl. "Coney Island is on its way back," says Leddy. "There have been massive improvements to the area that were jump started when the Brooklyn Cyclones [the Mets minor league ball-club] came. The beach is cleaner than it's been in years. For the arts crowd Coney Island USA provides great entertainment while preserving the history of America's playland. It's easy to say Coney Island will never be what it once was, but what is? It's still an amazing place with a lot to offer. This city changes so rapidly but Coney Island still has that authentic New York feeling that not many other places can still lay claim to."
The Manhattan Short Film Festival will take place at 7:00pm in Union Square Park (14th St and Broadway) on Sunday, September 22nd. Admission is free. The Coney Island Short Film Festival runs September 21st and 22nd at Sideshows By The Seashore (3006 W.12th St. at Surf Ave. in Brooklyn). Tickets are $7.50 for each show. For a complete list of films for both festivals, please follow the links below. Intrepid Cinema Gotham readers will make sure to check out a few Coney Island shows over the weekend and head to the Manhattan Fest Sunday night.
Cinema Gotham DVD reviews
"It's a New World"
Jim Sheridan's In America
Top 10 DVDs of 2003