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Manhattan Short Film Festival: The World Votes

Iona Salter

Mon Sep 26 2011

Julia Stiles in Sexting (director Neil LaBute), Manhattan Short Film Festival
Julia Stiles takes a brief break from Hollyoowd to star in the arthouse Sexting, a finalist in the Manhattan Short Film Festival.

Julia Stiles takes a brief break from Hollyoowd to star in the arthouse Sexting, a finalist in the Manhattan Short Film Festival.

THEY say a good story transcends cultural boundaries. In that case, the winning films in the 14th Manhattan Short Film Festival – which will be voted for by people in 28 countries over six continents – must tell some pretty amazing stories.

More a film competition than film festival, the event will see the same ten short films screened this week in cinemas from Beijing to Johannesburg, Mumbai to Rome. The Astor Theatre in St Kilda will host the Melbourne screening this Wednesday.

Although some awards are judged by film industry insiders, it is the festival’s multicultural audience who vote for the short film they think most deserving of the 2011 Manhattan Short Film Festival Gold Medal.

The ten films showing have been selected by the festival’s organisers as being the best of the 598 submitted. Among the highlights is Sexting, and eight minute film starring Julia Stiles. The Hollywood actress is hardly a regular in arthouse shorts (she plays Lumen Pierce in TV’s Dexter, and you may remember her teenage self as from Ten Things I Hate About You and Save The Last Dance), and director Neil LaBute says he had not expected to snag her for the role.

“That was just a lucky break. I happened to work with her on a theatre project and had always liked her work,” La Bute says.

Mak deals with the big issue of child abandoment in a bite sized 18 minute film.

Also on the bill is Mak, from Swiss director Geraldine Zosso. The film follows a 14-year-old girl who has just given birth, and whose mother has heard about a “baby hatch” where people can anonymously abandon unwanted babies at a hospital.

Shot in a documentary-like style, the film is based on the real-life initiative at a hospital outside of Zurich, which Zosso researched extensively in making the film.

“I spoke with social workers and nurses and read many ethological studies about child abandonment in order to understand why women would decide to give their babies to other people. I was very touched by these women and by their strength of their action,” Zosso says.

Dik brings some humour to the Manhattan Short Film Festival.

Although short films are often sombre and deeply thematic, Australian director Christopher Stolley – whose comedy Dik has made the festival’s top ten – says he had good reason for making his comedy about a child who brings home a rather suggestive drawing from school.

“If you want to get into anything that is deep and meaningful, I think a feature has the rhythms that support that. However, every short film I see at festivals these days is trying to be some earth-shattering, significant-moment piece about growing up or death or something. But to my mind, ten-minute films are definitely a comedic structure,” Stolley says.

While the internet is increasingly being embraced by short filmmakers as an effective platform to show their work to a global audience, festival organisers are adamant the Manhattan Short Film Festival is not an online festival. Unfortunately, this means a smaller pool of people can vote for their favourite, but it is a good excuse to get down to St Kilda and check out the Astor, one of Melbourne’s Art Deco gems.

The Melbourne screening of the Manhattan Short Film Festival is being held at the Astor Theater, 1 Chapel St, St Kilda, at 7:30pm, Wednesday September 28. Tickets are $14 for students and $15 for others.