GREENFIELD — At first, Dave Scott thought the Australian accent on the other end of the phone line was a joke. It wasn’t.
It was Nick Mason, an Australian native calling from New York City, and he had a question for the Hancock County Visitors Bureau director: would Greenfield’s H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts serve as a host site for the Manhattan Short Film Festival?
The answer was yes. Scott and Mason struck up a conversation and then a partnership, and for the past seven years, Ricks Centre has been one of the more than 250 venues worldwide showing the top 10 finalists for the Manhattan Short Film Festival.
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This year’s festival, slated for 7 p.m. Sept. 23, consists of 10 short films, ranging from six to 20 minutes in length, from all over the world. All audience members receive a ballot at the door and may cast a vote in favor of their favorite film along with a vote for best actor or actress, Scott said.
Following the show, audience ballots are collected and tallied. Scott immediately emails the results to the Manhattan Short offices in New York City to be tabulated along with more than 100,000 ballots from film goers around the world.
The Ricks Centre’s inclusion as a venue in the internationally-known festival is no fluke, Mason said.
“Universities and places like the Ricks are little cultural meccas,” Mason explained. “The size of the venue doesn’t matter. What matters is that we support venues like the Ricks.”
Charlie Borowicz, local film maker and partner in ANC Movies, has attended the Manhattan Short festival at the Ricks Centre several times over the years. He appreciates that a film festival like Manhattan Short stops in his area.
“It comes to you,” Borowicz said. “You don’t have to go to Cincinnati or Chicago.”
Billed as “the world’s most people-powered film festival,” Manhattan Short started 19 years ago as a screen mounted to the side of a large truck parked on a public street in New York City. The festival grew slowly, eventually expanding to several screens in Union Square Park in the Big Apple. Its turning point came in 2001.
The festival was scheduled for the third week in September, Mason remembers. In the wake of 9/11, Union Square Park become a shrine for remembering victims of the terrorist attack as well as a central location for dozens of press vans from national and international news organizations. City officials saw the film festival as a way to move the park away from a place for grief and commiseration and urged Mason to continue with his plans for the festival.
“It was being in the right place at the worst of times,” Mason said.
Because of the presence of the world’s press corps, millions of viewers around the world became aware of the Manhattan Short Film Festival because of its presence on the news.
“Very few good things came out of 9/11, and Manhattan Short was one of them,” Mason said.
The following year, entries for the film festival doubled, and today it is an international event shown on 250 screens across six continents. Though it’s internationally known, the festival isn’t pretentious, Mason said. He plans it and relies on theaters across the world to show the films.
“Just me running this along with blokes like Dave,” he said.
This year, the 2016 festival received more than 800 entries. Picking the finalist isn’t east, but Mason is proud of the process he uses to select the best entries. He selects films he feels need to be seen and puts them in an order he feels is most impactful for viewers, Mason said.
“We look for a good beginning and a good ending,” Mason said. “We choose films that must be seen, films that generate awareness and make you stop and think about yourself and the world.”
For example, “Kaput,” an entry submitted from Germany, is an animated documentary that explores Hoheneck, a women’s prison in the former East Germany. The film left Mason speechless, he said.
“I couldn’t talk,” Mason said. “This film really shocked me. It really happened.”
The organization of the 10 films is very important, Mason said. A sad or dramatic film is typically followed by a comedy.
“We have to have a comedy to let people breath,” he said.
Mason, Scott and Borowicz agree that the quality of the Manhattan Short Film Festival reaches an extraordinary level. Among the films that were shown at the Ricks last year, “Bear Story” went on to win an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.
The decision to open up voting to the viewing public instead of turning to a panel of celebrities was a good one, Mason said. It gives the public a chance to weigh in, he said.
The Manhattan Short Film Festival will stop in Greenfield Sept. 23.
Ten short films will be played at 7 p.m. at the H.J. Ricks Centre Theatre, 122 W. Main St., Greenfield. The show runs about 2 hours.
Tickets cost $6.