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How a film festival screened on the side of a truck aims to go global

Posted at 4:37 PM on September 22, 2008 by Euan Kerr

Nicholas Mason says he started the Manhattan Short Film Festival a few years ago projecting movies onto the side of a truck in Union Square Park in New York. It was a fun event and he use to arrange for celebrity judges to come in to award prizes.

Then, came September 11th and everything changed. The park which was very close to Ground Zero became a center for people who had come to grieve, and it also was a place where many of the international media had set up their satellite trucks.

The festival was scheduled for a few days after the attacks, and Mason was sure it was toast as a result.

"And I thought, 'Oh well, hell! They are going to call this off, they're gonna call the festival off for sure, I can't do it,'" Mason said today from his office in New York.

But it turned out the New York Parks department really wanted the event to go ahead, perhaps as a way of helping make a transition for the people camped out there. So Mason and his crew screened the films, and much to their delight several of the TV networks from around the world did stories about this festival rising from the ashes.

The unanticipated effect was the following years the Manhattan Film Festival office received a deluge of movies from around the world. Mason said it was fascinating to see what came over the transom, and he said it made for compelling viewing.

"The idea sort of came into our mind to somehow bring the world to see how other people felt was going on in the world," he says.

They tried a live webcast from the park in 2003 which as Mason puts it "fell on it's backside."

So in 2004 they arranged for screenings in 7 states at roughly the same time as the Manhattan screenings, and in what may be the master stroke, gave everyone in the audience a vote in the judging of best film.

The MSFF has taken off in the years since. This year it will screen in 115 cities in North and South America, Europe and Australia. Mason says it's his goal to add Asia next year, and Antarctica the year after that.

The Twin Cities screening is at the Oak Street Cinema on Saturday night.

"The same day I think you are doing it at Oak Street, it's also happening in Melbourne, it's also happening in St Petersburg, Russia, it's also happening in Buenos Aires, and in Mexico," Mason says.

The votes will be tallied and announced on Sunday night at 9pm central.

So are the films any good? Well a number have been subsequently nominated for Oscars. You can find the fill rundown on the festival website, but here's the trailer for "Ripple" by the British film maker Paul Gowers


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