Manhattan Short Film Festival visits Paramount Theater

The audience judged works by nine directors representing eight different countries

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Armie Hammer was one of the more recognizable actors in the Manhattan Film Festival, which showed at the Paramount.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Each year, for one week, theaters across the world screen the Manhattan Film Festival’s selection of finalist films. Unlike other festivals, the audience gets to participate, voting on their favorite film and actor after the showing.  

The festival came to Charlottesville last month on Sept 30. Attendance exceeded expectations, as the Paramount staff quickly ran out of ballots and programs. The Charlottesville audience groaned, yelped and laughed throughout the festival. According to Matthew Simon, Director of Operations and Programming at the Paramount, Charlottesville usually votes similarly to the results of the festival.

Founded in 1998, the Manhattan Film Festival started out as the Independent Features Festival. This year, founder Nicholas Mason came from New York to introduce the screening, which included nine films.

“Baghead”

Directed by Alberto Corredor Marina, the British film “Baghead” is set in the dingy backroom of a London bar. The central character is a witch, with — guess what — a bag over its head. A man visits the witch in hopes of communicating with his departed wife. While the shocking and dramatic visual effects are effective, they do not make up for overacting on the part of the protagonist and his wife. 

“Fire in Cardboard City”

Earning uproarious laughter throughout, the comical New Zealand short film “Fire in Cardboard City” was directed and animated by Phil Brough. A city made of cardboard is in utter peril, and it’s up to the unassuming fire chief to save his citizens. This proves challenging when the cardboard fire hose itself lights on fire. The quick-paced, physical comedy film was by far the most light-hearted of the finalists.  

“Home Shopper”

Reminiscent of Roald’s Dahl’s classic story “Lamb to the Slaughter,” English actor Dev Patel’s directorial debut “Home Shopper” stars Sophie Kargman as an unhappy housewife. Armie Hammer plays a TV spokesman and Thomas Sadoski plays the protagonist’s chauvinistic husband. The darkly funny film effectively uses color and dramatic shots but can’t overcome an ever-present anachronistic disconnect, as though the characters belong decades earlier than their setting. 

“Her”

From Kosovo comes the film “Her,” directed by More Raca, a visually and emotionally gripping story about family, domestic violence and freedom. Featuring harsh settings and many long moments of eye contact, “Her” immerses the viewer in the discomfort and pain the female characters experience. Raca presents two women at two stages of life, both trapped by men, who may both still have the opportunity to escape, ultimately offering hope for people in similar situations.

“Two Strangers Who Meet Five Times”

From British director Marcus Markou comes “Two Strangers Who Meet Five Times,” the most politically relevant of the films, centered around a dramatic turn of events following a public display of Islamophobia. The heavy-handed film relies on too-convenient coincidence to remind that humans are not born racist or xenophobic, but learn such prejudices, and also have the capacity to apologize and forgive. 

“Someone”

“Someone,” the raw and devastating German film from director Marco Gadge is part interview with Greta Meininger and part dramatic interpretation of the events she experienced as a teenager. Meininger tells her violent story from the end of World War II, her eyes revealing her pain. The dramatic portions are often hard to watch, but reveal a powerful message about sacrifice for the sake of mankind.

“Chuchotage”

From Hungarian director Barnabás Tóth comes “Chuchotage,” a silly and serious story about two Hungarian translators working at a conference in Prague, attempting to locate their lone listener. The title refers to the concept of translation of speech in a whisper to one person near other people. The delightfully surprising short subtly raises thought-provoking questions about what it means to be a participant in life and whether or not acts of courage are worth the risk of failure. 

“Fauve” 

“Fauve,” the gut-wrenching Canadian film directed by Jérémy Comte, depicts the playfulness and seemingly untroubled nature of childhood friendship in a hardened wasteland setting around and in a surface mine in Quebec. Two boys, competing with each other and their unforgiving surroundings, eventually make a devastating mistake. The film is notable for its gradual rise in tension and emotional immersiveness. 

“Lacrimosa”

From Austrian director Tanja Mairitsch comes “Lacrimosa,” its title the Latin for weeping. The surrealist drama revolves around young love and heartbreak. While it could be five or more minutes shorter, the film offers stunning visuals and an impressive use of underwater effects. 

The ballots were cast by attendees and counted following the event. “Two Strangers Who Meet Five Times" won for Best Film, and Felix Grenier, the young star of "Fauve" won for Best Actor.

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