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Manhattan Short festival to screen in Big Sky, around the globe

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“Love, Dad” is one of 10 short films that will be shown at the Manhattan Short Film Festival. The film, directed by Diana Cam Van Nguyen, follows a woman’s journey rediscovering letters her father sent from prison. PHOTO COURTESY OF MANHATTAN SHORT

Festival aims to bring diverse cultural enrichment to global communities through film

By Julia Barton DIGITAL PRODUCER

BIG SKY – In 1998, Nicholas Mason hosted the first Manhattan Short Film Festival by attaching a screen to the side of a truck in New York City and projecting 16 short films to a 300-person crowd. Now in its 25th year, the festival will screen simultaneously in more than 500 venues across the globe, including at The Independent in Big Sky on Sept. 22. 

The festival has previously screened in Helena but this year, the show at The Independent will be the only screening in Montana. The Arts Council of Big Sky wanted to bring Manhattan Short to Big Sky for years, and thanks to its relationship with The Independent, that dream is now a reality.

Manhattan Short became the world’s first global film festival by striving to reach diverse communities of various sizes, Mason said.

“When a community like Big Sky writes to me, of course I’m going to take the time out for them,” he said. “It’s that mission of getting into as many communities as we can…it breaks borders down and it’s healthy—it allows us to see and think and inspire the mind.”

The year 2001 was pivotal for Manhattan Short. Less than two weeks prior to the festival, on Sept. 11, two hijacked commercial airplanes crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. In the days following 9/11, Union Square Park—the festival’s venue—became a gathering place for New Yorkers to grieve their losses. 

Mason was urged not to cancel Manhattan Short, and on Sept. 23, 2001, the festival went on as planned. Global news media was still reporting on the city’s recovery from 9/11, and with the film festival taking place in such a vital gathering place, the event received world-wide attention from the media. 

“If 9/11 didn’t happen, I don’t think the idea would have grown,” Mason said. 

After the show in Union Square Park in 2001, the film festival began expanding outside of New York City. The films aired in 72 venues across the country by 2005 and celebrity judges were replaced with votes from the audience to select a winning film. The following year, Mason convinced 20 European venues to screen the short films and collect votes. 

In 2022, the Manhattan Short films will screen in six continents at over 500 different locations. All of the screenings will take place simultaneously during one week and audience members will vote on their favorite film. 

“Manhattan Short is something completely fresh, at least for this community,” said Jane Liivoja, events coordinator for the Arts Council. “It just feels like something special that we can bring to Big Sky.” 

Since The Independent’s opening in January, Liivoja feels that the Arts Council has fostered a “symbiotic relationship” with the venue. Having a local space for high quality art like what will be featured in the Manhattan Short films is a crucial part of community, she said. 

Earlier this month, the Arts Council brought Mountainfilm on Tour—an adventure-packed short film festival based out of Colorado—to The Independent, and the screening received a positive response. Finding art to bring in that resonates with the community is a difficult task and often requires some trial and error, Liivoja said, but she is hopeful that Manhattan Short receives similar feedback. 

“Big Sky doesn’t get many of these independent films. It’s going to be this worldwide cultural experience too, because these films are coming from all over the world,” Liivoja said. “I think people are going to be surprised in a good way at the quality and the different narratives.”

As Big Sky is situated in a somewhat culturally isolated area, locals often refer to the lack of diversity as the “Big Sky bubble.” Art can be a valuable tool to help provide more diverse cultural experiences to the community, according to Liivoja. 

“This is our mission as an organization to bring enriching experiences to the community,” Liivoja said. “I think some of these events make people pop that bubble a little bit and maybe get excited for something new and different.”

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