The Manhattan Short Film Festival Makes Its Way Back to Metro Detroit

A look at the week-long event where attendees pick their favorite films and forecast Oscar nods
manhattan short film festival
Photograph courtesy of the Manhattan Short Film Festival

During the first week of October, thousands of film fanatics across the world will attend the Manhattan Short Film Festival. For more than two decades, this week-long celebration has showcased 10 independent movies in arthouses, libraries, and theaters in 350 cities around the globe. These 10 films are narrowed down by event organizers from a pool of anywhere between 1,200-1,700 short films — each lasting no more than 20 minutes — submitted to Manhattan Short on July 31 of every year. The job of festival attendees is to vote for the winners. Past years’ winners have even gone on to receive Academy Award nominations. Bear Story, which took bronze at the Manhattan Short Film Festival in 2015, also won the Oscar for best animated short film the following year.

The festival was established in 1998 by Nick Mason. Not to be referred to as a film connoisseur, Mason describes himself rather as a film enthusiast. “I don’t deal with film festivals,” Mason says, and it seems counterintuitive. “When I go to conferences where there are a lot of film festival directors, I find them incredibly boring.” That’s because, Mason contends, the Manhattan Short Film Festival is not a traditional film festival — the kind that dictates to its audience what they must like and dislike. Instead, Manhattan Short takes direction from its viewers. Organizers have been keeping a spreadsheet charting audience voting patterns over the past 22 years, and from that, they can glean viewer preferences. “In a way now, we can look at films and say women 50-plus in New England are going to like this.” That’s the kind of information  used to curate the list of 10 finalists. “It’s programmed by the audience,” Mason says. 

The accessibility of the festival attests to this notion. In metro Detroit, there are nearly 20 participating locations, the majority being libraries (visit for locations). “Libraries are an amazingly powerful forum,” Mason says. DeAidre Jones, a librarian at the Detroit Public Library, which started participating in Manhattan Short in 2018, believes that hosting the festival is a mutually beneficial opportunity for the library and its patrons. “Libraries are free and open to the public, and they appeal to a wide demographic. A lot of people come to the Detroit Public Library, because it’s very picturesque. So, when they hear we have interesting programming, that gives them an extra reason to come.” Jones, who does not claim to be a film buff in any capacity, was pleasantly surprised by last year’s roster of films. “A few of them were not my flavor,” she laughs, “but they were very high-quality films, and I’m looking forward to this year.” That Jones is such convert should be proof that you might be one, too. 

This Year’s Manhattan Short Film Festival Finalists

A Family Affair, United Kingdom

Annabelle wakes up alone in a stranger’s bedroom on her 30th birthday and doesn’t think the day can get any worse. But then Bernard walks in and he is far from being the man of her dreams.

At the End of the World, U.S.

In an apocalyptic future, during the last World War, a government worker finds solace with a soldier. But their future comes into question when the soldier is sent back into battle.

Debris, U.S.

This visceral glimpse of the world of human labor trafficking follows construction worker
Armando, who acts quickly to save his crew after a disaster on site. Instead, he stumbles on an unspeakable truth.

Driving Lessons, Iran

Local laws require that Bahareh’s husband accompany her to driving lessons to prevent her and her driving instructor from spending time alone. But the task proves far more difficult as the two men have trouble getting along.

Malou, Germany

After being rejected by an esteemed dance school, Malou gets a chance to prove that she’s destined to achieve her dreams — despite the odds seemingly stacked against her.

The Match, Finland

Two middle-aged women turn a friendly game of tennis into an intense competition. Yet they come together at the close of the match upon discovering they share one thing in common.

Nefta Football Club, France

Two football-loving brothers find a donkey lost on the border between Tunisia and Algeria. The big question they’re aiming to answer is: Why is the donkey wearing headphones over its ears?

Sylvia, United Kingdom

Our love affair with the automobile means a car can feel like it is part of the family. And sometimes even more than that.

This Time Away, United Kingdom

An elderly recluse lives his life haunted by memories of the family he once had, until a non-human visitor arrives and disrupts his isolation.

Tipped, Canada

A waitress at an upscale restaurant finally reaches her tipping point with a table of difficult customers, and whips up a special dish of revenge.