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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The vast majority of aspiring filmmakers begin their careers working within the short space, honing their crafts, techniques, and voices in small, ten-to-twenty minute cinematic bursts. With these short films, writers, directors, and actors alike can announce themselves to the world, with a handful of them being recognized annually at the world’s biggest awards ceremonies.

But often, these short works go largely unseen and unnoticed by the general movie-going public, the films relegated mostly to art-house qualifying runs in New York and Los Angeles. By the time the most acclaimed shorts make it to the Oscar Night telecast, a large portion of the viewing audience is still entirely in the dark about the nominees.

Music and Film

By Brett Fieldcamp

Sponsored by True Sky Credit Union

For years, the “Manhattan Short Film Festival” has sought to remedy the public’s ignorance of the shorts world by sifting through the hundreds of worldwide submissions, choosing ten finalists, and then, over one week, screening those ten shorts in theaters all across the world and allowing the audiences the chance to vote on their favorites.

With Oklahoma City Museum of Art as one of the participating theaters, OKC audiences will have the honor of seeing the ten finalists for 2021, and voting for Best Film and Best Actor, through October 3rd.

The finalists for 2021 hail from eight different countries, and represent a wide age, race, gender, and experience range.

“Death by Handshake” (USA)

Presented in an unexpected “mockumentary” style, this tracks the experience of 16-year-old writer, director, and star Hudson Flynn as he copes with living in an NYC apartment with his parents throughout the COVID-19 pandemic of last year. Flynn is very clearly copping a Woody Allen-type style as he blurs all lines of reality and production and speaks to the camera in a kind of COVID-era, teenage “Annie Hall.”

“Ganef” (UK)

London, 1962: A Jewish mother, having lived through the worst oppression imaginable as a child in Germany, imparts to her young daughter the risks of trusting someone, no matter how close. Set entirely within their beautiful London home, and told mainly from the perspective of a confused and scared young girl, this is a gorgeously shot and emotionally heavy story of, as director Mark Rosenblatt says, how our trauma can be inherited by the next generations.

“Bad Omen” (Afghanistan)

A day in the life of an Afghan widow as she struggles to get her two children to school, complete her work as a dressmaker, and raise money to pay for new glasses, all while attempting to mourn her husband, recently lost to the civil war. Leading actress Fereshta Afshar gives a deeply affecting and vulnerable performance, offering grief, success, failure, humiliation, and love, sometimes all simultaneously, within the short 16-minute runtime, all quietly and internally. Not just a simple and beautiful short, but with the recent reclamation of Afghanistan by the Taliban, now also something of a time capsule piece of a woman’s life in the country before they retook control.

“Rough” (Northern Ireland)

A man and his dog must both face the consequences of an unfortunate run-in with a mob boss’s beloved cat. This short practically plays jump-rope with the line between tragedy and comedy. Fair warning: If you’re a pet-lover, this one is going to be a bit of a difficult watch.

“Archibald’s Syndrome” (France)

A man with an exceptionally unusual “psycho-kinetic” condition robs a bank and takes a troublemaking young woman hostage. Something of a small-scale adventure-comedy, this not only involves one of the most original and unique ideas you’ll see in this lineup but easily one of the most creative ideas you’ve seen in any film in years. No spoilers here, because the reveal is too much fun, but suffice to say that Archibald’s “syndrome” is guaranteed to be your main topic of conversation all through the screening’s intermission.

“Archibald’s Syndrome” (provided)

“The Kicksled Choir” (Norway)

(see feature photo) A boy living in the frozen Norwegian north with his coarse, volatile father dreams of joining the charitable, traveling town choir that raises money and resources for ethnic refugees. With the snowy, sunny, expansive Scandinavian landscape as the backdrop, the cinematography becomes the real star here, alongside the gentle, ambient score. The story is simple, and arguably easily predictable, but the heart and emotional commitment to the tale and its characters provides a worthy entry into the list of finalists.

“Closed to the Light” (Italy)

The “Black Brigades” of 1940’s Italy stormed through the countryside, leaving murder and devastation in their wake, all in an effort to protect fascism and nationalism. Perhaps the most difficult of the screening’s films to describe or define, as its ten minutes are spent solely on staggeringly beautiful, wordless visuals. No plot, no dialogue, no cuts. Just a shockingly profound meditation on the cost of resilience and the frightening ease of corrupting youth.

“Out of Time” (France)

An assisted-living facility, a manager fed up with a young man’s interruptions, and a mother attempting to calm the many difficult emotions in play. In fewer than ten minutes, this entry explores the ravages of age, the stubbornness of youth, the permanence of family, the possibilities of communication, and surprisingly, the beauty of modern dance. A stunning short film that fully embraces the capabilities of short-form storytelling.

“Aurora” (USA)

The lone animated film, and the shortest entry by far, this five-minute stick-figure cartoon recounts the bond of a girl and her favorite horse, and how she learns the heartbreak of loss and the life-affirming feeling of opening your heart to new connections and new friends over time. Fair warning again: This is bound to be another tearjerker for any pet-lover.

“Monsieur Cachemire” (Canada)

A wild, boisterous, cowboy-hatted businessman sits down with a bank manager and asks for a sizable loan. Why? So that he can find the lost city of El Dorado, of course. This completely wacky and unimpeachably enjoyable short could be perfect as a classic two-man comedy sketch, but the wild flashback visuals, saturated color palette, and beat-perfect editing elevate the whole affair squarely into the ranks of these ten finalists.

You can see all the shorts for yourself, and cast your own ballot for the winners, as OKCMOA hosts another weekend of screenings for the finalists of the “Manhattan Short Film Festival.” Check showtimes and reserve your tickets at okcmoa.com.

Last Updated September 28, 2021, 10:48 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor