The Manhattan Short Film Festival, now in its 18th year, comes to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center this weekend. The 10 finalists from eight countries will compete to win Best Film and Best Actor, as determined by Island viewers and those from more than 250 cities.
The strongest of the 10 includes “Grounded,” from France, a suspenseful story that everyone who has flown on a commercial airline will identify with. The story begins with an alarm clock and the couple it awakens. The woman is an airline agent, and the viewer follows her to work at a ticket counter next to a second agent. The suspense builds when a man and woman with a 3-month-old baby arrive at the second agent’s counter and are turned away when they can’t produce their baby’s birth certificate. The frantic mother tells the second agent her mother has died and she must get to the funeral. Bureaucracy takes over, with one obstacle after another keeping mother and child from boarding their airplane. Then the first agent takes over and tries to help.
From Kosovo, the long-disputed border region between Albania and Serbia, comes the gripping entry “Shock.” It begins with two men driving in a car who find an abandoned bicycle in their path. One of them gets out and leaves with the bike. In a flashback, the film cuts to two Albanian boys, one of whom has a bike he has saved up for by selling almonds. A Serbian soldier gruffly appropriates the bike for his nephew, as the friction between Albanians and Serbians escalates. In the end, the Serbian soldiers expel one boy’s family from their home, where his friend has just spent the night. The film ends with a tragic twist derived from the biblical story about Sodom and Gomorrah.
In “Listen,” from Finland, a Muslim woman shrouded in a burqa appears in a police station, where an interpreter conveys the woman’s troubles. She says she fears for her and her son’s life because of her husband’s abuse and threats. It becomes clear that the officials don’t understand the woman’s dilemma and that the translator doesn’t translate all that the woman is saying. Outside in the hallway, the woman’s teenage boy listens to music on his headphones, then asks to use a phone and calls his father to come pick up him and his mother.
Two little girls appear at the center of “Dad in Mum,” a second film from France. They have awakened at night and hear sounds coming from their parents’ bedroom. The older child explains to her younger sister what is going on in typically childish and humorous lingo, and the film ends with a surprise.
A stop-action animated entry, “Bear Story,” comes from Chile. Replete with what appears to be a room full of gears, a mechanical bear prepares to go out into his neighborhood with a large box on his bicycle. His box contains a tiny theater, and when a bear child arrives as his audience, a story unfolds. In it, soldiers beat people, and the bear that is the central figure is put in a cage and made to perform as a circus animal. He escapes on his tricycle, only to find his home ravaged but his wife and child safe. “Patch” from Switzerland is a second, very short stop-action animation, in which a series of squares move from an abstract design into human and animal figures.
Imaginative if less engrossing is “Forever Over” from Germany. Here the woman in a relationship complains of boredom, and encourages her partner to have them both write down their wishes and dreams, then act them out. The wishes fulfilled include a ménage à trois, the smashing up of a car, and an astronaut’s walk on the moon. Somewhat overwrought if realistic is “Sundown,” from Turkey, where a woman on a beach goes home to find her mother dead. The entry from the U.S. is called “El Camino Solo,” and it traces what happens to a man who runs out of gas on a lonely stretch of road on the West Coast. A second German entry is “Bis Gleich,” about a man who spends his days watching a woman in a window across the street and the people who pass below daily.
After viewers across the world have viewed the 10 finalists and voted on their favorite film and actor, the results will be announced on Monday, Oct. 5, at manhattanshort.com. Manhattan Short is the only film festival in the world that takes place simultaneously in theaters around the world.
Manhattan Short Film Festival, Friday, Oct. 2, 4 pm; Saturday, Oct. 3, and Sunday, Oct. 4, 7:30 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. For information and tickets, see mvfilmsociety.com.