On Friday, September 28th, I attended a screening of the 21st Annual Manhattan Short Film Festival. It is a national film festival, taking place across six continents and in over 350 venues, including the Little Cinema in Pittsfield, where I saw it. I had never done anything like this before so I was very excited and ready to see what all the hype was about. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint. When my mother and I first walked into the lobby, we were given voting ballots that, following the conclusion of the films, we would use to vote for our favorite short film as well as our favorite actor. The price to get in was very reasonable: $7.50 for non-members and $5 for members. Out of ten total, the first film to play was called Baghead, one of my personal favorites from the UK. It is about a man so overcome with grief and pain that he pays a visit to the basement of a local pub, and is able to see his dead wife again with the help of an eerie, mysterious sorceress who transforms into her. I’m usually not great with scary things, but this was definitely in my top 3 because of the sheer creativity in its direction and lighting alone. On top of this, I was constantly on edge with all of the twists and turns – there was never a dull moment.
My next favorite is from New Zealand, called Fire In Cardboard City. I love this one because the premise, although sad, came across as a light-hearted comedy in contrast to the previous short. It is about a town made of cardboard that catches on fire, and it is up to the fire chief and his deputies to save everyone. The audience was taken on a roller coaster of emotions, surprisingly, feeling sad for the cardboard, happy, and even scared at times. It was quite clever and very enjoyable.
Finally, I had the pleasure of watching a film submitted from the UK once again, called Two Strangers Who Meet Five Times. Written and directed by Marcus Markou, it’s about two strangers who first meet at an ATM and continue to cross paths over the span of 60+ years. One man named Samir is taking his time at the machine while another man, Alistair, impatiently stands behind him and decides to insult his perceived race and religion. Samir calmly walks away without starting a fight, although looking completely annoyed. They meet four more times, all under very different circumstances. For example, the third time, Samir sees Alistair homeless on a bench with all of his belongings asking for spare change. Alistair immediately recognizes him and once he apologizes for his behavior, we see Samir’s face drop, finally recalling who he is encountering. Without a word, he walks away. To everyone’s surprise, he later comes back with a substantial amount of money from the ATM that he generously gives to Alistair in his time of need. The last time they meet is when they are both old men, and Samir is in some kind of nursing home. We see Alistair walk in and say that he is going to be Samir’s volunteer helper for the day, who seems to have Alzheimer’s. It is evident that neither of them recognize each other, yet they are brought together again when it is Samir’s time of need. This film was my absolute favorite and I hoped it would win which, fortunately, it did! I cried twice in a span of 12 minutes which should speak to just how powerful and moving it is. I loved every heart-wrenching, relevant moment of it. Markou fits in a lot of intense ideas in a such a short span of time. He focuses on the importance of compassion and caring for others, despite race, religion, or financial security. Two Strangers Who Meet Five Times is a lovely, thought-provoking, artistic, well-acted, short story with a well-deserved win.