A nondescript family vehicle approaches a guarded border checkpoint. A bearded man (Alexander Siddig from 24 and Battlestar Galactica) is driving; his wife sits in the passenger seat next to him. Their preadolescent daughter sits in the backseat, playing on her cellphone. The game she’s playing emits a stream of irritating electronic beeps, and her father, visibly nerve-wracked asks, practically pleads, for her to stop. As the car nears the guard station and the man rolls down his window, a perceptible but unspoken tension builds. The family is white (ish), clearly not Hispanic at any rate, so this won’t be one of those kind of border-crossing movies.
“Are you an American citizen?” the guard asks.
“Yes,” the man says, but his voice betrays an accent — foreign, perhaps Middle Eastern. This will be one of those kind of border-crossing
Sure enough, they’ve no sooner crossed than an alarm sounds and the man is quickly, and roughly, brought to a windowless room for exactly the kind of interrogation you’re expecting. The threat of Gitmo hangs heavy in the air, and the man’s wife, also detained, is an insulin-dependant diabetic.
“Boundary” is the only American entry chosen as a finalist in the 12th annual Manhattan Short Film Festival. For this year’s competition, the fest received 429 entries from 36 countries. Judges whittled those down to their 10 favorite films, which will screen at locations around the world this week, including San Antonio’s own Urban-15 Studios, and you, the viewer, will choose the ultimate winner. Or, more specifically, you and more than 100,000 other viewers in 173 cities across five continents will choose the winner.
Not every film in the fest is as serious as “Boundary,” which director Julius Onah explains is intended to give the governments secretive interrogation and detainment policies a “human component.” France’s animated “Skhizein” illustrates unfortunate Henry’s strange predicament when the impact of a giant meteorite leaves him exactly “91 centimeters from himself.” Henry seemingly levitates 91 centimeters from his therapist’s couch and appears to walk through a wall, exactly 91 centimeters from an open door. I have no idea what it means, but damn, is it cool
“Love Child,” a six-minute film from Sweden, gets some pretty mean-spirited laughs from the plight of a small girl who feels jealous and neglected after her father brings home a cat.
“Mozambique,” from the country of the same name, however, makes “The Border” look like Pollyanna. Chronicling 16-year-old filmmaker and AIDS orphan Alcides Soares’s attempt to reunite with his younger brother, the film also includes poignant interviews with Soares’s sister and adopted grandmother, and a very small percentage of other children left parentless by Mozambique’s HIV epidemic. (The film informs us that the country contains 9 million children under the age of 15, approximately 500,000 orphaned by AIDS.) The overall effect is similar to those “Save the children” ads, minus the pouty-faced, well-fed American tourist — and without the bullshit assurance that you can make all this go away “for the price of a cup of coffee.”
We keep hearing the internet has turned the world into a single sprawling village, but the Manhattan Short Film Festival — boasting not only an international lineup but a chance for film lovers from Kiev, Ukraine to Jakarta, Indonesia to San Antonio, Texas to come together in real life to democratically choose a single winner — is the rare event that actually feels like it’s making the globe a little smaller. The festival wouldn’t be possible without the awesome power of those inter-tubes, but it’s the element of face-to-face interaction and the sense of shared community experience that separate the Manhattan Festival from yet another MySpace video competition or YouTube meme.•
Manhattan Short Film Festival
7pm Fri, Sep 25 & Sat, Sep 26
2500 S. Presa