2019 Manhattan Short Film Festival offered emotion-packed entries at Picture House


The Pelham Picture House Regional Film Center hosted Thursday the Manhattan Short Film Festival, a celebration of short movies submitted from all corners of the world. The festival is a yearly event that began in 1997 and takes place in theaters in more than 400 cities. Theatergoers gather to view selected short films picked from hundreds of submissions. After the screening, viewers judged and selected their top three shorts along with their favorite actor. This year’s winners were:

  • Gold: “Sylvia,” directed by Richard Prendergast
  • Silver: “Nefta Football Club,” directed by Yves Piat
  • Bronze: “This Time Away,” directed by Magali Barbe

Veteran thespian John Standing won the award for best actor for his portrayal of Bernard in “A Family Affair,” which was directed by Florence Keith-Roach.

The three shorts that I concluded were the most touching and creative did not turn out to exactly match the list of winners. Here are my top three shorts along with my choice for the best actor:

My vote for the bronze short would have to be “At The End of The World,” directed by Fon Davis. The movie consisted of a man named John, played by Victor Manso, and a woman named Sara, played by A. Leslie Kies. During the turmoil of the last World War, two strangers bond over a simple concept, a video of penguins. Through nearly insurmountable odds, the strangers find companionship and love.

“At The End of the World” expertly encapsulated the feeling of discovery, wonder, simplicity and passion in times of distress and chaos. Manso and Kies, one of the candidates for the best actor, brought relatable and likable characters to life in situations that are hard to portray. With a set that looks as if it was crafted by a major movie studio, the short discusses the turbulence that comes in times of war. Families are separated; relationships are destroyed; people die. The message alone that the short highlighted, that love could persevere through the hardships of war, was enough for me to make this my third place film.

The short that undoubtedly deserves to be in the top three and wins my silver spot is “Sylvia”. One of the few films in the lineup that is based on real events, Sylvia tells the story of Sabrina Archery, played by Jolie Lennon, her family and her car named Sylvia. After falling into hard times, Sabrina must sell the car and with it the last connection to her old life.

“Sylvia” is a perfect mesh of good acting, compelling plot and emotional impactfulness. The short focused on how seemingly meaningless objects can become parts of the family. The primary twist in “Sylvia” is that the family that we see Sabrina surrounded by on her trip is not real. Instead, we learn through a letter directed towards the car’s new owner that Sylvia’s daughters and mother died in a fire a year before. She considered the car to be the only connection left, and now she must sell it in order to survive. Much like the man who inherits the car in the film, the story resulted in tears for a majority of the audience watching. The emotional jerk from seeing the happy family to the unclear farewell and then to the explanation makes for a masterpiece. This short earned a solid second place.

However, there was one short that above all stood out as the most meaningful and insightful.

“Debris,” directed by Julio O. Ramos, outmatched “Sylvia” by a thin margin for the gold spot in my eyes. “Debris” is about a man named Armand, played by Tenoch Huerta, and a terrible accident that leads to even more terrible revelations. Armando and his crew are illegal Mexican immigrants who face the constant danger of being discovered and deported. Therefore, his boss forbids the crew from leaving their workplace, insisting that they sleep where they work. When debris (hence the name) falls on one of Armando’s workers, gravely injuring him, he must protect him from the wrath of his boss and the danger of deportation.

First off, Huerta, my pick for best actor, handles the short with the most integrity and honest emotion out of the plethora of actors in the festival. His performance was the dominant contributor to the exceptional quality of the movie. Although the overall premise of “Debris” is equal to that of “Sylvia,” the factor that sets it apart is the theme’s relevance to today’s society. America is currently in a period of distress and disarray as thousands of illegal immigrants, specifically Mexican, are being deported. While deportation is possibly a viable solution to dealing with immigrants running from criminal activity, the system is flawed in dealing with desperate illegals who come to America as a last resort. This short accentuates the desperation and the unfair resulting consequences of Mexican immigrants coming to the U.S. It reveals the shocking behavior of Americans who take advantage of the cheap labor available from these immigrants, along with the awful working conditions and the desire by employers to maximize profits. The film was also the only one that does not wrap up the story in an easy way. Instead, the ending consists of the injured worker dying, two workers trying to run away with one succeeding, and Armando left on the floor unconscious from trying to defend his friend. So as to not reveal his illegal and immoral business dealings, the boss decides to kill the worker instead of risking going to a hospital.

So there it is; my top three. For anyone who missed this year, I strongly recommend looking out for a showing of the festival next year. These shorts not only surpassed my expectations, but they provided themes that reminded me of values that are necessary for life.