What the Best Short Films in the World Can Teach Us about Building Community
Monday, November 20, 2017 at 5:00AM
Nicole in Events, Film Festivals, Foreign Films, Reviews, shnit CINEMAS

Locals attend the closing night screening of the 2017 shnit International Short Film Festival in PhiladelphiaEvery time I host the shnit International Short Film Festival in Philadelphia, something amazing happens. Strangers from different parts of the city start talking to each other, dissecting their favorite selections from a lineup of (mostly) foreign films. During these discussions, audience members learn that they share similar viewpoints on certain films and in circumstances where people disagree, they still show consideration for perspectives unlike their own.

There always seems to be a film that stands out like a sore thumb, for better or worse. In 2015, it was Beauty, an Italian film exploring the cycle of life through classical paintings. Attendees collectively deemed this animated short “inappropriate" because of its nudity and related graphic imagery. In 2016, men and women in the audience realized that the one thing they had in common was their struggle in figuring out the meaning behind Drôle d'oiseau (Strange Bird) -- a Belgian film that tells the story of a man with Bipolar disorder.

So many different interpretations of Strange Bird led to an interesting debate about what really went down in that film. It’s a level of audience engagement that you won’t find on a typical day at your local movie theater. This year, the Austrian flick Oxytocin and Colombian drama Madre sparked the most audience discussion, particularly revolving around motherhood. Why such an of pairing of films would elicit similar responses still baffles my mind; Oxytocin is about a woman who lives with a lifelike doll whereas Madre tells the story of a 16 year-old girl who attends a casting call for an adult pornographic movie.

L'odeur après la pluie (The Smell after the Rain)Screening shnit has also become a learning experience for me, having realized over the years that there is no way to predict what someone else will enjoy watching. Moonkup, a French comedy fared better than I expected; audience members were into the story, despite the film being about women giving menstrual blood to maintain peace between vampires and humans.

 Die Badewanne (The Bathtub), a German comedy about three brothers trying to recreate a childhood photo, was hit-or-miss and I thought it would be well received. Then there is L'odeur après la pluie (The Smell after the Rain), a slow paced, uneventful Canadian film that I was sure would put people to sleep. This love story, about a widow and her old cowboy flame, turned out to be among the audience favorites.

It seems a program of foreign films can have a larger impact than one originally anticipated as well. I set out to bring communities together through the shared love of watching movies while helping filmmakers gain an audience for their work. During the festival, people from various walks of life ended up exploring parts of Philadelphia and its inhabitants in ways that they may not otherwise have the opportunity or interest to do so.

Suzi Nash and David Gana at Opening Night for the 2017 shnit International Short Film Festival in PhiladelphiaSome attendees this year were not familiar with the revitalization of the Bok building in South Philly nor Taller Puertorriqueño's newly constructed El Corazón Cultural Center in North Philly where I hosted the shnit Opening and Closing night screenings, respectively. A few fashion and accessories aficionados who attended the show at Bok expressed interest in shopping for wares at the upcoming Small Business Saturday event in the building.

A few women at the closing night screening inquired about art programs at Taller Puertorriqueño and renting the space for a private party. These experiences have taught me that the best thing about shnit goes far beyond providing locals with access to award-winning short films from around the world. It offers the ability to spark meaningful connections between ourselves and the places in which we live, work and socialize. Audience members weren't on their phones at these screenings in Philadelphia. They were completely engrossed in the stories, people and places playing out on the screen in front of them.

This year I met women who do not normally go to film festivals and also young men who do not watch foreign films. At the end of each screening, however, everyone could name a film they favored most. That goes to show how we may not speak the same language but we have the ability to understand and even relate to a vast spectrum of human emotions, experiences and behavior. As I gear up to expand the shnit experience on the east coast, I hope these mini movies can continue to become a springboard for building community amidst a diverse cultural landscape.


 

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