THE TOOTH Even aliens have dental needs.

Manhattan Short Film Festival
dir. Various
Thurs Sept 16
Hollywood Theater

Alright, hotshot. You fancy yourself quite the film expert, don't you? Yep, there you are, just bursting to shout out your opinions about everything from Takashi Miike to Harry Potter. But who gives a damn?

There's one guy who does: Nicholas Mason, the festival director for the Manhattan Short Film Festival. While the festival's been around since 1998, this year Mason's taking it to the people--instead of only screening in New York, the 12 finalists for the festival's prize will screen in Portland and six other cities.

In the past, the festival's judges have been actors and directors, but this year Mason decided to go for a more audience-based approach--this time, audience members will vote on which film will win. "In the years to come, these directors will be making feature films," Mason notes in the press release for the festival. "And the success of these films will rely on the reaction from the public. So who better to judge them than the general public?"

"These films got it right," Mason said in a phone interview when asked how he chose the 12 finalists from the over 620 international submissions. That's about all the short films have in common, however, as they range in tone from India's The Little Terrorist--which follows the true story of a 10-year-old Indian who crosses the Pakistani border--to Australia's computer animated The Tooth, about a young alien and his loose tooth.

Mason's not messing around with the power he's giving the festival's audiences. In addition to the hefty prize--an all-inclusive package of equipment needed to produce a feature film--past finalists in the competition have gone on to win the Oscar for Best Short Film and direct major features.

While this year's festival concludes on September 18 with a screening and announcement of the winner in Union Square Park in New York, Mason promises that next year the festival will be even bigger--giving a louder voice to both filmmakers and audiences. "This year, it's seven cities," he said. "Next year, it'll be 20."