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Shown are capsules of the nine films that will be featured in Arts of the Albemarle’s screening of this year’s Manhattan Short Film Festival.

Arts of the Albemarle’s The Center has reopened its McGuire Theater just in time for this year’s Manhattan Short Film Festival.

Closed since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, AoA plans to host socially distanced screenings of the 23rd annual festival in The Center’s upstairs theater starting Sunday at 3 p.m.

According to AoA Executive Director Laurie Edwards, each screening of the festival’s nine short films will be limited to 30 people. Masks must be worn upon entering and exiting the theater but can be removed once you’re seated.

Other screenings of the films, which have a combined running time of about 2 hours and 15 minutes, will be Friday, Oct. 23 and 30, and Saturday, Oct. 31. Those showings will be at 7 p.m.

This year marks either the fourth or fifth time AoA has hosted screenings of the Manhattan Short Film Festival. The event, which bills itself as the world’s first global film festival, is typically held over a 7-10 day period. Because of the COVID crisis, however, screening dates were extended for the entire month of October. This year’s festival in fact began Sept. 24 and will continue through Oct. 31.

The festival features short films from around the world. This year’s lineup includes “Safe Space,” a roughly 6-minute film from Australia that highlights two police detectives’ interrogation of a witness. Another film, “The Stick,” was made in Finland and has a running time of 11 minutes. It tells the story of a girl who dreams of owning a dog.

At 24 minutes, “The Present” from Palestine is the longest of the films featured. It tells the story of a West Bank shopping trip that turns dangerous. “Maestro,” an animated film from France, is the shortest film. Its running time is a minute and 40 seconds and follows a stick-wielding squirrel.

Other films in the festival include “Exam” from Iran; “Hey, Gray” from Russia; “White Eye” from Israel; “Sticker” from North Macedonia; and “Two Little Boys” from the U.S.

Edwards described each of the films as “thought-provoking and sophisticated.”

“They’re for film buffs who like to go see movies that make them think,” she said.

Edwards said each of the films was chosen by Manhattan Short’s staff, who watched 971 films from 54 countries before narrowing the festival’s lineup to nine.

Past versions of the Manhattan Short Film Festival have been well attended, Edwards said. The event is also highly anticipated.

“People call and ask about it,” Edwards said. “We’ve had people who started calling in September because they knew it was ‘festival time.’”

Part of the appeal is that audience members are allowed to vote on the festival’s best film and best performance by an actor/actress. At each venue where the festival is screened, audience members are issued a voting card, and after the show’s over, they get to mark their choices.

Edwards said AoA will collect audience votes after each screening and send them off to the festival’s staff. The winners will be announced on the festival’s website, ManhattenShort.org, on Nov. 1.

Although AoA has only four scheduled screenings of the festival, it will host private screenings for persons who, because of the pandemic, have concerns about attending a performance with other people.

“If someone is concerned about COVID, they can call us up and ask for a private screening,” Edwards said. “We’re happy to do that because we can understand people have concerns about safety.”

Private screenings can be scheduled anytime between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on either Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, she said.

“Call us and we’ll find a way to make it happen,” Edwards said.

Besides hosting the annual Manhattan Short Film Festival, Edwards said her goal for AoA is to find independent films that can be screened each month. She said the films wouldn’t compete with commercial theaters’ offerings because they likely would be foreign or experimental.

“I’d like to see us start an Elizabeth City Film Society,” she said.

The society likely would screen one film a month.

Tickets for the Manhattan Short Film Festival are $15. Edwards said Thursday about half the 30 seats for Sunday’s screening had been sold, while about a third of the tickets for the other three screenings are spoken for.

For more information, call 338-6455, ext. 225 or email ledwards@artsaoa.com.