Can a successful feature film debut be crowd-sourced? The Feature Film Project, an offshoot of MANHATTAN SHORT, aims to find out just that. This spring, we’re launching what we hope is a totally innovative program, one that lets the movie-going public vote on whether or not a feature film should be given a week-long run in theatres across the country.

The idea for the Feature Film Project grew out of a conversation, aptly enough, with a film director. I was interviewing Neil LaBute for the 2011 MANHATTAN SHORT festival. LaBute wrote and directed “Sexting,” a finalist in that year’s competition. One of the questions I always ask finalists is, “What advice do you have for first-time filmmakers?” Without missing a beat, LaBute responded: “I’d tell them to stop talking about your film in Starbucks, and start shooting it in Starbucks. With the technology available today, there’s no better time than now to be a filmmaker. We can’t even imagine the films kids today are going to come up with tomorrow.”

MANHATTAN SHORT has brought new directors—and their short films—to the world’s attention for more than a decade. But after I chatted with LaBute last year, I realized we could be instrumental in helping discover new feature films and directors, too. MANHATTAN SHORT started on the island bearing its name, but branched out beyond New York City in 2004, adding screenings in seven states. In 2012, we did over 1,000 screenings in over 300 cities, on each of the six (habitable) continents—all in the course of one week. At MANHATTAN SHORT, our audience members select the best film from among the 10 semi-finalist shorts they watch. The film they choose wins the top prize. There’s no jury. At our festival, the audience award is everything.

And that’s what we’re hoping to bring to feature filmmakers with the Feature Film Project. Applying the same spirit of public involvement we’ve championed for more than a decade with MANHATTAN SHORT, we think we can really change the way small, independent films gain exposure.

On Thursday, March 21st, one selected feature film will screen in more than 100 cinemas across the USA. The audience at each venue will be asked one simple question: Should this film come back in six weeks for a week-long, theatrical release? If the majority of the audiences votes “yes,” the film comes back.

In 2012, 155 cinemas across the United States took part in the 15th annual Manahattan Short festival. That was a huge increase from the 90 cinemas that participated in 2011. In 2013, we’re anticipating as many as 250 cinemas participating across the US. And we’ll be channeling the Feature Film Project through those same venues; that’s why we’re certain that the Feature Film Project is an unparalleled opportunity for up-and-coming filmmakers to reach an unprecedented audience. In this day and age, where even if you get distribution from IFC you’re lucky to get screenings in New York and Los Angeles, to get the opportunity to show at 100 theatres is an enormous boon.

The films I remember most fondly, the films that have stayed with me since childhood, are the films I saw in the cinema. That’s the main reason the Feature Film Project is dedicated to putting new feature films before the public—on the big screen. Manhattan Short has the distribution network, and MovieMaker Magazine has the soapbox to shout from. All we need now is your film.

The deadline for submitting to The Feature Film Project is December 31st, 2012. For rules, entry forms, participating cinemas, and a bunch of other stuff, visit: MM