On June 22 there will be a little taste of Kazakhstan in Washington. Perhaps a little Korea or India better suits your taste? If you are looking for something a little rushed, there is a 48 Hour challenge, or if you just have a few minutes, some DC Shorts.
For those in the know, these don’t refer to restaurants or urban athletics but an underappreciated trend in the cultural life of our city. While nobody was watching, except for those who attended them, Washington has become something of a film festival mecca.
Each year, according to Jon Gann, organizer of the seven-year-old DC Shorts — in which all entries have to be under 10 minutes — there are approximately 75 film festivals in the D.C. area. Nobody seems to quite know many exactly because there are new ones all the time. “I get calls every week from someone saying, “I want to start a film festival. How do I do it?” He credits the cheap accessibility of technology, film schools pumping out people on a mission to make their great opus, and a thirst for something other than the latest canned Hollywood profit enterprise.
And it is not just film festivals. There are regular screenings and documentary award gatherings like the CINE Awards, Emmys, and Kennedy Center Honors awards. Perhaps the most prestigious U.S. documentary festival, Silverdocs, takes place in Silver Spring each summer, and the world’s largest documentary conference, RealScreen, takes over a downtown hotel each spring.
And all this in a town that traditionally “frowns on people who wear black,” jokes Lauren Cardillo, an independent film maker and one of the folks behind the CINE Awards. Award-winning documentary makers Sean and Andrea Nix Fine (Sundance-winning “War Dance”) see it as the difference between watching a movie at home and going to the film screening — where the audience has a richer experience and the ability to interact with the moviemakers themselves. “For us it is also an amazing experience to watch people react to our work.”
Susan Barocas, who heads the DCJCC’s 16-year-old Jewish Film Festival, which had 60 films last year, also says it provides an alternative route to get movies seen as the distribution network has consolidated, squeezing out the small filmmaker.
Credit is due to National Geographic and Discovery, which about two decades ago laid the foundation to make D.C. a hive for independent filmmakers. Yet, to quote comedian Rodney Dangerfield, we still get no respect when it comes to filmmaking, even though D.C. is closing in rapidly on L.A. and New York in festival stature.
Filmmaker Sean Fine says that when he is asked at festivals elsewhere where he is from, people seem reluctant to believe that D.C. could be a hub for filmmakers. But if L.A. has its Hollywood, and New York its Tribeca, DC has its Potomac, and these days lots of great little movies run through it.
The next time you see an eclectic mob strolling out of an embassy wearing a pensive smile, nod knowingly. Or wait for the next showing — another film is likely already being cued up.
Don’t miss these festivals coming up in Washington:
DC Shorts festival (September 9-16) — www.dcshorts.com
Truly independent short films, created by new and established filmmakers with a special focus on films by Washington D.C.-based directors and writers.
ReelAffirmations (October 14-23) — www.reelaffirmations.org
Films focusing on the GLBTQ experience.
Arabian Sights Film Festival (October 9-18) — www.filmfestdc.org/arabiansights
Offering the newest and most provocative films from the Arab world (an offshoot of the D.C. International Film Festival).
Washington Jewish Film Festival (December 2-12) — www.wjff.org
New and award-winning films from around the world, telling unexpected stories on the Jewish experience and debunking stereotypes.
Capital Irish Film Festival (December 2-12) — www.irishfilmdc.org
Featuring the work of contemporary Irish directors. Produced by Solas Nua.
Amos Gelb is the director for the George Washington University’s Semester in Washington Journalism program. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.