FotoWeek DC Goes Global

July 26, 2011

In its third year, FotoWeek DC has already proven to be one of the most comprehensive and innovative photography festivals, not only in Washington but the world. The week-long festival takes place November 5 – November 13 and is comprised of programs that include monumental photo projections on the façades of DC’s famed architecture, all-night photo experiences, evocative exhibitions of award-winning images, as well as lectures and workshops led by internationally renowned photographers.

During the festival’s inaugural year, its awards competition was limited to the metro area. Theo Adamstein, President and Founder of FotoWeek DC, quickly realized that, in order for the festival to reach its full potential, they needed to think on a larger scale. “Photography is a universal language,” Adamstein said. “No matter where you are, how you grew up, if you can snap a photo, you can communicate.” The competition’s international appeal is evident, as this year FotoWeek DC received over 6,500 submissions from 34 countries. The International Awards Ceremony will kick off the festival on November 5, preceding the much anticipated launch party at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art & Design, the festival’s official partner.

Taking into account the broad, global scope of entries, the events this year will highlight the shifting growth of FotoWeek DC as a hallmark for the photography industry. It is clear there is a greater emphasis being placed on key genres such as social justice causes and environmental issues, as well as fine art. NightGallery, an exhibition which projects colossal images onto the façades of significant local architecture, will be showcasing these themes. “NightGallery is a visually dynamic theater, presenting large-scale projections of powerful photography that address important issues and themes from around the world,” said James Wellford, Senior Photo Editor of Newsweek Magazine and curator of the show “Projections of Reality,” which will be featured in NightGallery. “The images offer the opportunity to experience a series of visual stories that poignantly reflect upon our shared human condition.”

Wellford is accompanied in the NightGallery exhibition by three other distinguished photographers: Cristina Mittermeier, Executive Director and a Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers and curator of the environmental program “Life Live Here”; Andy Adams, Editor & Publisher of; and Larissa Leclair, photography writer and curator, whose fine arts show will feature work published on over the past four years, entitled 100 Portraits — 100 Photographers: Selections from the Archive. The NightGallery exhibition will be on display at eight Washington locations, including the Corcoran, whose programs will include “The City Unseen,” and “Literary Adaptation: 1920 – Contemporary Times,” both produced by nineteen students from the school’s BFA program. Along with the Corcoran, NightGallery can be seen on the Newseum, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, American Red Cross, National Museum of the American Indian, Satellite Central (3333 M Street NW), the Human Rights Campaign building, the House of Sweden, and Dupont Circle, located right in the heart of the hustle and bustle of the city. NightGallery literally turns an entire city into a massive canvas of work.

By partnering with FotoWeek DC, the Corcoran will serve as FotoWeek Central. It will be open to the public at no cost during FotoWeek, including Monday, November 8 and Tuesday, November 9 — days when the gallery is typically closed. Visitors will be able to view the award winning work from the International Awards Competition, listen to lectures by renowned photojournalists, and participate in workshops or portfolio reviews, where amateur and professional photographers can register to have their work critiqued by some of the best in the business.

A second location, the aforementioned Satellite Central, will feature FotoWeek DC programs as well. The 7,000 sq. ft. building will house a series of events to complement those taking place at the Corcoran. Satellite Central will showcase projection theatres, exhibitions, lectures, FotoBooks, special events, a thumbnail display including every photo submission to the International Awards Competition, and the 10-hour photo marathon known as NightVisions.

Photographers from any background can burn the midnight oil from 8pm on Saturday, November 6, to 6am on Sunday, November 7, for NightVisions. Participants will literally create a photo exhibition from start to finish overnight by taking photos, editing, having them judged, and printing by the next morning. The purpose of the NightVisions program is to recreate the adrenalin rush of a photo student’s end-of-term all-nighter or a professional’s laser-focused intensity against a drop-dead deadline. “It’s all about sucking it up, creating an image, meeting the deadline, and doing something great,” declared Washington photographer Peter Garfield, one of NightVisions’ originators.

With the plethora of programming and partners involved with FotoWeek DC, this festival has evolved into something larger than life. Whether you are a photographer trying to make it big, a professional hoping to learn from the best, or just a casual passerby who is moved by a giant image you see on a building, the beauty of this festival is its accessibility, connection to people, and the power of telling a story without words. [gallery ids="99428,99438,99437,99436,99435,99434,99433,99432,99431,99430,99429,99439" nav="thumbs"]

Kaya Henderson Up Close

When Kaya Henderson was chosen to be Interim Chancellor of the District of Columbia School System in the midst of a turbulent political sea change, things in her life began to change in a big way.

It’s not like she didn’t have a big job before: she had been Michelle Rhee’s right-hand person for years, first at The New Teacher Project, then as Deputy Director, running the Office of Human Capital at DCPS when Rhee became the District’s first chancellor.

“I was used to being kind of under the radar. You could talk to people without talking shop, or that ‘hey—you’re so and so, wow!’ kind of thing,” she said. “Before this happened, I could come home to Brentwood, stop at the nearby tavern because their kitchen stayed open until closing, talk to my friends, have a hamburger and relax.”

“Now, you can’t do it anymore,” she said. “People come up to you all of the time. You end up talking about the schools even among my friends.”

Henderson has become kind of famous in her own way. People write articles about her now. They want to know not only about the efficacy of the Impact Evaluation System for evaluating teachers, but about her dog and her boyfriend.

That’s not likely to get any better soon. Rumors have been swirling in the press this week that Mayor Vincent Gray was going to announce that he would make Henderson’s status as DCPS Chancellor permanent.

When I asked her if she actually wanted the job, which she’s probably been asked hundreds of times by now, she shot her head back and sighed. “People said I was, I don’t know, ambivalent about it,” she said. “I just don’t like that word, that’s all. This is a job you have to get used to. You have to decide to do it and do it right, that you make progress, that you make it better for the kids. The mayor and I get along. We meet once a week. I think he wants reform as much as anybody.

“So however it works out, I’ll be fine with it.”

“You know what happens when you get at the center of things like this job,” she said, not entirely happily. “People get to know your business. They want to know your business.”

That probably comes with the territory, which brings with it the media. She knows that, pretty well too.

Her first foray into the land of flashbulbs came when she was introduced to the public as interim chancellor in a giant hug-a-thon, featuring presumptive mayor Vincent Gray, then-acting Mayor Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee, who had just announced her resignation.

The appointment came at a tumultuous time. Gray had only a short time ago upset Fenty in a Democratic Primary election, a seismic political event which many saw as a referendum against school reform, Rhee and Fenty.

“That whole thing was a shock in some ways,” she said. “If you told me when we first got here that I would be here, where I am, interim chancellor and all that, I’d have said you got to be kidding. We all thought we would be in the midst of a second Fenty term, doing our jobs, continuing on with the work that had begun and so on. But it was Michelle who asked me to do this. She said: You’ve got to make sure this continues, and that’s why a lot of the team remained, assuring continuity.”

Now she’s here, and very much a public figure. Not that she’s exactly shy.

Henderson, 40, can command a room, even when its practically empty, as when she went with Gray on a series of town hall meet-and-greets that not only introduced Gray to the folks in the various wards of the city, but also Henderson.

She came in out of her office hands outstretched to sit with me at one of those big long conference tables. This is a woman who doesn’t leave you much room not to like her. She’s direct, with an open, animated face that breaks easily into a smile or laughter. She is also a serious person, something of a wonk whose comfort zone is probably three-hour banter about policy.

Nobody should make any mistakes: she is totally committed to school reform, which includes notions that you ought to be able to fire bad teachers and reward good ones, and that the Impact Evaluation System is an excellent and fair way of evaluation. Listen to her talk, and you get the notion that she’s spent a lot of time with Michelle Rhee: “I believe with all my heart that a great teacher can change a classroom, can change your life.” This is practically a mantra of reform—just the other day the governor of Indiana used almost the exact phrase talking about teacher’s unions.

She is also a patient worker and a relationship-builder; that much talked about revolutionary, dynamic contract signed by the Washington Teachers Union under George Parker was led by Henderson. “It’s about trust, it’s about relationships and building a process,” she said. “We all—our team, Parker’s team—worked on this long and hard under difficult conditions, but in the end we got there…Now we sort of have to start all over.”

Nathan Saunders, a strong critic of the Impact Evaluation System, defeated Parker in an election for the WTU’s presidency.

“Philosophically, I agree with Michelle,” Henderson said. “She has been and is my best friend. But that doesn’t mean I’m her, or that I work like she does, or have a similar personality, or always agree with her.”

Henderson exudes certain straightforward warmth, a no-nonsense straight talk, and an optimism that is obvious. She’s had some hurdles to deal with—a faction-driven problem over principals at Hardy School in Georgetown for one, facing budget cuts and possible school closings.

You’d think that Henderson would have been a natural fit for the education world, given that her mother Kathleen was a teacher and a principal. But in fact, she went to Georgetown University and the School Of Foreign Service. Because she was interested in policy, she ended up at Teach for America, teaching middle school in the South Bronx.

“Still, I grew up in the suburbs, Westchester. And my mom was a huge influence on me, that’s absolutely true,” she said. “We lost her in 2003 to colon cancer. She was 53. Just 53…We decided—she decided—to make the most of the time she had left. We spent a lot of time together, with her friends, teachers, principals and superintendents, and it was such a time. It was full of life. She wanted to spend her last hours with her friends and that was a blessing.”

Just with the open tone that she talks about her mother, you can tell this might have happened last year and that she thinks a lot about her. “Oh yes,” she said, “You have to wonder what she would have thought about this. It’s funny…I talk to her old pals, superintendents some of them, and I look where I am and I think about her, sure.”

And when the interim tag comes off, she’ll think about her again.

As of Wednesday, March 9, the day of The Georgetowner’s publication, Ms. Henderson was officially named Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public School system.

Undercover Dining


-The appointment was for 12:30 p.m. at a fairly new restaurant in Georgetown. The reservation was under the name of Fred, but the rendezvous was with Tom Sietsema, the Washington Post’s food critic. Depending on what he writes, Sietsema is either the most beloved or the most reviled man in the Washington restaurant universe.

Right on time, there’s a tap on my shoulder. “Hi, I’m Fred,” he says. “Nice to meet you.” Fred-slash-Sietsema is dashingly dressed, and not looking at all like a man who eats out 13 times a week. He is trim and fit, and not by accident.

“The day the Washington Post hired me, I hired a personal trainer to work me out three times a week. It is more a professional necessity than a personal indulgence,” he says. He also gives himself a break, sometimes skipping lunch on Saturday.

This lunch is one of what Sietsema calls his first takes, his first visit to a restaurant. He normally tests a restaurant at least three times before writing a review, believing anybody can have a bad day. But he also makes sure he sees restaurants at their worst and that is Monday, the slow day of the restauranting week. The dining room is virtually empty as we are led to our table.

In the 1990s Taiwanese movie, “Eat Drink Man Woman,” the best chef in the country has lost his ability to taste the food he cooks. I wondered the same of Sietsema. Can he still tell good food from bad? Doesn’t it get boring to eat out all the time? Like one of his reviews, which mixes considered praise with cutting criticism, his answer is a contradiction. He doesn’t get bored because “you have to love this to really do it well.” At the same time, “I eat mediocre food so you don’t have to.”

But when we pause to consider the menu, it is clear that familiarity hasn’t dulled Sietsema’s approach. At first glance watching him casually scanning the menu is like watching a rerun of “Colombo,” where you know the innocuous look around the room has revealed some hidden truth nobody else can see. But then as Sietsema continues to study the menu I realize I am actually watching a museum curator examining a newly found piece of the Dead Sea scrolls, relishing in the discovery of seeing something potentially wonderful for the first time.

Almost out of nowhere, a hyper-attentive waiter springs over to offer his advice and promote what he believes are the unique characteristics of some of the dishes. Sietsema orders. We order some of the recommendations but also a few “benchmark” dishes to check how the restaurant is on the basics.

It is said the best spies do not stand out. Sietsema has same low-key manner. But it becomes clear very quickly that this is not just a job most people would envy. To Sietsema, this is a sacred trust — keeping chefs honest, and serving the people. And despite the obvious thought that it would be fun to eat out all time, it is a job, “most food is generally somewhere in the middle. Some of it can be good, most just ok.” But he has to try it all.

It is a little ironic that in a town where power and perception are currency, one of its most powerful journalists doesn’t write about politics. There is no doubting Sietsema’s clout. When he wrote a wonderful review of an Indian restaurant newly opened in what had been a funeral plot for a number of restaurants that preceded it, it was suddenly impossible to get a table.

But when he dismissed the service at one of the most prominent restaurants in the city, taking away one of his impossibly hard-to-win stars, even people who couldn’t afford to eat there noticed.

“It’s the small mom and pop restaurants I feel most responsible towards,” he says. But it is not bad reviews
he worries about. He is concerned that if he gives a good review, small restaurants will be overwhelmed by a wave of expectant — and often disappointed — customers. He generally gives his smaller reviewees a heads up a few days before the review comes out.

I have a very personal relationship with food. But when the first course arrives I realize Sietsema is in a different class. As I dive into what promises to be a tasty appetizer, I realize he is just isn’t here to eat. He is here to taste. To experience. He seems to have an almost cold analytical relationship with what sits before him. Our adrenalined waiter reappears concerned because Sietsema has barely nibbled. Sietsema is ready with a disarming reason: “Saving space, big breakfast.” In reality, he has what he needs.

“Where I grew up all the food was beige,” Sietsema, raised in rural Minnesota, says. His mother was a great cook but there was no history of gastronomy in his family, although he fondly remembers occasional visits to the city where his dad would treat them to great restaurants. His arrival in Washington is the classic D.C. story. He spent a semester interning here during college, fell in love with the city and decided to stay. A professor had a contact at the Washington Post that landed his first job, which led to being assistant to the legendary restaurant reviewer Phyllis Richman. His main job was to try out the recipes (“That’s when I learned how to cook”). Stints followed in Milwaukee, San Francisco, Seattle (where he was food critic for Microsoft’s before returning to take over at the Post. Today he is a virtual one-man industry with his biannual roundups, video blog (which was just a whimsy that seems to have taken off), and a seemingly never-ending stream of other writing. He makes at least one trip out of town a month to add variety.

The first bite of the main course proves as disappointing as the appetizers. Sietsema is clearly not impressed. He takes several more bites and puts down his fork.

This experience unfortunately is not uncommon. While D.C. has been growing as a food town, Sietsema says it is a growth more of quantity than quality. Both Georgetown and Downtown are becoming, he says somewhat dismissively, like Bethesda, where there are a lot of restaurants, but not many are really good. He believes the most exciting areas gastronomically in the city are the up and coming Logan Circle and H Street N.E. corridors.

Part of the problem, he says, is that too many chefs try to be too fancy. Sietsema could be the personification of the food critic in the animated movie Ratatouille. In the climax of that film, the legendary and feared critic is wowed by the simplest of dishes. For Sietsema, likewise, a simple burger or well made roast chicken will impress more than rich and ambitious sauces, which he says are like a crutch.

Dessert is offered, promoted, encouraged. A house speciality, nothing like it anywhere else. Sietsema listens attentively and as the waiter heads off shares a glance to say he deserves effort points, if nothing else. Unfortunately, our waiter’s ardent proselytizing is once more undermined by the food. I suddenly realize Sietsema is going to have to endure this food at least twice more. Just as suddenly I am feeling slightly less envious.

When the bill comes, it raises another interesting question: how does he pay without revealing his undercover identity? And yet for a decade, Sietsema has been able to eat in anonymity. He credits eating with different people (the best part of the job, he says), 15 OpenTable restaurant reservation accounts and never calling from his office, since the prefix is identifiable as the Washington Post’s. On occasion he uses disguises, but he says they take over an hour to get right and he only does those rarely.

But there is still the point of paying. Cash is the obvious answer, but it turns out he also has a rather clever, but legal, credit card trick.

All the same, he has had some close calls, and he is certain he has been recognized by a waiter or two. But fortunately they tend to move on, he says. His biggest concern is leaving his dry cleaning, which has his name on the label.

As critic-for-a-lunch, I have assumed an air of authority and casually write off this restaurant. But Sietsema gently chides me. Everybody has a bad day, he reminds me. He reiterates a point made early in the meal that it is not just the food. People tend to be forgiving if the overall experience is good. He will be back, and I get the distinct impression there will be fresh chance to win those coveted but stingily awarded stars. But as Sietsema heads off, without a far more impressive second act, those stars are looking pretty dim.

What’s Your Smart Phone App-titude?

May 23, 2011

Once — it now seems a time long, long ago in a place far, far away — you picked up a phone, dialed a number and actually spoke to someone. How naïve we were. Then came texting. How quaint! Today, it is all about that “app,” those programs that bring your smart phone to life and have made good old telephony all but redundant.

From social phenomena like Four Square (essentially a homing beacon that screams “I’m over here!”) to mobile GPS to help you get to that Four Square friend; from apps to run your business to iFart (yes, one app will let out unsociable sounds and now even smells from your phone — set it on your friend’s phone and watch the fun), there are more apps than you will ever get to try. It is estimated there are about 150,000 iPhone apps and at least 15,000 Droid apps (Droid is Google’s answer to the iPhone operating system).

So we thought it would be interesting to see what Washington’s media community uses or, as we found out, doesn’t use.

Kate Michael
Blogger, K Street Kate
I use Twitter for many reasons: to help tell people what is going and where I am, and to share information that is useful to my followers.

Carol Joynt
Multi-media journalist
Interesting that you should ask. I’m just back from a spring break getaway with my son and the iPhone saved our you-know-whats in two critical instances, both having to do with traffic … Special mention to the WTOP “Glass-Enclosed Nerve” app.

Kiki Ryan
Reporter, Politico
I love the Google maps app. Whenever I take road trips, I am obsessed with watching the blue blinking light as the car moves. And because I am obsessed with the Food Network shows about the little diners with weird fried food, I’m always searching for them on Google maps when I’m driving in the middle of nowhere thinking I may come across one.

Kitty Kelley
Author, journalist
I can barely handle my cell phone. I haven’t progressed to smart phone apps yet.
Give me another five years.

Jeanne Jennings
Marketing consultant, author
[My favorite] would have to be the Facebook app for my Blackberry. It makes it easy to keep up with friends and family when I am traveling. The interface is clean and intuitive — it’s a great example of how to “boil down” a website for viewing on a mobile device.

Ben Bradlee
A smartphone what? I don’t even have a cell phone.

John Donvan
ABC News correspondent
Google maps on Droid allows me to speak in a request while driving and it finds the route and starts speaking back directions. It has built-in GPS navigation that fills a gap that I had of wanting: not to have to stop and pull to the side of road and enter an address. And it gets you there.

Bill Press
Talk radio host
I’m fairly new on iPhone and don’t have any apps but the most basic ones. Someday, but not yet!

Robert Allbritton
Publisher, Politico
Why, the Politico iPhone app, of course! Second is the Apple Remote app, because I can run the house stereo, which is hooked up to iTunes. Other than that, I use a Blackberry. Not exactly sexy answers, but they are very honest. I’m all about functionality. I am very excited about the new “Metro” project app we are working on for local news in the D.C. area, but it is unreleased.

Sonya Bernhardt
Publisher, The Georgetowner and The Downtowner
My favorite is the Google Mobile app. The best feature is the voice search, which lets you find whatever location you’re looking for — in the car, on the street or elsewhere — just by talking into the phone. It also plugs in with Google maps, giving you exact directions to what you searched for from wherever you are.

Amos Gelb is the director for the George Washington University’s Semester in Washington Journalism program. Contact him at

Claire Sanders Swift is a former broadcast producer turned national media specialist. Contact her at
[gallery ids="99104,99105,99106,99107" nav="thumbs"]

State of the Media

May 3, 2010 — Georgetown — Last Saturday, while every White House correspondent in town was dusting off their tuxedo or getting a blow dry, there was Kitty Kelley, famed author of “Oprah: A Biography,” in the heart of Georgetown selling and signing her books for the benefit of the Georgetown/D.C. Public Library. We had interviewed her through the years when I was at ABC news and NBC News, and she was always considered controversial. Her ‘unauthorized’ biographies on the famous icons of our time — Jackie O, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Reagan, the Bushes — dished the dirt and then some (when it wasn’t necessarily as accepted), and sold millions and millions of copies. She has been interviewed by almost every major media outlet out there, including Larry King, Barbara Walters, GMA, The Today Show and 20/20 (when you meet her in person you understand why, she’s quite charming and gorgeous). When I asked her how the book was doing this time around, she kindly whispered, “It will be on the bestseller list tomorrow.” What does this have to do with the state of the media? Keep reading.

That evening, another icon, our President Barack Obama, showed NBC and the world who had the better writing team as he wowed the socks off of the 3,000 or so journalists, White House correspondents and their star-studded friends with self-deprecating jokes fit for, well, a President and for national broadcast. The guest comedian, Jay Leno, was having a bad hair day, totally scripted and clearly just off of the plane from Los Angeles. Can you say red-eye? He missed a beat or two. I’ve met him in person and he’s just one of the great performers of our time. It wasn’t his job to upstage the President. Obama quipped he was glad he was not following Jay Leno because we all know what happens to the act that follows Jay Leno. There was great laughter and it went on and on to great network fanfare.

What’s the official state of the media in 2010? Ad revenues are shrinking, news audiences are morphing, and people aren’t loyal to one news source any longer, according to Amy Mitchell of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, but a good joke or a steamy celebrity biography can still win an audience. Pew’s sobering report confirmed the inevitable: that 1) The notion of a primary news source is obsolete. 92 percent get news from multiple platforms, let alone news sources. 2) Old media still dominate online but that is changing. 3) Revenues are way, way down. Funding for real reporters has decreased dramatically with this loss. 4) Nobody knows where to go until we figure this all out. Basically in the news business it’s a free-for-all, especially now that news users are getting their news content from friends and social media sites. It’s a brave new world out there. Guess who dominated in revenues last year? Fox News!

Back to my chance meeting with Kitty. “How many interviews do you have lined up, Kitty?” I asked. (the book was released week before last) “We’ll see,” she said. The book was released on April 13, and though she has already been interviewed by the Today Show and Fox News, many other outlets, including ABC, Larry King, David Letterman and a host of others declined, due to their allegiance with Oprah. When you dis probably the most famous and enterprising black woman of our time, you are sure to make enemies and friends at the same time. And when you are exposing the ugly secrets of that specific media mogul, who, Kelley reports, is also one of the most controlling forces of our time and has some ugly secrets. According to Kelley, some of the major news media aren’t going to touch the subject. This is Oprah. “Did you know there are 23,000 websites on how to get on the Oprah show?” said Kelley. I bought the book. And the next day, there she was, just like she said, #2 on the New York Times bestseller list in the first two weeks of being released — regardless of network fanfare.

How does this relate to our current state of the media? Information and news are going to continue to be dispersed and where that news is coming from and going is an open field. And no matter how low you go, or how high you fly, if you play your cards right and the stars align you can hit pay dirt, make it on the bestseller list or, like President Obama’s White House correspondents speech, get 455,000 hits in one day on C-Span.

View the Pew Center report at

Claire Sanders Swift is a broadcast journalist turned national media consultant. All Things Media is a monthly column. Contact with comments.
[gallery ids="99123,99124,99125" nav="thumbs"]

Voting in Virginia


-After the BP oil spill disaster, some citizens are demanding change and action from the government. Today, Virginia residents have the chance to use their voices and express their opinions by voting in the 2010 midterm elections. Voters can participate in the congressional primaries and in elections for a number of local and statewide offices. Polls opened at 6 a.m. and will close at 7 p.m. So hurry home from work and vote! A polling address can be located all over the state.

The Georgetowner’s David Roffman Honored for His Work


-David Roffman, a local journalist, philanthropist and former co-owner of The Georgetowner will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Georgetown Business Association on Wednesday, June 16. The award will be presented at a celebratory luncheon at the City Tavern Club, located at 3206 M St. from 11:30 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.

The event will be hosted by former presidents of the GBA including Tom Bryan, Judy Horman, Billy Martin, Paul Cohn, Linda Greenan and Brad Altman. Tickets are $50 for members and $65 for non-members.

That’s A Wrap: DC’s Film Festivals

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) —
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) —
Films focusing on the GLBTQ experience.

Arabian Sights Film Festival (October 9-18) —
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) —
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) —
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
[gallery ids="99141,102759,102770,102767,102764" nav="thumbs"]

Media Sanctuary

In an economy where small luxuries win the day, George’s at the Four Seasons salon lands high on the list of places to go that cost that extra dollar but are worth every penny. Just ask some of George’s well known clientele, including Nancy Pelosi, Norah O’Donnell, Jamie Gangel, Kathleen Matthews and Chris Matthews (men go too), Maureen Dowd, Desiree Rogers and so many more. Or ask Rick, who schedules appointments. He’ll take care of you along with everyone else who works there.

Why would a national media consultant be writing about a Georgetown hair salon? Because it’s Georgetown’s best kept secret — a mecca for headliners and legends from near and far for all people. And when you walk in, regardless of who you are, they make you feel like a star and you walk out looking like one.

I came across George’s when I needed my hair touched up for a black tie party, having just moved back here from NY and Los Angeles. Omer Cevirme, known for his signature blow dries (He’s made Washingtonian’s Best list a few times), blew my hair to sleek perfection. I met my husband later that night and the rest is hair history. Omer did my hair for my wedding at National Cathedral and has for every special occasion since, including baby christenings, showers, and birthdays to come. I just feel fabulous when I leave, along with so many of George’s loyal followers.

But when I ask George, for whom the salon is named, to comment, he says no, it’s all about the talented people who work with him, the Omers of the world who make people like you look and feel so good. George Ozturk and his wife Deniz run things with a few of their handsome sons (they have five sons and three are in the business) and have been open since 1986. George says People and W magazines have hounded him for interviews but he’s not budging an inch. In this town of so many names, George’s understated way is comforting. He’ll never confirm or deny his list of clientele. What happens at George’s stays at George’s.

A few more important tips: Minh gives the best pedicure in town, I swear. Good luck getting an appointment — she’s booked solid, but try. Her colleagues are good too. And Carl Ray, who does make-up like you read about in glamour magazines, gives that extra touch that might win you that award you were talking about. He’s always booked for weddings, black ties or something at the White House. A few years ago, I walked in and there was Rory Kennedy, having a touch up at Carl’s booth before the premiere of her film on Helen Thomas. She looked fabulous by the way. Shh.

All in all, George’s is a place where Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and just plain moms (and dads), share one beautiful thing: our comfort and our vanity. At your fingertips, you’ve got Washington’s best blow dries and color treatments of a lifetime, the best manicures, pedicures and a make-up job that might give you that extra ratings point or vote you were searching for. In the end, my favorite part about George’s is that everybody is somebody when you are there, and when you walk out, you feel that way.

George at the Four Seasons Salon is located at in the Four Seasons Hotel at 2828 Pennsylvania Ave. Contact the salon at 202-342-1942.

All Things Media is a monthly column. Contact with comments.
[gallery ids="99072,99073,99074,99075" nav="thumbs"]

The Player: Lincoln Pilcher

March 23, 2011

Next time you’re at Georgetown’s Rugby Cafe, say ‘Hi’ to co-owner Lincoln Pilcher, a former rugby player and Ralph Lauren model. The Australian native’s string of rustic restaurants spans the country: LA’s Eveleigh is the new “it” spot; NYC’s Ruby’s is a “cool college kid hangout”, and the West Village’s Kingswood is “an equally fun big sister” to the Rugby Cafe. Pilcher’s empire is even expanding to the Middle East – a Little Ruby’s recently opened in Kuwait City.

In 1999, 20-year-old Pilcher arrived in New York to model and shoot fashion photos. Last week, he shared beer and kangaroo with Australian Prime Minster Julia Gillard. This is Pilcher’s intriguing story.

Humble Beginnings – “My partner [Nicholas Mathers], who is my partner in all the restaurants, he decided he was going to start a cafe. And I told him he was crazy because we couldn’t get any good coffee in New York and we were sick of drinking Starbucks,” says Pilcher in his cool, candid manner. “He went ahead and signed a lease and did all these things and I still thought he was crazy. Eventually I jumped on board with him and became a partner with him in Ruby’s, which we opened in 2004. It just snowballed from there.

“We started with cupcakes, bizarrely enough—selling cupcakes and selling coffee—and then we went to paninis. Then someone said we should do pastas. We did pastas. Then at one stage we started cooking burgers off panini grills,” he says, summarizing the improvised first year and a half. “There wasn’t even an exhaust system at Ruby’s.

“You’d come to Ruby’s and eat burgers, and leave smelling like the burger you ate.”

“The Bedroom Effect” – “We exported the Sydney-style, the Melbourne-style cafe. Australia is a cafe society, it’s wake up, everyone meet in the morning and have panini and coffee,” says Pilcher, describing the ambience he and partners Mathers and Nick Hatsatouris sought to export.

“We try to make it about the vibe. One of the big things we’ve done over the years is trying to create the bedroom effect, the whole lounge effect so you feel comfortable. It’s polished food in a relaxed environment.”

Naming the Burgers – “The burger, that’s what’s really hit it off. The burger in New York is different from here. We change buns, we try to keep it alive. The Iggys burger, which is in the middle,” he says, referencing a chalkboard menu on the wall. “That’s the one that’s standardized. Every restaurant has that.”

“The [burgers] at Ruby’s are all named after the beaches in Australia. So Bondi, which is the famous Bondi, and the Bronte. Then these [Rugby Cafe burgers] are all the famous rugby schools in Australia. Scots is where I went to school.”

Pilcher’s Rugby Past – For seven years, Pilcher reveled in the nonstop, rough and tumble nature of the game. “It’s super tough.” Did he break anything? “Collarbones, split-open lips. You don’t wear pads, it’s intense but the game doesn’t stop, that’s why rugby’s such a great game.”

“Rugby, yeah,” he says with a rueful smile. “That was when I was younger.”

A Glamorous Modeling Lifestyle – Pilcher’s mother, a Pittsburgh native, was the editor of Australian Vogue for 28 years. Even as a young child Pilcher was always well dressed, often sporting Ralph Lauren. He started modeling as a pre-teen, landing a contract with Ford Models in his early twenties.

“We had a great, great time, literally traveling the world and making enough money to go to the next place. It was a vagabond style of life but it was definitely fun.

“We traveled around do to shows in Paris, Milan, New York; a lot of advertising, Abercombie and print magazine editorial.”

They did let him smile, he assures me – his modeling career wasn’t about “pulling a Zoolander,” making the same face in every photo. “That movie kind of changed everything: ‘blue steel’ that’s it,” he snaps as he remembers the name for Ben Stiller’s pouty model pose. “Fun, fun, fun.”

A big budget shoot for Australian GQ was particularly memorable. “We went to this amazing island. It was three guys and three girls,” he recalls. “We were there for four days. We shot for like an hour a day because we’d shoot sunrise and sunset. We were all surfers, we were surfing. Those were the kind of trips that I liked.”

Ultimately the narrow focus of the industry wasn’t a comfortable fit. “You’re judged purely on one thing – what you look like – so it wasn’t really my thing.”

On the Restaurant Business and Life in DC – The restaurant industry seems to be a better fit, though Pilcher does enjoy keeping up with some aspects of his former life. “Broken dishwashers and beer taps, that’s Monday through Friday, and then on the weekends you can do what you want to do,” he says. The former rugby player embraces an active lifestyle of tennis, running and surfing, but his true passion is high-end photography.

“I still love taking pictures, it’s my hobby, it’s my passion,” he says, becoming energized by the turn in the conversation. “I have my studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for my pictures. It’s kind of like my little Warhol sanctuary to do what I want to do on the weekends.”

His hobbies help to offset the more trying aspects of being a partner in such a successful set of restaurants. On negotiating with providers for his businesses, Pilcher notes that “Consistency is the biggest thing in restaurants. It’s the hardest thing to do. If you are consistent, you’ll be successful.

“Avocados can be a dollar, all of a sudden there’s a flood then they’re $5 … Fish is the worst. Providers call us and they say, ‘This has gone up to this much.’ Some of the theories I’ve gotten from providers over the years,” he marvels. “It’s like, ‘You’re pulling my leg. China’s buying it all and they’re freezing it? That’s a good excuse. You just can’t get any fish and you want to charge me more for it.’”

While negotiating with providers and finding alone time for his photography isn’t always easy, Pilcher clearly enjoys his new career. His favorite aspect of the restaurant business? “The interaction with people, making people feel happy and at home.” He gets to know his DC customers particularly well, he says. “Loyalty is the big thing down here.”