By Elias Savada.
In the shadow of glee (for a few) or gloom (for the rest of us) that has been cast over the DC landscape with the arrival of the USA’s new administration, the 19th edition of the D.C. Independent Film Festival arrives this week for a short week’s visit. Most of the screenings and events are back at the Naval Heritage Center at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW (a mere 6-minute walk from the Trump International Hotel, in case you want to gawk). Launched in 1999, DCIFF falls earlier this year, from February 15-20, again offering features, documentaries, animations, shorts, a high school competition (again this year, I’m honored to be one of the judges), and a host of seminars. As a change, this year’s show stretches out through Monday because of the Presidents’ Day holiday.
The program opens this year with the U.S. premiere of Bronwen Hughes’ Canadian feature The Journey Is the Destination. This invitation-only event will be hosted by the Embassy of Canada, part of that country’s 150th anniversary celebration of its founding. (I’m not sure of Prime Minister Trudeau will still be in town.) The film is a tribute to the late Dan Eldon, the 22-year-old photojournalist and artist whose passion for adventure took him to Somalia, where he died at the hands of a mob angered by an American airstrike. Hughes, who has been very busy in television, returns to the big screen after a 13-year absence, last helming the Genie-nominated Stander, another biopic based on the life and times of Andre Stander, the South African cop turned bank robber.
All of Thursday’s screening’s (Iran’s Masoumeh and American indie One Penny) will occur at the Miracle Theater in South East DC. Director Sona Moghaddam was not able to secure a visa to attend the screening of her documentary about a woman brutally attacked by acid by her ex-husband’s father. One Penny, having its world premiere, is a tale of a teen who loses his life of privilege, becomes homeless, and battles the darker elements in his small-knit street community. It was locally produced by Stone Park Productions (David A. Melendez and Michael DeVita).
Three features populate the bill on Friday night, one being a repeat of opening night’s The Journey Is the Destination. This is sandwiched between the world premiere of Jamaal Bell’s Free to Ride, a documentary about the benefits of grassroots coalition, and Mitchell Altieri’s vampire opus The Night Watchman, a must for horror comedy fans (“Let’s go kill some dead people”).
The remaining days in the holiday weekend all start around noon. The High School Competition, offering 11 films by young filmmakers thrilled to be seeing their work on a big screen, is on Saturday. Afternoon seminars follow (including two entertainment law sessions presented in association with the non-profit Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts (WALA). The evening shows offer up four features (bring your eye drops), including the East Coast premiere of Invisible from Greek director Dimitri Athanitis; One Buck, a terrifying journey of a dollar bill and the feature debut from writer-director Fabien Dufils; and the DC premiere of Occupants, a weird vision about a month-in-the-life self-referential documentary filmmaker. It’s from the mixed-up mind of Russ Emanuel.
Sunday starts with the family friendly Chinese feature Freezing from Peng Shigang, followed by more seminars, three short film programs, and two other DC feature premieres, Guys Reading Poems and Service to Man.
On Presidents’ Day, there are three more short-film programs dedicated to animation, graphic arts, and the art of the comic strip often used to showcase American presidential foibles. Fans of underground cartoonist Skip Williamson can catch the DC premiere of Pigheaded, John Kinhart’s documentary biopic. Anyone who has participated in a 24-hour filmmaking competition should get a kick out of 24 Hour Comic, a documentary about creating a 24-page comic in 24 hours. These are happening all over. This world premiere film looks fascinating.
Finally, the festival culminates with the screening of Interior Night, a comedy about love, sex, and treachery from the award-wining film from Canadian director Alan Watt.
Because of the uneasy political climate, the annual Summit on the Hill session that is usually held on Thursday morning on Capitol Hill, has been canceled. It was to have focused on tax incentives for filmmakers.
For full info, visit the festival website here.