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DC Shorts Film Festival at 14 (September 7-17): It’s Not the Size That Counts

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By Elias Savada.

Another year and another annual rite of passage for short form filmmakers and screenwriters (the event is fully titled DC Shorts Film Festival & Screenplay Competition), which arrives here for 11 days in September. With all the angst coming from the White House up the street, it’s time to cool off with the largest (by volume) festival in town. Breath in, relax, and enjoy.

This year’s battle of the shorts, presented by DC Film Alliance, offers over 170 films (culled from over 1,500 submissions), representing more than 30 countries. These include 123 officially selected by the programmers and another 50 as partner-programmed material. They’re all packaged into various 90-minute Showcases: 17 Official Selection Unique; 12 Special (i.e. themed); and five Free Lunchtime (one in partnership with The Golden Triangle Business Improvement District, and the others, presenting filmmakers from underserved communities, in partnership with the DC government’s Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment). These last watch-while-you-munch sessions are being held at the Landmark E Street Cinemas; reservations are required. Every Official Selection Unique Showcase will screen twice during the festival. The Best of DC Shorts, featuring this year’s winners, will screen numerous times on September 16-17. Each film will entertain you (or so hopes Joe Bilancio, the Director of Programming) from a few minutes to a half-hour (average length: about 12-13 minutes).

Nearly all of the screenings will afford first viewings for attendees, with special attention for the 15 World, 6 North American, 5 U.S.A., and 25 East Coast premieres. For those of you unable to attend, for just $30 you can still watch at least 100 films (binge for nearly a full day!) via a secure internet portal. If you really want to catch a nice smorgasbord of over 375 films from past festivals, visit its archive! Of course, for DC Shorts 2017, attending the live events extends you an immersive, communal experience, including the meet-and-greets with a wide variety of talent. Whether watching the regular groupings or the themed programs—where audiences can focus on topics covering Canada (Happy Birthday!), current events, documentaries, international, African American, GLBT, comedy, animation, and life drama—everyone votes. The public and a festival jury will select the winners of a handful of awards (live action, animated, documentary, first-time director, local, and festival programmers’ choice, audience favorite).

The Screenplay portion of the program covers six scripts being presented in live readings. Budding writers might want to attend a few of these in between the films (and attend a screenwriting seminar). You will be voting for a winning entry, which garners a $2,000 cash prize and other perks, from among the entrants. Four are from local DC residents.

With most of the films’ directors are attending the festival, expect some robust Q+As and workshops. Then relax as you network and party. Speaking of parties, there are three public ones for the 21+ only crowd—at The Rooftop at Carroll Square, the newly opened art space Dupont Underground, and a closing night reception at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop—where mingling will be required. If you’re in the film biz, you might want to try one of the free Networking Tech Talk Events (Cinematcher App Launch, and Crew Speed Networking), scheduled on Saturday, September 16th.

Workshops (registration required), led by industry professionals, are free for filmmakers, screenwriters, and actors, while educational seminars will reach out to underserved communities in the area.

I’ve watched 40 of the films that will be screened, and you won’t be disappointed in the selections based on the small 9-hour segment they commanded. There were just a couple that I thought were weak, but most were well-told stories or educational experiences. Some were gems. Some actors might be familiar, but, hey, who goes to see shorts for the name talent? Among those I recognized: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Glenn Howerton stars in Andrew Woods’ widescreen fantasy When Pigs Fly; Michael Torpey, of Orange Is the New Black, appears in Brandon Kelly’s soldier-coming-home drama The Real Thing; and the glorious Marion Ross, famous as Marion Cunningham on the tv classic Happy Days, stars in Dana Nachman’s Jewish comic fantasy The Final Show. This short is a blend of the hereafter with The Bachelor, with a lovely final twist. It’s actually good to see the film’s entire geriatric cast (Nancy Dussault, Peter Mark Richman, Jerry Douglas) united in fine form.

These films are easy to devour and offer a pleasant meal of this and that. Whether hoping to catch an early look at a possible future Oscar contender or just anxious to see the many creative talents that exist outside your normal purview, do visit the festival website and start considering your ticket value options.

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