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By Elias Savada.

Over the years, lots of film festivals have been flitting about the Washington, DC, metro area, hoping to steer filmgoers’ attention away from the latest Marvel Comics blockbuster or foreign arthouse flick. Filmfest DC is 30 years old. The Spooky Movie International Film Festival (which I help program) is 10. The DC Shorts Film Festival is the largest short film event on the East Coast of the USA. AFIDocs (formerly Silver Docs) caters to the international documentary genre. The military and the environment have fests. The Washington Jewish Film Festival is happening right now.

Just as WJFF concludes, the D.C. Independent Film Festival begins its 18th year saluting the world of independent film.

Launched in 1999, the event, from March 4-13, offers films of all shapes and sizes, all DC or regional premieres, some genuine world debuts (American Bred). A few U.S. ones, too, including Alexander Katzowicz’s Internet Junkie and Hao Lui’s Chinese entry Back to the North. The Fest’s Executive Director Deirdre Evans-Pritchard has expanded this year’s program to span 10 days, easing the compressed schedule of last year. There’s more breathing room in the 2016 edition. In volume, it’s not overwhelming, so a festival pass might actually allow you to catch most of the action: 11 features. 16 documentaries. 44 shorts (21 live action, 23 animated). Their origins span the globe. Last years’ animated short winner was Bear Story, which just took home an Oscar. Another 13 films are this year’s finalists in the High School Film Competition being held March 5, and I’m back as one of the judges in that showcase.

In a pre-launch to DCIFF, there is its annual Summit on the Hill session on Capitol Hill on Thursday morning, March 3rd, a free discourse on Virtual Rights and Avatars, presented by the Honorable Congressman Brad Sherman and the Congressional Entertainment Caucus.

When DCIFF officially opens on March 4th, it blasts off at the Miracle Theater in SE DC with the opening night world premiere of the pilot episode of locally-produced Districtland, a story of five Millennials who find their idealism caught in the crosshairs of reality. It was written and produced by Russell Max Simon, whose short and directorial debut My Love Is Real played at last year’s festival, with K.W. Kuchar directing. The film’s length (20 minutes) may seem abbreviated for a festival opening, but it is trailed by a most unusual table reading by the cast for an upcoming episode, then a concert by These Quiet Colours, which provided the music for the pilot. Naturally, a party follows.

Many directors, cast, and crew will be introducing their films and holding post-screening Q+A sessions. Actor/director Timothy Busfield (Thirtysomething, The West Wing) comes to DCIFF to share his wickedly funny film One Smart Fellow starring himself and Melissa Gilbert. Another highlight is the feature Neptune, named by Indiewire one of the top films at Slamdance, with Jane Ackermann’s performance being a standout at the festival.

At the tail end of DCIFF is a conversation with French-American actor/director Jean-Marc Barr.

There are also weekend seminars and workshops, including a screenwriting master class with writer George Pelecanos. There are sessions on entertainment law, acting, lighting, etc.

New this year is a series of three film/panel discussion programs under the umbrella title of PoliDocs. The feature Oriented will be followed by a talk in partnership with the DC Palestinian Film and Arts Festival; a conversation with the producers/directors will trail A Struggle at Home and Beyond Recognition; and A Brilliant Genocide, an exposé of the mass murders in Uganda, will have a post-screening human rights panel talk.

Another interesting addition to this year’s DCIFF is Going to the Movies, an oral history project about the local film-going experience. They should pick apart my brain for this program.

As before, most of the festival unreels at the Naval Heritage Center at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW or at the Carnegie Institute for Science (1530 P Street NW) with a few exceptions. Be sure to check the schedule and not the venue so you’re at the right place at the right time!

For full info, visit the festival website here.

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