Coinciding with the famed cherry blossoms reaching peak bloom, film premieres and festivals proliferate in Washington, D.C. More than 2,000 miles from Hollywood, the city may not be considered the prime magnet for film production — yet these old and new cinematic endeavors are turning the area into a temporary filmmaking Mecca.
Amid the anticipation for the city’s annual International Film Festival, Georgetown’s own film scene is buzzing with the Georgetown Film Festival “Long Story Shorts” and Mesbah Uddin’s (SFS ’15) feature premiere of “11:59.” Film fans have a lot to look forward to throughout the month of April.
Georgetown University Film
Festival: ‘Long Story Shorts”
DATE: April 10 to 11
The inaugural Georgetown University Film Festival is bringing the Cannes, Sundance and Tribeca festivals into the comfort of the Healey Family Student Center.
Beginning yesterday and extending into this weekend, the festival will premiere over 30 student and professional films. Ranging from purely narrative-based storytelling films to documentaries to abstract forms, and broken up into premiere dates by category, these films explore themes of identity, friendship, dreams, crisis, poverty and family.
The film festival was founded with the dual purpose of providing aspiring filmmakers, student and professional, a place to showcase their work, and giving the Georgetown community an opportunity to explore the world of filmmaking through interacting with new short films and their filmmakers. The student work stretches beyond the D.C. metropolitan area, pulling from prominent film schools across the country.
What distinguishes “Long Story Shorts” from other professional and university-level film festivals is the mix of student and professional filmmakers. These filmmakers are as equals in a film festival setting, giving audience members the opportunity to appreciate amateur films as they would professional ones.
“Long Story Shorts” is particularly convenient for Georgetown students, not only because it will be held on campus, but also because all the films are short-form, which means they are under 40 minutes. This way, students and community members can view three or four films in the time it would usually take to see just one movie, all for free. And with the wide variety of films presented in the festival, watching multiple of the short films in a row will not become redundant or boring.
Over 1,500 short films were submitted by filmmakers around the world, and just 33 were chosen to be shown at this year’s festival.
“We have films from foreign countries like Croatia and Mexico, animated films, student films, as well as an Academy Award-recognized film,” Managing Director Charlotte Hansen (COL ’17) said, “Film is about so much more than what we see at our local multiplex, and we really wanted to bring a small part of that to Georgetown.”
The event coordinators split the festival into numerous categories in order to make the number and diversity of films more cohesive.
“This year, we have six different programs: ‘Girlhood,’ ‘Documentary,’ ‘Worlds Above,’ ‘A Film is a Film,’ ‘Fun Fresh’ and ‘Quirky and Obstacles,’ ” Artistic Director and Head Programmer Katie Shaffer (COL ’17) said. “There are so many talented filmmakers on college campuses across the country, and we hope that this festival will serve as a platform for these individuals to showcase their work.”
Although the event is sponsored by the Film and Media Studies Program, anyone was welcome to submit their work.
“While some filmmakers are students at the high school or collegiate level, others have showcased their work at festivals like Sundance,” Shaffer said.
The submissions process was made possible through the leadership of professor Sky Sitney, who mobilized students in her Film Festival Studies class to get the job done.
“To sort through submissions, we divided them up among our class and outside volunteers, with each screener generating an online review for each submission. From those reviews, a smaller programming committee re-watched and ranked the recommended films to create programs for the festival,” festival co-chair Evan Sterrett (COL ’15) said.
Because the festival receives a multitude of submissions from such a variety of filmmakers, there is a notable diversity of genre in the program. There are animated films such as “A Girl Named Elastika,” which has already won awards at animation festivals around the world, “Eloise, Little Dreamer” and “Deadly.”
The festival will screen four documentaries, which include stories of an Olympic boxer, a juvenile detention center in Uganda, the infamous killer Patricia Krenwinkel and an island that is slowly reversing its sustainability. For the more expert film buffs, there will even be films in parody and cinema verite styles.
“While some of the films being shown are light and comedic, others tackle more serious subject matters such as race and poverty. The programs themselves are organized around a central theme. Overall, we will be showcasing a wide variety of films with different story lines and messages,” Shaffer added.
In “Girlhood,” for example, there are stories about everything from a girl leaving home for adventure, animated entirely from thumbtacks and rubber bands, to a teenager going through an identity crisis when fitting in doesn’t solve anything. In “Worlds Above,” filmmakers explore different realities, whether it be virtual, heightened or abstract. “A Film is a Film” examines the role of art, and cinema in particular as an art form, and its ability to break down barriers of time, ideology, disability and gender.
However, it’s not just the films that students can to look forward to.
“While attendees of the festival will have the opportunity to watch incredible films made by students and professionals alike, there will also be opening and closing parties, and a chance to watch live musical performances by Georgetown students,” Shaffer said.
This may be the first year of the event’s creation, but it is optimistically marked to set a precedent for an expansive annual tradition. “Since this was just our first year, we were slightly limited in terms of how many programs for which we could expect audiences, and how many panels [and] break-out activities we could sustain. I’m excited to see the festival expand in coming years — maybe even to include a feature film portion, editing workshops, filmmaker panels, or networking roundtables,” Sterrett said.
Today and tomorrow will be packed with showings: the documentary series premiering at 3 p.m. on Friday, followed by the films under the category of “Worlds Above” at 5 p.m. On Saturday, there is a new group of films being shown every two hours: “A Film is a Film” at 2 p.m., “Fun, Fresh, and Quirky” at 4 p.m. and “Obstacles” wrapping up the festival at 6 p.m.
Student Film Premiere: “11:59”
DATE: Sat., April 11 at 7:30 p.m.
“11:59” is a microcosm of the beauty that is Georgetown — a dedicated group of passionate people with different expertise coming together to make an impactful piece of art.
The film is a rare production, in that it is a full-length movie in which everything from the writing to the acting to the production has been executed by students. Directed by Mesbah Uddin (SFS ’15) and starring Jack Schmitt (COL ’15), “11:59” explores the life of a chronic procrastinator and his accompanying mental health issues. It is a movie that is both an impressive artistic feat, but also a thoughtful didactic reflection on the troubles of today’s college student.
While chronic procrastination itself might not be the riveting topic that normally makes a blockbuster, associate producer Nabeel Zawail (SFS ’15) notes that “procrastination” brings to light some deeper issues that involve one’s character. It is a movie exploring the personal crises that erupt in students’ lives when factors such as family, schoolwork and health are in play. One of the movie’s strongest qualities is its relatability. It is meant to be an honest look at the struggles of college students, which, according to Zawail, “doesn’t shy away from anything.”
Jack Schmitt (COL ’15), who plays the protagonist, Sydney Phillips, said, “I really want audiences to be able to relate with Sydney, to laugh with Sydney, and to empathize and understand his struggles because no one is perfect, but we can all walk along side with him, spend the time in his shoes.”
In addition to aiming to strike a chord with college students struggling with their own crises and imperfections, Schmitt hopes that the movie can help to join the dialogue on mental health issues.
“All of us believe in the power of film to expose truths and tell stories that we didn’t know ourselves about society” Zawail noted. “We really felt like this film offers a unique opportunity for students to begin a conversation about the nuances and complexities that are involved with mental health.”
Recently, the issues surrounding mental health at Georgetown have gained more traction among student groups and the student government. The February election of GUSA executives Joe Luther (COL ’16) and Connor Rohan (COL ’16) helped spark that conversation.
Yet the movie is not meant to be purely instructive — it is first and foremost a good story rather than an informational piece with an agenda.
“This isn’t a psych lecture about all the different things this is one person’s undertaking and we are hoping that this story offers a prism into that world” Zawail commented. “This is not a documentary, it’s not a lecture, it’s a film.”
Even though the movie will likely be remembered for its examination of mental health and the stigma surrounding mental health issues, the movie also showcases the impressive talent within the arts community at Georgetown.
Of the facets of the movie, the talent pool at Georgetown excited Uddin, even before starting production.“One of the things I was really looking forward to was really bringing in different talent and I could not have been happier,” he said.
While the movie absolutely showcases Uddin’s skills as a director, he pointed out that it also needed plenty of other talented artists.
“There was an original song done for this film by a student singer at Georgetown, there were 48 comic strip panels made by two animators, there was a leading actor who took it to the next level; it was brilliant to work with the cinematographer,” Uddin said.
The collaboration was essential to the production of the movie, according to Uddin.
“We had an army of supporters, we always had five sets of eyes ensuring that we made the film the best it could be and I am really proud of all of the collaborators,” Uddin said.
While the cast and crew is excited about the upcoming premiere, the production was filled with plenty of “blood sweat and tears, but also a lot of fun” according to Uddin, and it will take maximum effort all the way until the premiere date to turn the movie into a success. Dedicating the time and energy required for such a major project was no easy task for the cast and crew either.
“We find a way because it is something that we are all very passionate about and all wanted to see through,” Schmitt said.
After months of seemingly endless work, the movie is finally emerging as a reality, a feature for Georgetown students’ viewing pleasure.
“This is a movie everyone on campus has to see and will enjoy seeing,” business producer Abdulla Al Shirawi (MSB ’16) said.
“11:59” will premiere tomorrow night in Lohrfink Auditorium, and Baked and Wired cupcakes will be served at the event.
DATE: April 16 to 26
PRICE: $13 regular, $10 student ticket
College students lead hectic lives — sometimes so hectic that they don’t even have time to check out the newest movies.
Rarer, still, is the opportunity for a university student to explore an interest in international cinema.
Filmfest D.C., the 29th annual Washington, D.C. International Film Festival, is a chance for hidden cinephiles to finally discover themselves.
The festival aims to expand the stereotypical movie-going experience by stepping back from the paparazzi-driven films of Hollywood and entering into the realm of international cinema, where storytelling takes a less glitzy approach.
Featuring a Mexican romance-comedy, “Happy Times,” an Israeli thriller, “The Man in the Wall” and three films from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, this year’s film lineup is extremely diverse. In its history, the D.C. International Film Festival has brought over 1,000 feature and short films from 55 countries to the Washington audience.
The actual film selection process is varied and ensures that there is no preset guide to the process of selection.
“We don’t go in with any predisposed intentions,” Festival Director Tony Gittens said.
This year’s films, though, are highlighted by several specific groupings and efforts. They are thematically divided into comedy films, “The Lighter Side,” films on music, “Rhythms On & Off Screen,” films on social justice, “Justice Matters,” crime thrillers, “Trust No One,” and films on jazz — “Reel Jazz.”
At the same time, the festival has two other initiatives that are less theme-driven. The “Impact Project” hopes to bring the festival’s social justice films to a wider audience through organized programs and presentations. The other is a group of four film screenings being shown under a joint effort from Filmfest D.C. and the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities called “Sister Cities the Lens.” The effort hopes to honor Washington’s Sister Cities Program by showing films from the international capitals of Paris, Rome and Seoul.
However, the beauty of a film festival does not lie simply in the chance to see multiple interesting works in a short time. What makes a festival truly special is its interactive component — the opportunity for audiences to talk with and listen to people deeply involved with cinema. With over 20 guests each year, Filmfest D.C. has some particularly exciting opportunities.
Right from the start, on opening night, April 16, the festival will be premiering “Tango Glories” (Argentina), where the director, Oliver Kolker, will be present. In an intriguing addition, the screening will be followed by a reception and actual tango dancing for the audience.
The festival also offers the additional excitement of watching films that will be judged by juries for new awards. From the Circle Award, meant to promote the film that most deserved increased recognition, to the Filmfest D.C. Audience Award, given to the documentary voted the most popular by the audience, there are many opportunities to evaluate films as victors. All of the awards will be announced on the exciting closing night at Lincoln Theatre.
In another interesting festival-specific event, on April 23, two of D.C.’s most influential film critics, Ann Hornaday and Arch Campbell, will sit down at Landmark’s E Street Cinema at 7 p.m. to discuss their passion. Ann Hornaday is the chief film critic for The Washington Post and a 2008 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her criticism. Campbell is also showered with accolades as he was selected Washingtonian of the Year in 2015 and he is a winner of eight local Emmy Awards. Their conversation is bound to be an impressive and fascinating one.
“More than anyone ever in the history of this city, these two have been on top of the hill in terms of people listening to them and wanting to know what they think,” Gittens said of the Hornaday-Campbell discussion.
Going into its 29th year, the festival has made some improvements to its operations. The biggest benefit that will likely please patrons of previous years is that the screenings have been consolidated into two primary venues, Landmark’s E Street Cinema and the AMC Mazza Gallerie, which will hold multiple screenings for convenience.
College is often touted as a time to discover yourself. Opportunities such as Filmfest D.C. are a chance to do just that. International cinema is an artistic gift worthy of everyone’s attention in the United States. The festival provides the opportunity to turn away from Hollywood for 11 days and explore a drastically different experience. With over 20,000 people attending in 2014, Filmfest D.C. is a chance to join a unique community that is both global and distinctly local in its scope.