“The first year I did it I had no idea what I was doing,” Jon Gann says.
Gann is the director and founder of the DC Shorts Film Festival, which marks its 10th anniversary this year. He and the fest have progressed markedly from that first year, when he “financed it with [his] credit card and just prayed someone would show up.”
So many people have showed up, in fact, that this year the festival has spread beyond D.C. proper and into the suburbs, with screenings at the Angelika Film Center in Fairfax and at VisArts in Rockville. Heck, you can even watch at home: A $40 online pass allows you to watch 120 of the 153 films.
As Gann and his team sorted through the 1,200-plus films submitted this year, certain patterns began to emerge.
“Whatever the zeitgeist of the filmmakers was this year, we saw a lot of,” he says. “There were a lot of zombie films. Student filmmakers are thinking zombie films are the next big thing, when in fact they were three years ago.”
Come final-selection time, though, the only pattern is no pattern at all: “We have documentaries, dramas, comedies, experimental film — the genres are all over the place.”
The films are divided into numbered showcases, most of which feature a mix representing all the genres. (Showcase 16 is strictly adults-only). Gann calls it the “tapas platter” approach to film. “You’ve got nine films of varying length; if what you see right now you don’t like, five minutes later there will be something different on screen.”
Over the past decade, Gann has come to believe more fervently in the shorts genre as a test of a filmmaker’s talent.
“There are a lot of 90-minute Hollywood films that are a great 10-minute story,” he says. “My feeling has always been that if you can tell a great story in under 10 minutes, you really know what you’re doing.”
Various locations, through Sept. 29, individual tickets $12-$15, $100 for an all-access pass, 202-393-4266, dcshorts.com.
Local writer-director Peter Kimball returns to DC Shorts — this time with an actual film. Last year, Kimball won the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition with his script for “Shenanigans,” a movie about two parents who open their son’s bedroom door and an ensuing can of worms as comedic double-crosses and betrayals come to light.
Kimball, 30, who attended American University with his co-director, Colin Foster, won $1,000 back then and another grand when he completed the film. His script was chosen by an audience attending a live reading of his and five other scripts with local actors at last year’s festival. That writing win scored Kimball’s film a slot in this year’s festival lineup, where “Shenanigans” will make its formal premiere (as part of Showcase 15). Then, the film will make the rounds at a short-film festival in Los Angeles, as well as film festivals in Vancouver and Calgary in Canada.
This year’s screenplay competition (featuring two D.C. competitors and one from Charlottesville, Va.) is set for Sept. 27; advance tickets are recommended.
DC Shorts’ Featured Country: Russia
Each year, the DC Shorts festival chooses a country and highlights some of its emerging talent, and this year the featured country is Russia. This caused some problems for the programmers when anti-gay legislation was passed in the country in June. “When the s— hit the fan politically, we had to really think about what we were doing,” says Gann, who is gay. The organizers considered pulling the Russian films, but in the end they decided that “after a year of planning, it wasn’t fair to pull 16 films.” That said, the festival did cut all ties with the Russian Embassy, which was planning to host events, including a dinner for the filmmakers visiting from Russia.
On the Clock
With one exception, the DC Shorts Film Festival’s movies range in length from one minute to 20. Here’s a quick look at 20 of the shorts, from shortest to least short.
01 min.: ‘New Spain’
In just one minute, this film explores the life of a poor farmer and the consequences of war in 1815 Spain through bucolic imagery and voice-overs. See It: Showcase 13
02: ‘Cats in Space’
It’s like “Star Trek,” but with cats as crew members engaging in an intergalactic battle. I can haz fazerz set to FUN? See It: Showcase 4
03: ‘Practice Makes Perfect’
A 12-year-old boy worries about performing the perfect first kiss. Watch the tongue, kid, and you’ll be fine. See It: Showcase 1
04: ‘Mile High Pie’
A documentary about an old-fashioned restaurant known for meringue pies that are more meringue than pie. Avoid if hungry. See It: Showcase 10
05: ‘Un Ojo’
A Mexican animated film about a boy who accidentally pops out one of his eyeballs and must chase it through various perils. See It: Showcase 2
06: ‘Visions of My Mother’
In this documentary, a man prepares a meal he remembers his mother making before his family was forced into the Warsaw ghetto. See It: Showcase 9
07: ‘Old Lady Luck’
A woman looking to raise money for her family’s birthday gifts thinks she can do it through gambling in this comedy from Australia. See It: Showcase 4
08: ‘Uisce Beatha’
The title means “water of life” and refers to whiskey; it’s the story of an Irish man who sets off for America on the Titanic. See It: Showcase 15
09: ‘People of Dogs’
This doc follows Cora Bailey, director of South Africa’s Community Led Animal Welfare clinic, as she brings hope to pets in slums. See It: Showcase 7
10: ‘Building Magic’
The documentary spotlights Mario the Magician, a self-taught performer looking to bring a new spin to children’s magic shows. See It: Showcase 4
11: ‘Ina Litovski’
In this Canadian drama, a little girl wonders if her mother will come to her violin recital or decide to get drunk (again) instead. See It: Showcase 7
12: ‘Only Fair’
Spooky and atmospheric, this Austrian drama reassures us that, yeah, we are all going to die, so we’d better get used to it. See It: Showcase 5
A widower returns to his hometown, packing the essentials — like his stuffed cat — for the trip in this Australian comedy. See It: Showcase 6
14: ‘Pro Kopf’
“The Maid” is a German drama about a man who calls home, speaks to the housekeeper and makes a shocking discovery. See It: Showcase 5
D.C.’s ever-changing Chinatown (the smallest in the country) poses many challenges to its longtime residents, who remember it pre-Hooters. See It: Showcase 6
A teen actor, desperate for fame, decides not to tell his mother about an upcoming film role, which seems a little sketchy. See It: Showcase 4
17: ‘System Preferences’
One of the festival’s featured Russian films, this is an animated documentary about computer pioneer Bashir Rameyev. See It: Showcase 5
18: ‘Tozoret Bait’
An Israeli drama (the title means “Homemade”) about a mother who must decide how unconditional her love is when her son is accused of a crime. See It: Showcase 7
19: ‘Beyond Belief’
A magician, faced with the prospect of old age, has the opportunity to turn his awful life into a happy one in this dramedy. See It: Showcase 15
20: ‘The Commitment’
In this short feature, a gay couple seeking to adopt find that the prospect of parenthood challenges their relationship in unforeseen ways. See It: Showcase 10