When "Wasp" won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film on Sunday, writer-director Richard Roll did a mental double take. "I thought, 'Wait a minute, I know that film,' " Roll recalled in a recent telephone conversation. Then he remembered why: His own film, "Down Dog," had competed against "Wasp" at the Boulder International Film Festival in Colorado. And won.
Not bad for the very first screening of your very first foray behind the camera. Roll, 38, had been an entertainment attorney for 10 years when he decided to try his hand at directing. "Most of my clients are filmmakers, so I've been around it in a shadow-artist capacity," said Roll, a Bethesda native who's back in town for a screening of "Down Dog" tonight at the DC Independent Film Festival. "I'd been itching to do this for a long time."
Chane't Johnson, center, and other yogis in "Down Dog," being shown tonight at the DC Independent Film Festival.
(Stacie Isabella Turk)
If the reaction to "Down Dog" in Boulder is any indication, he may have a little hit on his hands. The 22-minute film is a punchy, slick-looking satire of the Los Angeles yoga world, one in which the path to enlightenment is often paved with as much greed and avarice as serenity. The film's star, Jeffrey Johnson, who resembles Will Ferrell with a topknot, plays a smarmy guru with a bevy of gorgeous female followers, whose cover is finally blown by the arrival of a mysterious student (Chane't Johnson).
Roll wrote "Down Dog" with his wife, Julie Piatt. "My wife and I are actually pretty avid yoga practitioners," Roll explained. "We're sort of part of this kind of yoga subculture which is sort of particular to L.A. but that's growing nationwide in popularity. And we noticed that a lot of humorous things go on when people go on this quest for spiritual growth."
Originally, Roll and Piatt intended "Down Dog" to be a feature-length film; after spending 1 1/2 years trying to get it produced, however, Roll decided to do the short version, which will be seen next month at festivals in Los Angeles and Phoenix, to "establish that I had the capacity to handle it." Roll hopes to get the feature production underway this year.
Meanwhile, he said, the most important thing is that viewers accept "Down Dog" in the spirit in which it was made. "I didn't want viewers to walk away thinking I was making fun of yoga," he said. "I wanted to celebrate it at the same time I was satirizing it, and that's a very fine line to walk." Spoken like a true yogi.
Down Dog will be shown with the feature "Brass Tacks" at 6:30 p.m. at the City Museum, 801 K St. NW (at Mount Vernon Square) as part of the DC Independent Film Festival. Admission is $9. For more information call 202-537-9493 or visit www.dciff.org.