ONCE EVERY two months, audiences can see the nearly completed works of independent filmmakers -- most of whom are local -- and critique them afterward. At Docs in Progress, the directors are right there to answer questions and explain their decisions.
The screenings are hosted by the Documentary Center at George Washington University. This month's films chronicle two groups of Americans: present and former members of a Slavic singing group (in "Yale Russian Chorus," by Catherine Mattingly) and World War II vets reuniting on the Mall (in "We Came to Remember," by Hugh Drescher).
Adele Schmidt and Erica Ginsberg, themselves filmmakers and consultants, founded Docs in Progress last year to provide a space for filmmakers to get feedback on their projects. In an e-mail, they wrote, "We accept and screen documentaries from an early stage to the close-to-done stage of post-production," adding that Mattingly's and Drescher's films are "close-to-done."
After showing a film, Schmidt and Ginsberg explain, the director asks the audience questions that "all directors want to know: Is the structure of the film working? Are the characters well developed? Do we get the message the director wants to give us? Is the context of the documentary clear? Is the visual style consistent?"
This method seems to work because "the audience is new to the materials and discovers immediately the 'weak' points of an unfinished film," according to Schmidt and Ginsberg. "Most of the films need a fine-tuning in terms of structure, character development, balance of visual elements and adaption of the music. Some documentaries need more historical background information or more details about characters."
Anywhere from 45 to 90 people attend the screenings, which means a casual viewer won't be put on the spot to critique a film, but for those hungry to put in their two cents, the directors are all ears.
Docs in Progress is Wednesday at 7 at GWU's Media and Public Affairs Building, Jack Morton Auditorium, 805 21st St. NW. A donation of $5 is suggested. For more information, call 240-505-8696.
Robert Greenwald's latest documentary, "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price," is a straight-to-DVD release, which is the way he wants it. Using what he calls his "nontraditional 'release' strategy," Greenwald's grim depiction of the lives of Wal-Mart workers will be shown at viewing parties Sunday through Nov. 19. In an online statement, the director -- whose credits also include last year's "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism" and 2003's "Uncovered: The War on Iraq" -- says he was able to show his previous films to a wide audience "using house parties around the country, local groups hosting screenings, high-profile screenings in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., and a simultaneous limited theatrical run for those who love seeing it in a regular theater with expensive popcorn." (Though the Washington premiere Tuesday at Regal Gallery Place is sold out, the DVD is in stores Tuesday, and it opens at Landmark's E Street Cinema in February.) This week, there are still more than 50 screenings scheduled in the metro area, ranging in size from 10 people in someone's living room to 200 in a university amphitheater, and most are free. To find one nearby, visit www.wal-martmovie.com.
Starting Sunday, the Avalon Theatre will host monthly screenings of experimental Asian and Asia-themed films, whether from Asia or North America. The inaugural film will be "The Hunter and the Hunted (Yudan Taiteki)," a thriller by Japanese director Izuru Narushima about the complex relationship between a small-town detective and the burglar he pursues. The screening is Sunday at 8 at the Avalon, 5612 Connecticut Ave. NW. Tickets are $9.50, students and seniors $6.75. For more information, call 202-966-6000.
-- Christina Talcott