A short film has the same benefits as a snack-size candy bar: It’s no great hardship if you didn’t like it. Just pop another one in your mouth. To further mix my junk food metaphors, when the films are six to 30 minutes long, bet you can’t eat just one.
All this week, area movie buffs have been snacking on the 14th annual DC Shorts Film Festival & Screenplay Competition. The movies — more than 170 in various categories — come from 33 countries, but the Washington area is well-represented, too. There are some narratives, including "Silent Sentinel," Joe Dzikiewicz's retelling of the 1917 suffragist protests, but our town is known best for its documentaries.
"That's the influence of all the production companies here that do documentary work for people like Discovery and National Geographic," said Joe Bilancio, the festival's director of programming.
"Unknown" is a documentary shot, directed and edited by Katie Sheridan.
“I’m a very curious person,” she said. “When I see people on the street who look interesting, I’m naturally inclined to want to go up to them and talk to them. Filmmaking gives me an excuse to find out more about them.”
Katie’s six-minute film is about the Unknowns, a busking five-piece band that travels via Metro and is — depending on how long you’re exposed to them — either a blast of sonic fun in sober downtown or a loud distraction as you’re sitting in your office trying to get work done.
Katie, 33, spent so much time with the band that lead singer Kenny Sway asked her to be the godmother of his newborn daughter.
Curiosity also motivated Steve N. Bradford, though he wasn't sure at first how to assuage that curiosity.
“I couldn’t figure out a way to Google ‘What is this bizarre shape sticking out of the ground,’ ” Steve said. “There wasn’t an obvious term to look for.”
He finally figured it out and the result is “Unmoving Derelict,” a nine-minute film about the District’s old police and fire call boxes.
Making a documentary about cast iron monoliths isn’t the same as making one about, oh, cheetahs or race car drivers. Call boxes don’t move. So instead, Steve moved the camera and tried to bring the call boxes to life.
“I got very lucky on the film that during the time I was shooting, it rained,” he said. “I’m sitting at home and I think, ‘I need shots of call boxes crying in the rain.’ I ran out to drive to the nearest call boxes to try to get sad video. So now it looks like they have emotion.”
Bo Tan is from Chengdu, China. In Washington to attend the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design at George Washington University, he became captivated by a uniformed man on U Street NW who seemed to have stepped off a Civil War battlefield.
That turned out to be Marquette Milton, who works as a historic interpreter at the African American Civil War Museum. In "Close to U," Bo contrasts Marquette's connection to the U Street neighborhood with that of Erik Moe, a white artist.
“I really want to do visual storytelling,” said Bo, 24. “I wish I could focus on the culture changing in Washington, D.C., from an outsider’s view. I want to know about where D.C.’s going.”
You and me both, Bo.
Most of the DC Shorts films are screening at the Landmark E Street Cinema at 11th and E streets NW. There's a free program every day at noon, including a lunchtime sampler Wednesday of works by female filmmakers. Thursday features episodes of "East Coast Grow," a Web series about the marijuana business in the District.
Screening Wednesday evening are the best entries from the Sunderland Shorts Film Festival, held in a town in England's industrial north that's a sister city to Washington. That festival was organized with the help of our own shorts festival.
The festival continues through Sunday. For information, visit festival.dcshorts.com. Some of these films have already screened, but for $30 you can get a pass to watch most of them — and dozens more — online.
That includes "Anyone Like Me," Mimi d'Autremont's moving and inspirational documentary about Shelby Bean, a hard of hearing athlete who played at and now is on the football coaching staff at Gallaudet, Washington's university for the deaf. It's a whopping 25 minutes long, but it goes down a treat.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.