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BEYOND: DC Shorts film fest at milestone

- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the DC Shorts Film Festival, an important milestone. Why? Because upon completion of this fifth year, the festival is eligible for accreditation by the Academy Awards.

"They only look at festivals that are five years plus," programmer Jon Gann says, but age alone doesn't guarantee accreditation. "It's a lot of paperwork on our end, and a lot of begging."

Sandwiched between the Toronto Film Festival and the New York City Short Film Festival, the District's festival - which runs through Thursday at Landmark's E Street Cinema - risks getting lost in the shuffle. Mr. Gann tries to mitigate that worry by making the festival especially attractive to burgeoning filmmakers.

"Our deal with filmmakers," Mr. Gann says, "is that if you can get to Washington, we will house you and feed you as best we can." A number of private homes are housing artists, and restaurants around the city have donated meal tickets; the Hotel Monaco also is offering a steeply discounted rate.

From an artistic point of view, the festival offers a number of attractions for would-be directors. "Most film festivals, you apply and send your check and get rejected and never know why," Mr. Gann explains. "We wanted a completely open system. ... As a filmmaker, you just want to know why you were rejected." To that end, he devised an Internet-based judging system. Creators can log onto it once the lineup is announced and see critiques about their films' strengths and weaknesses and the reasons for their inclusion or rejection.

This year's festival also features two seminars led by Kelley Baker, aka "the Angry Filmmaker": "Making the Extremely Low Budget Feature" and "Guerilla Marketing and Self Distribution of Your Film." Both are offered free on Friday, with priority given to filmmakers in the competition.

There's plenty for the average moviegoer to enjoy as well, starting with the shorts themselves. More than 750 films were submitted, of which 103 ultimately were selected. They run the gamut from student films and microbudgeted indie movies shot with hand-held digicams to slicker productions. There are documentaries, features, animated films and experimental flicks.

The competition films have been divided into eight showcases, and audiences will pick their favorite from each showcase for one of the festival's eight audience-choice awards.

Everything wraps up on Thursday at the E Street Cinema with four back-to-back showings of the best of the festival. Screenings are $12, and an all-access VIP pass costs $125.

In addition to securing entry into any screening, the VIP pass grants access to the Filmmaker Lounge, the spot where festival participants relax and get to know one another. Tickets can be purchased at DCshorts.com.

On Saturday, the audience also will get the chance to judge six short screenplays and decide which will be given money and put into production.

"It's like a table reading on steroids," Mr. Gann says. "It's not a performance, but it's not really a table reading, either. In order to get the audience involved, it has to be done more professionally."

Professional actors and a professional director will come together to give the scripts a proper read-through; the audience then will vote via phone on which they preferred. With any luck, next year's festival will screen the winning selection.