- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 10, 2002

Eric Sommer simmers over the fact that, for the cost of making one "Pearl Harbor," thousands of "Blair Witch Projects" could have been greenlighted.

Rather than getting too angry, Mr. Sommer is trying to hoist as many fledgling filmmakers as he can to tip the scales in the independents' favor.

As executive director of the second annual Georgetown Independent Film Festival, a four-day event (Thursday through Aug. 18) that boasts more than 70 shorts and features from the District and beyond, his mission is to convince people that anyone can make a movie.

To draw attention to his personal quest, Mr. Sommer recruited iconoclastic director John Waters to headline a festival party on Friday.

"He's the film 'Everyman,'" Mr. Sommer says of the Baltimore-based filmmaker who makes accessible films with few stars and minuscule budgets. (The festival opens with a screening of Mr. Waters' 1988 film, "Hairspray," which was recently adapted as a Broadway musical.)

"[Filmmaking] isn't the realm of the overly intellectually promiscuous. That's the flavor we're trying to get across. Anybody can do this," he says.

"It's a celebration of the school of 'can do and get it done now,'" he adds. "There are no whiners, no crybabies. Don't cry to us that you can't make a film."

Mr. Sommer, who is also the festival's founder, points to a local artist who epitomizes that spirit, a steady contributor who appears to be in his 60s or 70s.

"He doesn't care if he wins. It's the excitement of having made something. He's walking with a cane, but by the time he gets to the top of our [office] stairs, his eyes are twinkling."

This year, he notes, the festival will include's films from the Venice International Film Festival. The relationship means that a host of foreign films will be included, up from two from last year's festival.

Mr. Sommer says the festival also cushions the blow of the neighborhood losing so many of its theaters. Most recently, Georgetown's Cineplex Odeon Foundry closed its doors, although a new multiscreen theater is planned for opening this fall on K Street NW.

Other Georgetown theaters that have closed in recent years include the Key, the Biograph and the Georgetown.

"Everybody feels the loss," he says.

Mr. Sommer sees movie houses as a "communal experience." "You go window shopping, you hang out," he says of the moviegoing process. "It brings so much back to the community."

He believes his festival provides a noncommercial and nurturing place for budding artists, as well.

"We're trying to be an affront to the increasing institutionalization of the major festivals," he says, nettled by the growing stature of Sundance and other gatherings in which major movie studios play crucial roles.

"This is still a filmmaker's festival," he says. "We take care of them and try to support and expand the whole concept of filmmaking."

He recalls watching "Sub," the winner of last year's animated short division by Rhode Island School of Design senior Jesse Schmal.

"That made me realize we were on the right track," he says. "You don't need $20 million to make a good movie."

The animation by the filmmaker, who soon got a job at MTV, "was so sophisticated and so unpretentious and rawþ it reached out to you and shook your heart a little bit," he says.

Another participant, video art teacher Renee Shaw, had never entered a film festival before. She showed her video art exclusively at art galleries.

She changed her thinking when she learned about the Georgetown Independent Film Festival last year.

"As a video artist, its difficult to find a lot of galleries," she says, pointing out that a film festival offers a broader audience for her work because they concentrate on films that may lack polish but represent work by talented filmmakers.

Ms. Shaw's videos deals with relationships. She uses negative space as a metaphor for how two people relate.

"It's experimental," she says. "I'm not concentrating on the human form."

Last year she submitted "Shapes Between Two Hands," a seven-minute short, and will have a similarly themed film, "Varo," this year.

Win or lose, the rewards come from the artistic interaction.

"I got a lot of really great feedback from various filmmakers and critics," she says, contrasting the exposure to the blank reception her work received at past gallery showings.

Ms. Shaw, like many of those who submit their creations, relies on ingenuity rather than mounds of cash to see her vision come to cinematic light.

Mr. Sommer believes that tiny budgets and no-name casts can't derail a filmmaker's vision in the end.

"The idea will always win out," he says. By the same token, "you can't put lipstick on a pig. The idea is everything. A bad idea well done is still a bad idea."

Since the festival has already received more than 600 submissions and is continuing to accept entries right up to the opening day even though entry deadline is July 31 showtimes won't be cemented until the last minute. (For information, visit the festival's Web site at https://www.georgetownfilmfest.com.


WHAT: The Georgetown Independent Film Festival

WHERE: 3128 M Street NW

WHEN: Thursday through Aug. 18

TICKETS: Film block tickets are $5, with all-day passes available for $10. For more information, visit https://www.georgetownfilmfest.com.


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