Pollywood: DC Indie Film Fest Preview

The D.C. Independent Film Festival looks to boost, cultivate independent cinema in 14th annual showcase. Here are some of our top flick picks.
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Screenshot from Italian short film, "108.1FM Radio" (Photo courtesy of D.C. Independent Film Festival)

With constant comparisons to New York City, that culturally unattainable specter hovering quite literally – geographically – above us, Washington, D.C. is too often derided for its own lack of cultural depth. There may be jazz clubs on U Street, coffeehouses with comfy chairs in Adams Morgan, and college students with a penchant for overlage glasses and sweaters two-sizes too big à la the latest hipster fashions, but when it comes to the pulse of the art scene, general sentiment seems to have pinned Washington as a weak alternative to Williamsburg.

Which is just what the 14th annual D.C. Independent Film Festival is looking to disprove. Beginning this Wednesday, February 29th, and running through Sunday, March 4th, the DCIFF will showcase a number of independent films from over 20 countries, in addition to hosting several events and filmmaker discussions. The goal in mind, according to Executive Director , is to “bring attention to independent filmmaking as art, as culture, as a source of jobs, as an industry, and as an incredible source of creative community energy.”

In-keeping with this ambition, the festival’s offerings will cover a broad range of genres: drama, horror, shorts, documentaries, animated, and stop-motion films. Two feature films, the Vietnamese “Pearls of the Far East” and American documentary “Who Bombed Judi Bari?,” highlight the varying ideologies viewers can expect from the screenings, to be held at the US Navy Heritage Center.

“East” is the debut feature from director Cuong Ngo. Based off several short stories from author Minh Ngoc Nguyen, this string of vignettes following the lives, loves and disappointments of seven women, is every inch an art film. The term “visual feast” is appropriate for the cinematic spread Ngo offers: heightened color, expansive views, shapes and forms of everyday people turned uncanny in their newfound role as objects of aesthetic contemplation. While the slow pacing and lack of a straightforward narrative may keep some viewers at bay, “East” operates on its own rhythm. By turning on a series of central conceits – art, age, love – with an emphasis on style and form, rather than linearity or plot to convey its sentiments, “Pearls of the Far East” finds its closest analogy in a meditative tone poem.

, from the documentary "Who Bombed ?" (Photo courtesy of whobombedjudibari.com)

“Who Bombed Judi Bari?,” in contrast, has the kind of plot worthy of a Hollywood headliner. And, disconcertingly, it’s all true. The documentary from director Mary Liz Thomson and producer Darryl Cherney, friend  of Judi Bari and fellow bomb victim, chronicles the trials of the titular Earth First! activist in her quest to clear her name from, and ascertain the real culprit of, the car bomb that nearly took her life in 1990. “Bari” is a love letter to the eponymous subject, inter-splicing footage from Bari’s deposition for her lawsuit against the Oakland police and FBI (who she believed framed her for the bombing), and home-footage of Earth First! events. There’s the little-guy-standing-up-to-big-business, prejudice, social activism, conspiracy theories, and a hefty dose of country-folk songs, all melding together in this distinctly American, and distinctly compelling, portrait of a lady.

Of course, not everything DCIFF has to offer is a weighty meditation on art and death. The Italian short “108.1FM Radio” is a darkly comic look at the pervasiveness of  films in our cultural psyche. There will also be more light-hearted and illuminating fare, with several opportunities  to attend a discussion led by acclaimed filmmaker Les Blank.

NYC may still top The District when it comes to pizza and 24-hour public transportation, but in terms of artistic depth, DCIFF just dug us a little deeper.

“Pearls of the Far East,” “Who Bombed Judi Bari?” and “108.1FM Radio” are all scheduled to screen Sunday, March 4th, from 2:30-5:00, 5:00-7:15, and 12:30-2:30, respectively, at the US Navy Heritage Center. For more information on tickets and the festival’s offerings, including discussions and other featured events, please click here.

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