Filmfest DC, the homegrown international movie festival entering its 29th year, kicks off its 11-day slate Thursday. It almost didn't happen.
"Last year, this time, we thought that was going to be it," said Tony Gittens, the founder and director of the Washington, D.C., International Film Festival, also known as Filmfest.
Gittens, who is also the former executive director of the D.C. Commission of the Arts and Humanities, has faced a number of recent challenges to the festival. In 2013, assessing the loss of major sponsors and funding, he told The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday, “We started adding up the numbers and said, ‘We can’t do this again.’”
But the festival was able to make it to 2014, and now again to 2015. Gittens said support from the community and a rethinking of the festival enabled it to stick around, and will possibly help it thrive in the future.
"That popular demand made us realize it was about more than us," he added. Gittens said contributors from across the spectrum stepped up with donations, some of their consultants agreed to either reduce their fees or volunteer their services and the organizers were able to reduce costs by consolidating venues and changing some of the festival features.
"We rethought the festival, how could we be leaner and meaner," Gittens said.
One way was through utilizing just two primary theaters for the bulk of screenings, Landmark's E Street Cinema at 555 11th St. NW and AMC's Mazza Gallerie at 5300 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Other venues for festival events such as screenings and receptions are the Goethe-Institut at 812 Seventh St. NW, the Embassy of France at 4101 Reservoir Road NW, the Lincoln Theater at 1215 U St. NW and Brixton at 901 U Street NW.
Another approach the festival re-evaluated was paying for filmmakers and talent to travel to Washington. Instead, many of those people will communicate via Skype at events. For Gitten, making those changes was key to retaining the most important aspects of the festival's identity.
"We're not going to change our core, which was to bring quality films to the District," he said.
And how to pick among the dozens of flicks? How about picking one film from each continent, or as close to that as possible.
Such a list might look something like this:
"The Connection" by Cedric Jimenez, (France, 2014). Consider it the mirror image of "The French Connection," a 1970s tale of the drug trade, but set in Marseille. Friday, April 17, 8:30 p.m., and Monday, April 20, 8:30 p.m., at Mazza Gallerie.
"Finding Gaston" by Patricia Perez, (Peru, 2014). A documentary about Peruvian super chef Gaston Acurio. Friday, April 17, 6:30 p.m., and Sunday, April 19, 5 p.m. at E Street.
"Partners in Crime," by Chang Jung-chi, (Taiwan, 2014). A thriller set in a Taipei high school about the death of a young girl and the three boys who discover her body. Saturday, April 18, 5 p.m., and Sunday, April 19, 3 p.m. at E Street.
"Happy Times," by Luis Javier M. Henaine, (Mexico, 2014). A comedy about the fine art of breaking up. Wednesday, April 22, 6:30 p.m., and Saturday, April 25, 4:30 p.m. at Mazza Gallerie.
"Heritages" by Philippe Aractingi, (Lebanon/France, 2013). The story of a filmmaker's attempt to recreate his family's story, particularly through photos, home movies and re-enactments. Saturday, April 18 at 7 p.m. and Friday, April 24, 6:30 p.m. at E Street.
"The Water Diviner" by Russell Crowe, (Australia, 2014). This is Crowe's directorial debut. He plays a father who travels to Turkey after World War I to try to process how his sons died at Gallipoli. Friday, April 17, 6:30 p.m. at Mazza Gallerie.
The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress
Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.