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DC Shorts kicks off with Oscar-winning filmmaker

Thursday - 9/19/2013, 9:43am  ET

WASHINGTON - Is your attention span too short for a feature-length film? Or, do you love movies so much that you want to discover the next rising star?

You may want to check out the 10th annual DC Shorts Film Festival, running Sept. 19 through Sept. 29.

"I started DC Shorts because I was a frustrated filmmaker who traveled the world going to film festivals and didn't like most of the festivals that I went to. They were about a lot of things, but they weren't about filmmakers," says festival director Jon Gann.

A decade later, DC Shorts has grown into one of the premiere short film festivals in the nation and the largest short film event on the East Coast.

This year's festival screens 153 films from 23 countries, including some nations not previously featured at the festival.

"We've received films from 45 nations over the years, but we've never received films from Russia. So we decided to make a concerted effort to try to figure out why and see if we could do something about it," says Gann.

"This year, we're showing the largest collection of Russian short films ever to show in the United States."

Gann's plan was supported by a $10,000 grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It's the first grant the festival has received from the Oscars after years of trying.

"Academy grants are very difficult to get, so we were very honored to get it this year for our 10th year," says Gann.

Gann still seeks Academy Award accreditation though, which would mean winning films are automatically short-listed for Oscar consideration. While that has not yet happened, past films screened at DC Shorts have done well at the Academy Awards, including last year's Oscar-winner "Curfew" by writer/director Shawn Christensen.

"He's actually going to be here for opening night," says Gann. "He's taking a break from shooting the feature version of 'Curfew' to come to DC Shorts. He just wanted to come. He loves the festival, so I'm very excited."

Indeed, opening the festival with last year's Oscar-winning filmmaker is one hell of a kickoff. But what else can we expect from this year's crop of films?

"This year we're seeing a lot of comedies for the first time in a few years, which is nice," says Gann.

"It means the mood of the world is changing, which we've been hoping for since we can only show so many depressing films so many years in a row."

Gann organizes his 90-minute showcases in a "tapas platter" approach. One screening provides nine or 10 short films from various genres.

"They're all over the map - there's comedies, there's documentaries, there's animation, there's something local, there's something foreign, there's something that will challenge you," says Gann.

"You walk away after 90 minutes feeling the gamut of emotions, and if there's something you don't like, you close your eyes and there will be something else on the screen anyway."

Six venues across the D.C. area will screen the various films, including tried and true locations like the E Street Cinema and U.S. Navy Memorial downtown, the Angelika Film Center & Café in Fairfax, Va., and the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street NE.

This year also will bring two new venues: VisArts at Rockville in Maryland and the Anacostia Arts Center in Southeast D.C.

"We've sort of outgrown our facilities downtown," says Gann.

"We sell out most of our shows, so we needed to reach new audiences. We knew that a lot of people are out in the suburbs and don't want to come down to something like this, so why don't we bring the festival to them?"

If you can't make it to the screenings, more than 120 of the films are available in high-definition online through Sept. 29.

If you're going this route, I'd suggest buying the online pass at the box office, where it's half-price.

"We have 18 different showcases over the first three days - it's impossible to go do all of it," says Gann.

"This is a great way for audience members who really love it to spend more time at home at their convenience - and maybe at their office where they should be working - to watch some films."

Visit the official DC Shorts website for the complete schedule and ticket information.

Follow WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley on Twitter @AboveTheJFray, read his blog The Film Spectrum or listen Friday mornings on 103.5 FM.

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