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FilmfestDC kicks off first of 11 nights (VIDEO)

Thursday - 4/12/2012, 1:22pm  ET

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'Blood in the Mobile' is one of the many international films being shown at FilmfestDC. (Photo Courtesy of Danish Film Institute)

Alicia Lozano, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Local film buffs need not venture to New York or Cannes for a look at this year's best international flicks. The 26th annual DC International Film Festival ( FilmfestDC) kicks off Thursday evening in Chinatown under a new theme: "The Lighter Side."

It all starts at 7 p.m. at the Regal Cinemas Gallery Place with the Canadian movie "Starbuck." ABC 7 entertainment reporter Arch Campbell will host the festivities, which include an after-party at Bar Louie. Tickets for opening night are $25.

"Starbuck," in French with English subtitles, is a Ken Scott comedic creation about a middle-aged man who's a constant disappointment to his family. He owes money to some unsavory folks and has a pregnant girlfriend who hates him. Scott also finds out he has conceived 533 children after a sperm donation he made in the 1980s.

If this doesn't sound like your bag, don't worry. The festival lasts through April 22 and features more than 80 movies from 35 countries. Tickets range from $11 to $28. There will also be free screenings at the National Gallery of Art on April 15, 21 and 22.

Other top venues throughout D.C. will show comedies from countries such as Argentina, Japan, Italy and France.

The program also includes "Caribbean Journeys" -- with works from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba and the Dominican Republic -- and "Justice Matters," a series of films dedicated to social justice issues.

"This is the longest running and largest film fest in D.C.," says FilmfestDC's Jordan Stinnett. "We're basically trying to bring together all these excellent films from around the world that people in D.C. might not otherwise see."

Festival founder and director Tony Gittens traveled to other film events throughout the year and around the world to find the best selection of films. Many will actually be making their world premieres here in the nation's capital.

Gittens prides himself on picking movies that will be of special interest to local residents.

"The D.C. audience is an interesting audience," he says. "D.C. is very thoughtful. A lot of very smart people live here and often D.C. folks take things a bit too seriously."

That is one of the reasons he decided to focus on "The Lighter Side" in 2012.

But the region has been expanding creatively since Gittens first moved here in 1965 to attend Howard University. Despite the city's sometimes stuffy demeanor, he noticed a thirst for art.

So in 1986, Gittens and some fellow cinephile friends decided it was time to launch a film festival.

"We would see wonderful films and other people would not be able to see them," Gittens says. "We knew that Washington was at a point where there was a deeper, longer-lasting interest in events."

Gittens also took his love of music -- his father was a musician -- and incorporated it into the festival. This year's "Girls in the Band" documentary takes a look at the long history of female jazz musicians.

But the best part of orchestrating this yearly event is breathing life into a childhood obsession.

"How film can bring worlds -- alternate worlds -- into a theater or into the home and tell these incredible stories, I just find fascinating," he says. "The festival allows me to do that and I feel privileged."

For more information on films, dates and ticket bookings, visit FilmFestDC.org.

Watch the preview of "Starbuck" below:

WTOP's Nathan Hager contributed to this report. Follow Alicia Lozano, Nathan Hager and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)