Local film fest screens Oscar shorts ahead of Academy Awards

November 29, 2021 | (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — The Academy Awards are officially ten days away.

So how’d you like to impress your Oscar Party by having an opinion on the nominated shorts?

Local film festival D.C. Shorts WINS is screening a couple of this year’s nominees at the U.S. Navy Memorial Heritage Center this Friday and Saturday. The festival is essentially a “Best in Show” from last fall’s D.C. Shorts Film Festival, which was recently voted the “World’s Coolest Short Film Fest.”

“It’s really films that have won awards at our past festival, and if they didn’t win an award per se, they were audience favorites. So if you don’t like shorts or don’t know if you like shorts, it’s really a good way to come and see what are the best of the best,” Festival Director Joe Bilancio tells WTOP.

The first Oscar-nominated short screening at the festival this weekend is Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage’s British film “Stutterer,” which made its U.S. premiere at D.C. Shorts in September. It follows an introverted man who overcomes his stutter by communicating online.

“He starts an online conversation, it’s not like online dating, but a chat with a certain woman who happens to be down in London and she would like to meet. Of course, this throws him into a tizzy because while he’s eloquent with the written word, he can’t speak as fluently as he would like to. … It really is just a very sweet story. You get into his head and how somebody in that position feels.”

The second Oscar-nominated short screening this weekend is Jamie Donoughue’s drama “Shok,” which follows a friendship between two boys at the end of the Kosovo conflict in 1998.

“It’s all about how they navigate the war both internally and externally, and it’s just sort of a memory. A guy goes back to the scene many years after and just relives all the things that happened to them. You see how their relationship started and how it persevered through all these turmoils. All the characters are great and it’s just a very powerful film filled with emotion,” Bilancio says.

“Stutterer” and “Shok” will compete for Best Live Action Short against “Ave Maria” by Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont, “Day One” by Henry Hughes and “Everything Will Be Okay” by Patrick Vollrath. If the Oscar goes to either of these D.C. Shorts alumni, it’ll be a special feather in the cap of the festival.

“It really is fun to look back and see the things that we saw. I think most of us looked at a film like ‘Shok’ and to a certain extent ‘Stutterer’ and said these are going to be big. You don’t really know how big, but you know that they’re going to be big. You sort of pat yourself on the back,” Bilancio says.

D.C. Shorts also screened a third future Oscar contender last fall, the Best Animated Short nominee “We Can’t Live Without the Cosmos,” but that film will not screen again in D.C. this weekend.

“We have contracts with everybody … and there was an issue with that one that didn’t allow us to screen it (again), but it was still a part of our festival, so we’re still very proud of it,” Bilancio says.

DC Shorts WINS will also screen the cream of the crop of non-Oscar nominees that were otherwise captivating to festival audiences, including “Discipline” by Christophe M. Saber from Switzerland.

“It’s about someone who reprimands their child in a supermarket when people are around, but it’s the impetus for all the people to start reprimanding each other. It’s layers upon layers of socio-economic status and immigrants. It’s the onion. You peel back the onion,” Bilancio says.

Another stand out is “Letter to God” by Maria Ibrahimova from Azerbaijan. It follows an old, grandfatherly man who gets a terminal illness and writes a letter to God asking for more time.

“He writes a letter to God and God answers. … Maybe it isn’t God, but it’s certainly somebody who might be answering God’s mail. … It’s just cute, it’s a little quirky,” Bilancio says.

Whether you’re a newcomer to shorts or a seasoned veteran, D.C. Shorts WINS offers the perfect introduction with a tapas-platter approach catering to multiple different tastes and genres.

“You see things from a lot of different countries and different languages. You see things that are light and you see things that are a little heavier. … There’s thrillers, there’s comedies,” Bilancio says.

The various films are screened in two different showcases. Block A screens at 7:30 a.m. Friday and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, while Block B screens at 9:30 p.m. Friday and 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

You can buy tickets online or at the box office. Tickets are $15 per showcase, but you can get a $10 discount by purchasing the doubleheader of both showcases on a given night.

“It really is a mix of those films that have been critically acclaimed, those films that have been favorites by audiences, and some that have been both. … It’s neat to see things that either you’ve been tracking or see that you say, ‘I think this is going to be a neat thing,’ and then it comes to fruition and you get to watch it on Academy night and go, ‘I remember that when,'” Bilancio says.

This weekend marks Bilancio’s first foray into the D.C. festival circuit, working alongside co-programmer Derek Horne to take over the reins from D.C. Shorts founder Jon Gann.

“Jon set a great precedent,” Bilancio says, “But we’re excited to take what’s there and build upon it.”

Listen to the full interview with Festival Director Joe Balancio below.

November 29, 2021 | (Jason Fraley)

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