WASHINGTON — Countless film festivals highlight indie filmmaking across the country each year, including numerous annual mainstays here in the D.C. area.
But the 26th annual Rosebud Film Festival, which returns this Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Arlington, Virginia, distinguishes itself by accepting only filmmakers from D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
“That’s what makes us unique,” festival director Kevin Sampson told WTOP. “We’re looking for films that are innovative, unusual, experimental and deeply personal. You really get to see your next-door neighbors, those [folks] who work our 9-to-5, but then we put our heart into our craft on the side.”
This year’s festival received more than 75 submissions, whittled down to 20 films to screen this weekend. Tickets cost $15 for opening night, $15 for Saturday’s big showcase or $25 for the “All Access Pass.”
“This year, we’re bigger and better,” Sampson said. “Usually, we have a two-day festival. This year, we’re expanding to three, so it’s going to be an awesome time.”
The festival kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Friday with the opening screening of “Reparation” at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre in Rosslyn, Virginia. Directed by Baltimore filmmaker Kyle Ham, the film stars Jon Huertas from NBC’s “This Is Us” and Marc Menchaca from Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer.”
“The film is about an Army veteran that has a three-year hole in his memory,” Sampson said. “He doesn’t know what’s going on, a stranger comes into town, and slowly things start to unfold and we find out what happened in that gap of time. … It’s just an amazing story that really deals with PTSD in a way that we haven’t seen before. I’m really excited and honored that we can showcase the film.”
Ham will be on site for a Q&A after the screening, followed by a mix-and-mingle opening night party.
“The Beat & Path will be out and spinning on the ones and twos, DJ Amen Ra,” Sampson said. “I’m really looking forward to this opening-night showcase and the mix-and-mingle afterward.”
The fun continues with the main showcase from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre. This includes the documentary “Off the Field” by George Mason University student Megan Arnold.
“That film is basically about an assistant coach who has special needs,” Sampson said. “He really teaches the players of this football team something that the game of football won’t be able to teach.”
The lineup also includes the sci-fi flick “Moonshot” by American University alum Matthew Lucas.
“It’s about a world-weary homeless woman who’s given an opportunity to leave her violent life behind when a roguish mechanic devises a plan to send her to a colony on the moon,” Sampson said. “If you like ‘Back to the Future’ and that whole ’80s vibe, this is definitely one to see.”
If you can’t get enough science fiction, another option is “The Recursion Theorem” by Ben Sledge.
“It is a throwback homage to Hitchcockian film noir, as well as ‘The Twilight Zone,'” Sampson said. “When you watch it, you’re like, ‘Oh, wow! This is straight-up an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone.'”
Meanwhile, if you’re a “Star Wars” fan, check out Phil Cook’s “The Star Malice Wars.”
“It’s just incredible,” Sampson said. “The graphics are amazing. Phil does the web series in his backyard. He just converts this garage into a nice green-screen area, and you’d be surprised how amazing it looks. Like I say, [J.J. Abrams’] ‘The Force Awakens’ doesn’t have anything on him!”
In addition to the fun flicks, there are socially-relevant documentaries such as “Off the Record: Justice Denied to Child Sex-Abuse Survivors,” directed by Valerie Gibson, who will offer a Q&A.
“It’s really gonna (sic) be a rough watch for viewers, but I think it’s a necessary watch,” Sampson said. “It illuminates the darkness that surrounds survivors, initial reporting to law enforcement, prosecutors, etc. … We’re really excited to showcase this film because it’s a subject that needs to be put out there.”
The festival closes on Sunday with its annual awards show from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Clarendon Ballroom in Arlington. The ceremony is free to the public, as attendees will watch five winning filmmakers climb on stage to receive $1,000 prizes each, made possible by the generous sponsorship of Arlington Arts.
“That’s one of the things we pride ourselves on,” Sampson said. “There’s not many film festivals around nationwide that give away $1,000 to each filmmaker. We really want to make sure that our filmmakers are able to get back out there and are able to keep doing what they’re doing. … We’re putting money into these filmmakers’ pockets, because we believe in what they’re doing.”
The films are watched by five judges: C-SPAN’s Jonelle Henry, local filmmaker Mary Ratliff, local film critic Dean Rogers, local composer Damion Wolf Siford and D.C. Web Fest founder Otessa Ghadar.
“There were certain ones that are deserving, but [didn’t make the cut] just in terms of programming,” Sampson said. “The hardest part … is letting people know that their film did not get into the festival.”
But just in case your film didn’t get in, don’t give up.
“We’ve had people that didn’t make it the first year, but applied the next and got in,” Sampson said.
On the flip side, the most rewarding part for Sampson is seeing the success stories.
“Last year, one of our finalists and the Audience Award Winner, Stephen Kinigopoulos, who did ‘The Confidential Informant,’ just recently wrapped on his feature film, ‘Fish Bowl,” Sampson said. “I would like to think that some of that $1,000 went to help get ‘Fish Bowl’ [made]. That’s what we love to see!”
Arlington Independent Media has for more information on the film festival. Listen to the full conversation with festival director Kevin Sampson below: