WASHINGTON — He’s directed some of the DMV’s best movies, from “A Few Good Men” to “The American President,” not to mention “This is Spinal Tap,” “Stand By Me,” “The Princess Bride,” “When Harry Met Sally” and “Misery.”
WTOP caught up with co-founders and festival directors Patti White and Lee Anderson to discuss this year’s slate, which screens at the Maryland Hall for Creative Arts, Annapolis Elementary School, Asbury United Methodist Church, St. Anne’s Parish Church and Key Auditorium at St. John’s College.
“We have trolleys that take you around town for free,” White told WTOP, to which Anderson added, “[The trolley] will stop at all five venues, but you can probably walk 30 feet and find a libation or food.”
The festival kicks off Thursday with Reiner’s latest film, “LBJ,” which opens nationwide this fall, starring Woody Harrelson as LBJ, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird and Jeffrey Donovan as JFK.
“It’s the story of Lyndon Johnson, specifically during the passing of civil rights legislation,” White said. “I had seen the [previous] HBO film and Bryan Cranston was excellent in playing the very bombastic part of Lyndon Johnson. But Woody Harrelson’s take is so uniquely different, very Woody-ish in the sense that he captures the vulnerability that Johnson had when the Kennedys were on top of him.”
After the film, the festival will host a special Q&A with director Reiner, screenwriter Joey Hartstone, star Donovan, and producers Tim and Trevor White, who are sons of festival co-founder White.
“I can just tell you one thing: Rob’s really magical on a stage,” White said. “He just knows how to command a room and he’s funny, he’s poignant, he’s political, he’s all those things relevant today.”
After you wake up from the after parties, grab coffee and conversation during “Coffee Talks With …”
“‘Coffee Talks’ always has a few surprise, unannounced guests,” Anderson said. “It’s an intimate setting and Baltimore Coffee & Tea provides treats while you get to ask any questions you want.”
You can also participate in various industry panels on Friday with tips on producing short films, creating documentaries and finding digital distribution. There will also be a fascinating tech talk featuring keynote speaker Peter Bailey, chief strategy officer for the tech company Dataminr.
“They predict the present,” Anderson said. “They mass-filter 300 million social media messages around the globe daily with a unique algorithm that lets them know what’s happening. Based on 19 messages, they could confirm 20 minutes before [the] world knew that Osama bin Laden was dead.”
You can also see some great movies on Friday, including the documentary “The Gaza Surf Club” about young Palestinians who want to surf on the Gaza Strip — like Robert Duvall in “Apocalypse Now.”
“They build their own wooden surfboards and they have to deal with the whole political scenario of where they’re living,” White said. “It’s a beautiful film and a very interesting way to look at it.”
Friday also brings the festival’s Environment Showcase, beginning with the seven-minute short documentary “Rising Tide” about flooding issues in Miami, a theme to which Annapolis can relate.
The environmental series continues with the feature-length documentary “The Islands and The Whales,” exploring a small community in the Faroe Islands battling problems of pollution.
Friday evening, check out “The Archer,” which just played at South By Southwest. It follows a young woman sent into the wilderness, where she survives using archery. Take that, Katniss Everdeen.
“It becomes a thriller,” White said. “They’re chased and she uses archery. It’s a very, very cool film.”
Meanwhile, you can also see “Katie Says Goodbye,” starring Olivia Cooke (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) as a diner waitress who prostitutes herself in order to raise enough money to leave town.
“It’s a tough movie to watch, but an important movie,” White said. “The director is coming in.”
Then on Friday night, it’s the African-American Experience Showcase, including the feature-length documentary “Chasing Trane,” as Denzel Washington narrates the story of jazz legend John Coltrane.
The screening will feature a panel of NYU professor Ashley Kahn and D.C. jazz critic Willard Jenkins.
Saturday kicks off with more exciting panels, one for child actors called “The Kid Stays in the Picture” and another about cinema’s creative clash called “The Truth About Producers and Directors.”
“This is going to be an open brawl!” White said with a laugh.
If you consider yourself more of a scribe, check out the screenwriting panel hosted by ScreenCraft, featuring Melissa Carter of “Queen Sugar” and Tanya Saracho of “How to Get Away with Murder.”
“They’re both coming in to sit on this panel,” White said. “We’re going to also have Matt Spicer, who won the Waldo Salt Award at Sundance this year for ‘Ingrid Goes West’ … and Jordan Roberts, who wrote and directed ‘Burn Your Maps,’ which is about to come out in theaters.”
Not only will you get to pick the brain of the “Burn Your Maps” screenwriter, you’ll also get to see the movie later on Saturday, starring Vera Farmiga (“Bates Motel”) and young Jacob Tremblay (“Room”).
“The story follows a family that has just suffered the loss of a child,” Anderson said. “The parents are in therapy [and] the 8-year-old son is obsessed with becoming a Mongolian goat herder. … They go to a car wash and meet a young Indian-Pakistani filmmaker who wants to film the kid. So, they go on Kickstarter, raise thousands of dollars, and next thing you know, they’re all running off to Mongolia!”
It all builds to the Saturday night spotlight film “Ingrid Goes West,” a feature-length dark comedy that just hit Sundance, starring a talented cast of Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen and O’Shea Jackson Jr.
“This is a terrific film about Instagram [and] what happens when all hell breaks loose,” White said.
The final day kicks off with a free bagel, lox and coffee breakfast at the Jewish Experience Showcase. This includes the feature doc “The Last Laugh” and the narrative feature “One Week and a Day.”
“Those films around the bagel breakfast make for a wonderful morning,” White said.
Across town, check out the festival’s annual sailing film. This year it’s the documentary “Following Seas,” which was filmed in the style of “Boyhood” with incremental shooting over many years.
“It follows a man and a woman who meet in 1959,” White said. “They fall in love, get married, have a family and keep filming themselves over the years as they sail around the world. This is the compilation of that footage, of their life, of their trips around the world. … It’s just fascinating.”
If you’re looking for something more political in nature, check out the new documentary by two-time Academy Award winner Mark Harris called “Breaking Point: The War for Democracy in Ukraine.”
“We didn’t even know at the time we accepted the film how relevant it would become,” Anderson said. “It shows the aggression of Putin, the people in Ukraine, and how average citizens and an artist-citizen army of 10,000 stood up to fight the annexation of Crimea. At the same time, it shows how Russian Television is creating fake news and propaganda, dressing people up to look like American newscasters and they’re attacking the real journalists. It’s a real assault on the truth and journalists.”
If you want something lighter, “Supergirl” tracks a 14-year-old girl who becomes a power lifter.
“When you look at her, you would never guess this,” White said. “Her family gets behind her, and there’s a lot of criticism about why is a young girl lifting all of this? It’s a really interesting story.”
You can also laugh your butt off with “The Tiger Hunter,” about five Indian men who come to Chicago with the dream of finding the perfect girl. Unfortunately, they only own one suit between all of them.
Of course, if you miss the aforementioned movies — or any of the other stellar films in this year’s slate — you can always come back on Sunday night for the “Best of Fest.” This is a collection of Audience Award winners, as compiled by attendees who text ratings of 1 to 5 stars after each screening.
“We’ve done better than PricewaterhouseCoopers lately,” Anderson joked about the recent Oscar envelope snafu. “It’s pretty exciting to get that kind of feedback from the audience. It’s really exciting for a filmmaker, but even a better indication for a distributor, so Audience Awards matter.”
Individual tickets cost $12.50, or you can pay $50 for a day pass or $125 for full festival pass.
Click here for more information. Listen to the full conversation with the festival directors below: