WASHINGTON — Eyes will pop. Jaws will drop. Popcorn will fly.
The 14th annual D.C. Shorts Film Festival & Screenplay Competition returns to the nation’s capital Sept. 7-17 at E Street Cinema near Metro Center and Miracle Theatre on Barracks Row.
“This year we got more submissions than ever before,” festival director Joe Bilancio said.
Indeed, the festival received 1,508 entries from around the world, which were then whittled down to more than 170 films from 31 countries, ranging from the U.S. to Canada to Iran.
“It’s staggering to see where these films come from,” Bilancio said.
During opening weekend at E Street Cinema, the movies will be divided into 17 unique showcases, each 90-100 minutes using a “tapas platter” approach of roughly eight films.
“We try to give them a little piece of all the genres of shorts,” Bilancio said. “We want to do a documentary, a U.S. narrative, an international narrative, an animation. … We always say, ‘If you don’t like something, wait a couple minutes and it’ll change.’ It’s a teaser, a little taste.”
After this initial sampler, the films are repackaged into thematic blocks Monday to Thursday.
“[We] try to whittle them down into themes or genres,” Bilancio said. “If you like documentary programming, you can catch our documentary showcase. If you like animation, you can come to our animation showcase. Life Cycles is all about family-oriented stories. It’s just another way of not throwing the same showcase out there again, but rather making sense of it all.”
In the documentary showcase, don’t miss “All Skate, Everybody Skate” by Nicole Triche.
“It’s about a 75-year-old woman who is the daytime keeper of the post office in this small beach community in North Carolina and at night she runs the rollerskating rink,” Bilancio said. “She skates herself and it’s a well-told story and it’s one of those where you just go, ‘Aww.'”
In the “Reel Abilities” showcase, check out “Just Go” directed by Pavels Gumennikovs.
“It’s based on a real story of a disabled gentleman who meets the love of his life — though he doesn’t know it yet — and her purse gets stolen. This man who literally has no legs goes after the villains who stole her purse. It’s high energy, comedic [and] really dynamic to see this person prove to the love of his life that he really does care for her. It’s sweet and sentimental.”
The “Life Cycles” showcase includes “Tonight and Every Night” by Christina Eliopoulos.
“It’s about a gentleman suffering from Alzheimer’s and a little boy [who’s] left on his own quite a bit during the day. Those two come together and it’s about how they really understand and accept each other, even though they don’t really understand the situation of one another.”
Meanwhile, the African-American showcase includes “Hell You Talmbout” by Denzel Boyd.
“It’s a dance company from Seattle [protesting] through dance and slam poetry,” Bilancio said. “It used to be that these Afro-centric programs were very in-your-face, calculated and protest-oriented, but while we do have some of those, we also now have some films that are gentle, beautiful family stories and stories that just happen to be made by African Americans.”
Similarly, there’s also an LGBTQ showcase, featuring “The Real Thing” by Brandon Kelley.
“It’s about a father who’s returning home from serving overseas whose son is transitioning into becoming his daughter,” Bilancio said. “I almost get choked up talking about it. It’s timely, just this acceptance. … You sit back and you go, ‘Wow, why can’t more people be like this?’ … You hope people see this who may not understand unconditional love and acceptance.”
For something lighter, check out the “ROTFLMAO” (Rolling On The Floor Laughing My A** Off) showcase, featuring such comedies as “Ruby Full of Sh*t” by Jean-Guillaume Bastien.
“It’s about one of those precocious kids who is smiling in front of you then backstabs you,” Bilancio said. “It’s just a pitch-black comedy that will have you laughing in the aisles.”
Last but not least is the “Animation Domination” showcase, featuring gems like “The Forger.”
“I think people don’t realize the breadth of animation,” Bilancio said. “There’s 2D, there’s 3D, there’s rotoscope, there are two stop-motions — both really good — [and] shadow puppets! … The thing I love is that they’re not just cute, they’re really well-made, well-crafted stories.”
After that, get ready for the screenplay competition on Sept. 15, where the winner gets $1,000 up front to make their film and another $1,000 upon completion to use for post-production.
“We do open auditions [at E Street], people do a 90-second monologue, the writers go back and choose their actors, rehearse for two hours, take a little break, then they come back at 7:00 that night and we do a live table read of all six screenplays [at the Miracle Theatre].”
The entire festival wraps with the “Best of Fest” on Sept. 16-17 at the Miracle Theatre.
“We take the jury award winners and audience award winners and rescreen them on Saturday and Sunday,” Bilancio said. “It’s a good way — if you don’t have the ability or the time to spend all of [the festival] with us — it’s a good way to catch what other people say are the highlights.”
And don’t forget the parties, first on “top of the world” at the Rooftop at Carroll Square on F Street NW on Sept. 8, then “beneath the world” at the Dupont Underground on Sept. 9.
“People don’t realize that we are more than the film festival,” Bilancio said. “Parties are a big part of what we do, not just because people can drink and have fun. … The parties are a really good way to interact on a much more casual basis and get more in-depth into the conversation. We always love to bring our audience members and our directors together.”
Click here for more information. Listen to our full chat with festival director Joe Bilancio below: