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She predicted streaming; now Adams Morgan native presents DC Web Fest

WASHINGTON — When D.C. native Otessa Ghadar pitched a web series as her M.F.A. thesis project at Columbia University, her film professors laughed at the idea of streaming content.

“My thesis board really didn’t want me to do a web series,” Ghadar told WTOP. “They were like, ‘This is crazy. You’re bananas. Why would you create something and put it online?'”

Nevertheless, she persisted, creating the Adams Morgan-based web series “Orange Juice in Bishop’s Garden” in 2006 — a full seven years before “House of Cards” hit Netflix. The show received distribution and is now streaming on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube and Roku devices.

“Lo and behold, the internet is a thing, guys! Cord-cutting happened!” Ghadar joked. “Back then, no one’s running around saying, ‘I want to hire a multi-ethnic female director.’ Instead, the things you’d hear were, ‘Why are there all these women in this M.F.A. program? Don’t they know that they’re all going to end up being script girls?’ Your heart would drop hearing your professor say that. So I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to the web. This is the wild west.'”

Since then, she has published the first new media textbook “The Wild West of Film,” shared her wisdom with countless students as a professor at American University, and founded the D.C. Web Fest, which returns to the nation’s capital for its sixth annual event on April 6 and 7.

“[Inspired by the inaugural L.A. Web Fest in 2009] and having lived in New York for seven years … I was like, ‘How cool would it be if D.C. beat New York and if the second time this happened was in D.C.?” Ghadar said. “How awesome would that be for the creative economy here, proving that you don’t need to be in L.A. or New York? So, that’s why I started it.”

This year’s event is hosted at the AT&T Forum for Technology, Entertainment and Policy on New Jersey Avenue NW. Other special events are scheduled at the Australian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue NW and the MakeOffices at Glover Park on Wisconsin Avenue NW.

“Submissions have grown exponentially [and] we have grown in our categories as well,” Ghadar said. “It started out as web series specific; we now also have digital shorts, trailers and music videos in addition to VR/AR, gaming and apps. We [also] included online writing, which is either screenwriting or blogging, and podcasting. It is all digital storytelling. If you do digital storytelling, you belong here with us and we want to know about the work you’re doing.”

Not only can you showcase your work, you can network with leading industry professionals.

“There are multiple ‘value adds’ that someone can get by attending the festival,” D.C. Web Fest project manager Amy Young told WTOP. “If you’re an official selection, you’re also networking with international creators at the top of their fields. You’re also talking to policy wonks in the city. … It’s going to be one of the most densely populated areas of thought leaders.”

Do you have a great new idea but aren’t sure exactly how to trademark it?

“We’re doing something with Creative Control where you can sign up with top-level lawyers in I.P. and entertainment, meet with them for free [and] walk away with a copyright,” Ghadar said. “One thing that’s really important for me moving forward is making sure that this is continuing to be a market that people can get picked up, [so they can] create the next thing.”

As A-list celebs dive into the new-media pool, D.C. Web Fest looks out for the up-and-comers.

“As we’ve seen the internet boom, it has ceased to be the wild west where we had our safe haven,” Ghadar said. “So we’re making sure that we’re continuing to support indie content. We’ll get submissions that feature Oscar-winning actors, but we also receive amazing submissions from teenagers in Missouri. They’re all good and they’re all welcome.”

Not only is the festival accepting submissions from all ages and experience levels, it’s also accepting work from all seven continents, including climate-change content from Antarctica.

“We have content coming from every continent in the world, so of course that means that things will be in different languages,” event coordinator Diana Eaton told WTOP. “That’s not a problem because we are featuring a [Google] device that you pop into your ear that breaks the language barrier, because you can listen to the content and the device will translate it.”

This global mindset reflects Ghadar’s overall movement where there are now 53 such festivals worldwide, including 15 members of the Web Series Federation to craft industry standards.

“Sort of like a sports bracket, our Top 10 winners collectively that have won across all 15 [festivals] receive automatic acceptance into Cannes in CANNESERIES Digital,” Ghadar said. “To have started from a place where everyone was like, ‘That’s stupid, you’re crazy,’ and now we’re sending things to a festival that most people have heard of … that’s pretty amazing.”

Find the full schedule of events on the DC Web Fest websiteListen to our full conversation with founder Otessa Ghadar, project manager Amy Young and event coordinator Diana Eaton below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Otessa Ghadar, Amy Young, Diana Eaton

Jason Fraley

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