Filmfest DC brings slate of global gems

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Filmfest DC (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — The nation’s capital’s longest running film festival returns this week.

The 32nd annual Filmfest D.C. — also known as the Washington D.C. International Film Festival — returns April 19-29 to the Landmark E Street Cinema and AMC Mazza Gallerie.

“We’re the first [and] still largest in D.C.,” festival director Tony Gittens told WTOP. “We have 80 films [from] 45 countries. … We scour the world as best we can to come up with films we think are great to bring to the people of the nation’s capital. … Festivals like Filmfest D.C. are the first and often last time people will have the opportunity to see some of these films.”

Which countries are represented this year?

“We have films from Spain, Taiwan, France, the USA, Turkey, Germany, the Netherlands, Tanzania — it’s very rare to find a film from that part of East Africa,” Gittens said. “This year has been a very strong year for Latin American, Spanish-language films. We found eight that we think are outstanding from Spain, Paraguay, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.”


Opening night kicks off Thursday with the Swiss comedy “Streaker” by filmmaker Peter Luisi, whose lead actress Doro Müggler will stick around after the screening for a special Q&A.

“It’s a funny, funny film … about a man who’s a teacher who needs to raise money for this project, so he takes all of his money and starts betting on soccer games,” Gittens said. “He finds out by accident that streakers — guys and girls who take off their close and run across the field — impact the game. A team would win or lose depending whether these streakers came out. So, he started hiring these streakers to run across the field. … Skin in the game!”

Your funny bone will also be tickled on closing night thanks to French filmmaker Carine Tardieu’s comedy “Just to Be Sure,” which will screen April 29 at the Embassy of France.

“It’s a film about discovery in so many ways,” Gittens said. “A middle-age man gets a call from his ex-girlfriend who says, ‘By the way, we had a son,’ who would now be an adult son. This guy is absolutely surprised, but he knows nothing about him and he tries to find out about his son. It’s about how you’re sure you understand everything about your life, but no, he had this whole other child. As he discovers more about this son, he discovers more about himself.”


If you’re more into music, check out the documentary “How they Got Over: Gospel Quartets and the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Director Robert Clem and producer Jerry Zolten will attend.

“It’s a film about gospel quartets,” Gittens said. “These guys and girls who sang this incredible music in the south had to travel around and sleep in these segregated hotels, but they loved this music and would sing in churches. There’s a lot of footage of them singing. To enhance the evening, we’re bringing in the Howard University Gospel Choir. It’s beyond the screen!”


The aforementioned Spanish-language category includes “Giant” from filmmaker Jon Garano.

“The film is about a young man who goes off to war, comes back and finds out his brother [has] grown incredibly and become this physical giant,” Gittens said. “They go out on the road and become this sideshow, so on one hand they’re able to make a living, but it’s kind of hard how this guy has been treated as a freak. The filmmaking, especially the war battles, were just something I hadn’t seen before. … Blew me away. You are there in the middle of this war!”

The category also includes “Loveling” by Brazilian filmmaker Gustavo Pizzi, who will attend.

“‘Loveling’ is about a family whose youngest son plays sports and he gets chosen for a [handball] team outside of their home,” Gittens said. “It’s really about a young son leaving home, especially the mother who doesn’t really know what to do about this. … We’re glad to have [Gustavo] talk about what it’s like to be in Brazil, being young, how you get the money for it, how you get the training for it. He’ll bring a lot of depth and richness to the experience.”


If you dig a killer thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat, don’t miss the fan favorite category “Trust No One,” which includes “The Guilty” by Danish filmmaker Gustav Möller.

“It’s about this policeman … restricted to the office taking 911 calls,” Gittens said. “He gets a call from this woman saying, ‘Help me, help me. I’m in the trunk of a car and they’re taking me away, they’re kidnapping me,’ then the phone goes off. … The story starts going a little in this direction where you say, ‘What’s going on here?’ … A lot of twists, turns and surprises here.”

The category also includes “The Prime Minister” by Belgian filmmaker Erik Van Looy.

“It’s about a prime minister; he and his wife and two kids get kidnapped,” Gittens said. “Terrorists have got him and say, ‘We’ll let you go, but we’ll keep your wife and kids. You have to do something for us. If not, we’re going to kill them.’ ‘What do you want me to do?’ ‘You’re meeting with an international leader in two days. I want you to kill him.’ It turns out to be the president of the United States! So he has to then decide: how does he deal with this?”

Justice Matters

For those with a more socially conscious approach to moviegoing, check out the thought-provoking doc “The Cleaners” by German filmmakers Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck.

“‘Cleaners’ is about something I hadn’t thought about until I saw the film — the people who censor the internet,” Gittens said. “Big companies hire about 1,000 people, primarily in the Philippines, and they spend all day going through this stuff on the internet and making decisions about what should stay and what should go. There are very graphic sexual things, violent things. … But then you get into other things that are maybe on [the bubble]. Who are they that makes this decision? … And what effect do they have on censoring what we see?”

The category also includes “The Young Karl Marx” by Raoul Peck (“I Am Not Your Negro”).

“It’s a feature film about Marx and [Friedrich] Engels in their young years as they begin to formulate their political theories,” Gittens said. “What’s good about it is that most people have images of Marx and Engels as these old men with gray beards. No, these are young guys with girlfriends trying to sort out what it is they’re going to do and their view of the world.”

Each film will play roughly twice throughout the festival. Individual tickets are $14.

“There is a whole world of international cinema,” Gittens said. “Thousands of films are made every year all over the world that hardly ever get seen in Washington D.C. … So, efforts like Filmfest D.C. become important. … They’re quality films, interesting films, windows into a world that many of us don’t know. … There’s not a lot of difference between us and them.”

Find more details on the festival website. Listen to our full conversation with Tony Gittens below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with festival director Tony Gittens (Jason Fraley)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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