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Washington West returns to Reston as Virginia’s most charitable film festival

Founder Brad Russell and guest Ty Burrell ("Modern Family") attend the Washington West Film Festival. (CJ Reaves)

WASHINGTON — Countless film festivals happen around our nation’s capital each year.

AFI Docs provides the documentaries, D.C. Shorts provides the tapas platter, Filmfest DC provides the international flavor and Middleburg provides the picturesque rural setting.

But you won’t find a better combo of compelling films and charitable heart than the eighth annual Washington West Film Festival, which returns to Reston Town Center this weekend.

“Film submissions we doubled again this year,” festival founder Brad Russell told WTOP. “Last year, we had 520 submitted from around the world [and] this year we had almost 1,000. … We had just shy of 7,000 [people] join us last year for the five-day festival and this year we’re hoping for the same or more. It’s been a lot of fun, a lot of hard work but a great adventure.”

The slate kicks off with the opening night screening of the documentary “My Indiana Muse.”

“It’s about an artist who discovers a woman in old projector slides who takes these fascinating photos,” Russell said. “She’s from the ’50s. … He sees something in this person and wants to learn more, so he ends up drawing out her story. She passed away a couple decades ago, but he meets her family members and really learns her story.”

It continues Friday evening with a trio of short film programs with about 20 movies.

“I think we really have some Oscar contenders in our short programs,” Russell said.

Later on Friday night, James Wahlberg, brother of Mark and Donnie, will travel down from Boston in order to screen the short film “The Circle of Addiction: A Different Kind of Tears.”

“They had a pretty scary situation, family-related, with the opioid crisis, and it has become a passion project of the Wahlbergs,” Russell said. “It’s heavy, it’s gripping and it’s really intended to educate the country on some of the complications with the opioid crisis.”

Saturday brings a pair of star-studded Q&As with actors Tony Hale and Lauren Graham.

“I went to school with Tony Hale,” Russell said. “He’s known more than anything as Buster in ‘Arrested Development.’ He will be with us for a conversation. … Then a few hours later, we’re interviewing Lauren Graham. Lauren is known for ‘Gilmore Girls,’ ‘Parenthood.’ … She just joined our board this summer … but she’s terrific and really believes in what we’re doing.”

Saturday continues with the fascinating technology documentary “General Magic.”

“That’s a documentary about the company before Apple and before Microsoft in Silicon Valley that was called General Magic,” Russell said. “It’s really compelling. I saw it in New York.”

Saturday night brings “Up to Snuff” about composer W.G. Snuffy Walden, who will attend.

“[He’s] a legend in Hollywood,” Russell said. “He technically worked on ‘Laverne & Shirley’ way back in the day, but ‘Thirtysomething’ he wrote [the music]. His opus was ‘The West Wing.’ He’s written for over 60 TV shows, I think four shows on television right now that he’s doing all the music for. Fascinating documentary that’s winning awards around the United States.”

It all culminates with Steve McQueen’s “Widows,” starring Viola Davis and Robert Duvall.

“It will go worldwide right before Thanksgiving, so a few weeks before that we have it,” Russell said. “If you haven’t seen a film weeks before it releases, that’s a pretty neat experience. … Duvall is a good friend of our festival and has confirmed he will be there … part of a Q&A.”

As always, all proceeds to go charity. This year, it’s two foster programs in L.A. and D.C.

“Kids in the Spotlight in L.A. takes kids in the foster program and pairs them up with a professional filmmaker [and] the kids end up writing a five-to-seven-minute film. … In the D.C. area, the Evans Home for Children really prepares foster kids for college. … These are unsung heroes telling the most important stories in life, so Washington West is committed to that. We want our audience members to know that when they buy a ticket to our festival, those proceeds are used to do something amazing, which is create stories of hope.”

Find more details on the festival website. Hear our full chat with founder Brad Russell below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with festival founder Brad Russell

Jason Fraley

Download audio


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