Filmfest DC, city’s longest running film festival, pivots to virtual experience

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Filmfest DC

The longest-running film festival in the nation’s capital is pivoting to virtual this year.

The 34th annual Filmfest D.C. shows 52 films from 35 countries from Oct. 2 to Oct. 11.

“These are brand new films,” festival director Tony Gittens told WTOP.

“Film lovers, people who just like ideas or culture from other countries, we’re the place to go for that. So we’ve gathered these films and we’re presenting them virtually this year.”

You can watch an individual film for just $9 or buy a full festival pass for $70.

“You have 24 hours to watch the film once you select it,” Gittens said. “Having a great time at home, sitting in your house, eating popcorn, talking to friends and family.”

The festival kicks off with the Italian film “Ordinary Happiness.”

“It’s a comedy of sorts about a man who gets hit by a car and dies,” Gittens said. “It turns out they made a mistake and he was 92 hours early, so they send him back to be with his family, but he’s conscious of what has happened … so he reevaluates his life.”

You also can check out “Master Cheng” from Finland.

“This is a really charming film [about] a woman who runs a restaurant [in Finland],” Gittens said. “All of a sudden, these busloads of people show up and she needs some help. This man from China raises his hand and turns out he’s a master chef. He really changes the whole diet, food and menu of the restaurant. It becomes very successful.”

It all builds to the closing film “Perfumes” from France.

“It’s about a woman who is a professional nose,” Gittens said. “She has made her living very well working with perfume companies to find the right smell. … All of a sudden, this talent begins to fade. It no longer works. … She has a driver who’s driving her on one of her assignments. He and she develop this love-hate relationship.”

The closing film is usually held at the French Embassy, while the rest of the festival is usually held at E Street Cinema and Mazza Gallerie, which are now ghost towns.

“The city, the country, perhaps the world is undergoing this real change and challenge,” Gittens said.

“Cannes was virtual, the Toronto Film Festival was virtual, all the New York film festivals coming up, you just don’t know. It’s a new world that we live in.”

However, there are some silver linings to going virtual.

“Usually our audience of thousands of people are drawn from Washington and the immediate area, Bethesda, Arlington and such,” Gittens said.

“With what we’re doing now, we can go all the way through Virginia, all the way through Maryland, so it means that people who we were not able to reach before, we’re now reaching.”

Still, he hopes to eventually bring back in-person screenings.

“The camaraderie,” Gittens said. “You’re standing in line with folks, saying, ‘What have you seen? ‘Oh, I really love this. It’s really great. Oh, yeah? Let me put that down on my list. Why don’t we have a cup of coffee?’ … So that’s missing. We’re doing our best to recreate that, but we’re re-imagining the film festival.”

Listen to our full conversation

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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