Washington West Film Festival celebrates 10th year in new Northern Virginia venues

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Washington West Film Fest (Part 1)

The Washington West Film Festival had to postpone last year due to the pandemic.

Now, it’s roaring back to life to celebrate its 10th festival this Thursday through Monday.

“We’re super excited,” Founder Brad Russell told WTOP. “Last year was super tough for everybody, including us. We weighed out virtual and all the options and decided it would just be best to punt to 2021. … Here we are! About to celebrate our 10th anniversary.”

In addition to Reston Town Center, the festival is expands to two brand new locations.

“Capital One Hall is officially open now,” Russell said. “We’re super excited to be in Tysons Corner in addition to Reston Town Center. … We’re also in Tysons at ShowPlace ICON, one of the best movie theaters I’ve ever experienced. It’s in The Boro in Tysons. It’s brand new. They opened eight days before the pandemic closed them down, so they just reopened.”

It kicks off Thursday night with a screening of Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch.”

“Super excited to have a D.C. advanced screening,” Russell said. “He delayed the release of this because of the pandemic, so he’s been really excited about this release. It did super well at Cannes and famously got the nine-minute standing ovation. … We’re excited to open the festival with it. … Founding Farmers is catering [our] opening night party afterwards. … Come hungry.”

Friday returns to Reston Town Center with two double features. The first block is called “Making Your Mark,” featuring “Love Reaches Everywhere” and “The Shoulders of Giants.”

“Gerard Butler is in a documentary where he decides to go visit and serve with his mom’s nonprofit Mary’s Meals and ends up [in] third-world countries; it’s one of these tearful, inspiring films,” Russell said. “[Then], Quinn Early, who was a well-known football player with a great career in the NFL, directed a film about Frank Holbrook, the first African-American athlete in Iowa.”

The “Beyond the Limits” block screens “Against the Current” and “Last Known Coordinates.”

“Chris Bertish is coming with his film ‘Last Known Coordinates,” Russell said. “It’s a crazy ‘Free Solo’ type of film. He attempts the first-ever paddle board across the Atlantic Ocean.”

Saturday opens with a 75th anniversary screening of Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“You don’t get to say 75th anniversary screening every day,” Russell said. “It’s one of everybody’s favorite movies. It’s on the Top 10 list always for best films. … There’s going to be family treats, Christmas cookies, hot chocolate, that kind of thing, so this is definitely a family screening.”

Saturday includes “Five Years North” about a 16-year-old immigrant named Luiz.

“His father gets stopped but Luiz crosses the border,” Russell said. “It’s a really interesting, very open-minded story about a kid who makes it into the United States as an immigrant, undocumented, and an ICE agent who is just really intriguing. She’s following a story, but she’s also a Cuban-American immigrant, so there’s lots of mixed emotions on both sides.”

You can also see “A Crime on the Bayou” with plenty of racial commentary.

“It really shows just some inequality in the 1960s,” Russell said. “Gary Duncan was wrongfully incarcerated for breaking up a fight between a white kid and a black kid. He was a high school student. A D.C. lawyer leaves D.C. to go to New Orleans to defend him. A really great story.”

Saturday culminates with the closing night screening of “Mission: Joy.”

“Never-before-seen footage about the close, endearing friendship between Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama,” Russell said. “A lot of laughter, it has a lot to do with the world we’re in today with a lot of division, how these two different people who think differently about a lot of aspects of life have such a great friendship. … Capital One Hall has a stellar rooftop biergarten for closing night.”

While Saturday is officially closing night, bonus events include Sunday and Monday.

“The big Sunday we always get excited about is the George Mason University student showcase,” Russell said. “Their faculty chooses the best seven or eight films, we screen them, then our jury selects the best student film. Monday night we close out the festival with our annual free screening at Reston Community Center. It’s ‘The Blackest Battle,’ a hip-hop musical. … Can’t wait for that.”

Best of all, 100% of proceeds go to four local charities.

“We give every penny of our box office to helping at-risk children,” Russell said. “The Evans Home for Children in Winchester; Blueprint is a brand-new nonprofit in Baltimore; Virginia Kids Belong, a foster program in the state of Virginia that does amazing, inspiring stuff for children; and then, The Children’s Inn at NIH hospital. These are the four recipients of our box-office dollars this year.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Washington West Film Fest (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

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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