Filmfest DC returns in-person to E Street Cinema, The Wharf after 2 years

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Filmfest DC (Part 1)

It’s been held virtually for the past two years to curate movies during the pandemic.

Starting Thursday, Filmfest D.C. returns in-person from April 21 to May 1 with screenings at Landmark E Street Cinema, The Wharf and other venues around the nation’s capital.

“Getting back out there and putting these last years of very tough life behind us and trying to look toward the future, a happy future,” Founder Tony Gittens told WTOP. “In our way, we’re trying to be part of the city’s recovery. … We’re not sure how many people are ready to return to the movies, but we know that going to the movies is a special experience.”

This year’s festival presents 65 films from 35 countries over 11 days.

“We are in Year 36, believe it or not,” Gittens said. “We’re the longest [running] film festival in D.C. and we’re the largest in D.C., which is one reason why we thought we’d step out and do in-person screenings before other festivals. If we get a good response to this, we think we’ll inspire other festivals and other events to go in-person. I think it’s time.”

The opening night screening brings the uplifting documentary “Mission Joy,” which will be held downtown at a fitting location: the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

“It’s a new film about the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu,” Gittens said. “They’re very close friends. It’s about their relationship, their friendship and what they’ve had to go through to be the people they are. … It will make you understand that out of the tough times comes a lot of the happiness that we experience. … Being happy is a decision.”

Meanwhile, The Wharf will screen outdoor comedies like “Seven Days.”

“It’s looking at movies under the stars,” Gittens said. “‘Seven Days’ about two people whose families have arranged for them to meet hoping they will get married. It doesn’t work out, the guy is conservative, the woman is more adventurous, but all of a sudden COVID hits, they can’t leave his house and they’re forced to be together for seven days.”

The Wharf will also screen the comedy “The Noble Family.”

“It’s a film from Mexico about a very wealthy family, the father has worked very hard to build a nice nest egg for his three kids, but the kids are spoiled rotten, they take advantage of being so wealthy, and the father doesn’t like that, so he all of a sudden announces that they’ve gone bankrupt, have no money and they have to adjust. It was a big hit in Mexico.”

The main hub is E Street Cinema, including the thriller category “Trust No One.”

“‘World of Yesterday’ is a French film about a woman Prime Minister of France [but] the person trying to follow her in office is a Trump-like figure,” Gittens said. “‘Replacement’ is a Spanish film about a policeman who gets posted in this little town outside of Madrid and begins to follow this group of German ex-patriots and finds out they’re really neo-Nazis.”

Another thematic block is the social justice category “Justice Matters.”

“‘The Janes’ is about a group of women in the ’70s and ’80s fighting for women to have the right to choose,” Gittens said. “‘We Still Here’ from Puerto Rico is about how after the hurricanes, they couldn’t get the support from the American government. This town said we don’t need that, we’ll take it into our own hands, and how they began to rebuild.”

You also don’t want to miss the category “DC4Reel” of local filmmakers.

“‘Imagining the Indian’ is a film by Aviva Kempner … about how Native Americans across the country have protested the use of Native American images and stereotypes by sports teams,” Gittens said. “‘Fierceness Served’ is by Washington filmmaker Michelle Parkersen about a gay club in the ’70s and ’80s where LGBTQ+ [people] could be themselves.”

It all builds to the closing night screening of “Fantasies” at the French Embassy.

“It’s a light French comedy about adults who are a little bored in their relationship, and they try to spice it up a little bit, but it turns into more than they expected,” Gittens said.

A few virtual screenings will still be available, but the main goal is to return in person.

“We want to invite all of the film fans and film buffs to come to Washington D.C. to our festival and go to the movies again,” Gittens said. “The city is opened up and the doors of the film festival are opened up welcoming folks back into the movie theaters to have fun.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Filmfest DC (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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