Black Reel Awards founder launches LightReel Film Festival in DC

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the LightReel Film Fest (Part 1)

The D.C.-based Black Reel Awards have gained national attention for 23 years, so its founder Tim Gordon is lending its brand to launch the LightReel Film Festival from June 8-10.

The LightReel Feel Fest launches at the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market in Northeast D.C.(Courtesy LightReel Film Fest)
“My plan was always to use the credibility and all the contacts that we’ve accrued over two decades of establishing a lot of relationships, (which) will pay off in this film festival,” Gordon told WTOP. “The Black Reel Awards’ mission is saluting African Americans above and below the line, as well as those in the African diaspora, but the LightReel Film Festival is a little different because it’s a BIPOC film festival, so Black, Indigenous, people of color … expanding the tent for others.”

The fourth annual festival spent three years as the Lakefront Film Festival in Columbia, Maryland, but the event is now moving to Northeast D.C. at the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market.

“Columbia is a beautiful place to live,” Gordon said. “live out here, but I thought the festival needed a larger stage, it needed to be in a larger city — we’re talking about the nation’s capital,” Gordon said. “Coming to partner with the Angelika in Union Market seems to be a great fit. We’re a burgeoning festival, it’s an area that’s been revitalized, it’s very cool and hip. You’ve got a nice base of culture, great food. Us aligning with them is going to really be good for us.”

The lineup kicks off Thursday, June 8, with the horror comedy “The Blackening” at Landmark E Street Cinema.

“‘The Blackening’ is a satire on the myth of whenever you watch horror films from studios that the Black actor is always the first to die, so what do you do when the entire cast is Black?” Gordon said. “It becomes this cute little game about whoever’s the Blackest is the first to go. The audience really responded well when I saw it in person, so I think it’s the type of film that will really play well for audiences. It’s a good film to kick the festival off with.”

The impressive slate continues Friday, June 9, with a special 20th anniversary screening of the crime masterpiece “City of God,” which opened in Brazil in 2002 but made its limited release in the United States in 2003.

“One of my favorites,” Gordon said. “I remember seeing this movie back in 2003 at a theater that no longer exists on Wisconsin Avenue and I was blown away by this multi-generational story that’s based on a true story. … Set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, you’ve got a story based around two characters, these two kids who grow up, one called Little Z grows up to be this gangster, and the other character grows up to be a photojournalist.”

Friday also brings the Emmy-winning virtual reality experience “The Messy Truth” hosted by Van Jones.

“Less than 10 film festivals in the country have a consistent virtual-reality programming in their festival,” Gordon said. “I connected with a programmer Adrian Rashad Driscoll, the co-founder of Collimation, a VR company. … We’re setting up an area in the lobby of the Angelika that we’re now renaming the VR Lounge. … Part 1 stars Winston Duke, who plays M’Baku in ‘Black Panther,’ then another MCU star, Brie Larson, is the star of Part 2.”

The festival wraps Saturday with the exciting new western “Surrounded,” which premieres nationwide on-demand on June 20, but you can see it at the LightReel Film Festival 10 days early to close out the festival in D.C.

“I watched it yesterday and I think people are going to pleasantly surprised by Letitia Wright, who plays Shuri in ‘Black Panther,’ in this western playing Mo Washington, a woman disguised as a man in the Old West and the journey she goes on co-starring Jamie Bell,” Gordon said. “It is wonderfully shot, it has great production values, it’s directed by Anthony Mandler, and it’s going to be the closing night film in person. I am really excited.”

The festival also has a hybrid option if you’d like to stream 35 other independent films online.

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the LightReel Film Fest (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

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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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