DC’s oldest film fest returns with fun global offerings

November 29, 2023 | (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — The nation’s capital has become a hotbed for quality film festivals, from the renowned documentary festival AFI Docs to the renowned short film festival DC Shorts.

As cinema’s rising tide continues to raise all boats, Filmfest D.C. will always remain “the first boat in the water,” according to festival director Tony Gittens, who founded the event 29 years ago.

Back then, the Washington D.C. International Film Festival showed roughly 20 films for an audience of 5,000. Now, it’s expanded to 70 films for an audience of 20,000 with screenings April 16-26 at at E Street Cinema near Metro Center and AMC Mazza Gallerie in Friendship Heights.

Filmfest D.C. founder Tony Gittens visits WTOP. (WTOP/Jason Fraley)
Festival founder Tony Gittens visits WTOP. (WTOP/Jason Fraley)

“We’re showing films from all around the world,” says Gittens, who took submissions from 30 countries, including France, Italy, Myanmar, Trinidad, the Netherlands, Germany and Taiwan. “Most of us here in the United States think that Hollywood films are the only way to go. In fact, thousands of films are made every year all over the world, and they’re good films. So what we do is to bring them here to Washington, D.C., and let people see films that, if we didn’t show them, there would be no way in the world that they would see them.”

Occasionally, a Hollywood star will show up, from Charlize Theron to John Malkovich.

“They come to our festival because they know we’re going to give their films a good launch,” Gittens says. “We’re about the cinema; we’re not about the celebrity. … Hollywood stars can often be over-hyped. If they’re talented, what they want is to be appreciated, especially by a venue like ours, like a film festival that’s about celebrating film and quality.”

This year’s slate of feature films is broken down into catchy categories, from a block of international comedies to a block of thrillers called “Trust No One.”

“These are international intrigue and crime films … sit on the edge of your seat,” Gittens says.

There’s also a new music segment called “Rhythm On and Off the Screen,” pairing music-themed films with live musical performances, from salsa to tango to tap dancing.

One such film is “Tap World,” which is also one of six nominees for the festival’s top prize, the Circle Award, named after Washington’s former chain of Circle Theatres.

The nominees are:

‘Tap World’ (U.S.A.)

“The Amina Profile” (Canada)

“God Loves the Fighter” (Republic of Trinidad and Tobago)

“In Order of Disappearance” (Norway)

“Margarita, with a Straw” (India)

“The Tribe” (Ukraine)

In addition to these screenings, you won’t want to miss a special Q&A with Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday, hosted by Arch Campbell, on Thursday, April 23, at 7 p.m. at the E Street Cinema.

“These are two iconic folks in the film business here in Washington, D.C.,” Gittens says. “People trust their opinions. They have been real advocates for quality films. So we’re doing an evening with them, where Arch will be talking to Ann about movies and their passions. They’ve never been on a stage together, to my knowledge. … That’s only gonna come around once or twice in life.”

General admission is $13 for each screening. Click here for ticket information.

“(Film) is the most effective form of communication in the 21st century,” Gittens says. “It’s a very powerful medium for communicating ideas, intentions, telling stories, music. It’s the most powerful that there is in the world today, and that’s why we do it.”

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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