For the 17th year, the DC Shorts International Film Festival ushers in autumn with an impressive array of artfully-produced short films. Selected from hundreds of submissions, the festival’s bounty of over 160 quality shorts from 34 countries represents a broad range of creative voices and intents. And this year’s edition, running online September from 10 to 23, extends its range even further with a first all-virtual presentation. “We say you can travel the globe from home with DC Shorts,” says the festival’s programming director Joe Bilancio. “And that’s exactly what you can do if you want.”
Acknowledging the unprecedented challenges of exhibiting films during a pandemic, Bilancio sees the positive in taking the show online. “We can open up our programming to people beyond our region, because now we’re what’s called geo-blocked, where people can watch us from anywhere in North America. So we open up our community.” That community of audience, filmmakers, festival staff, and volunteers won’t gather physically, but DC Shorts still offers a wealth of opportunities for festival “attendees” and participants to enjoy a communal filmgoing experience.
“Being all online, the disadvantage is we don’t get to hug people. We don’t get to see our regulars. You don’t get to interact with our volunteers, which is sad,” Bilancio says. “[But] you still get to interact with filmmakers — not directly, but we have recorded Q&As for virtually all of our programming. We do have two live Q&As. At 6 on Saturday, we have a gay and lesbian shorts block, that’s a live Q&A with directors. And then we have our Homegrown [shorts], which are films by or about the DMV region. That’s Saturday at 8, and we’ll be doing Q&A with those directors. So you do have the ability to interact, and hear live Q&As with those particular groups. But even the recorded Q&As, if you have an interest in hearing what filmmakers do, and why they made the films that they made, are a really good opportunity.”
The festival also offers panels and workshops for aspiring filmmakers on subjects from distribution to diversity in storytelling. “Those are all free, regardless of whether you have the all-access pass or not,” says Bilancio. “Those are all things that suggest that we’re taking the typical film festival-going experience and making it virtual. Again, you don’t get the physical interaction, but you still get some of those things that we think really do create the festival, being more than just seeing a series of films.”
The films — organized into digestible Showcase packages like LGBTQ, Homegrown, Horror, Sci-Fi, Comedy, and Documentaries — remain the focus. Bilancio, who previously worked with L.A.’s Outfest and D.C.’s Reel Affirmations Film Festival, says he and his fellow DC Shorts programmers “look for good films…that reach our audience.” To that end, the programmers have also assembled several programs of shorts that defy any easy categorization. “We call them ‘cinematic dim sum.’ You sort of see a documentary, you see an international narrative, you see an animated, you see a U.S. narrative. So it really does give you a little bite into the breadth of the work that’s being done in short films.”
In one such Showcase, viewers can find the defiantly uncategorizable I Love Your Guts, a lesbian-themed thriller-comedy about fast-food workers Kristina and Jacqui flirting a slow night away, until danger pulls up to the drive-thru. The LGBTQ shorts package also contains a few gems of its own, including the brilliant stop-motion animation drama The Fabric of You, and the documentary Translucent, the very personal story of a Black queer youth’s unapologetic coming out process.
Assuredly, somewhere among these films, viewers will find stories that touch them personally — to be enjoyed in the privacy of their own viewing space. “We’ll miss some things, we’ll gain some things,” Bilancio says of this unique iteration of DC Shorts. “And I think the industry, in general, is forever changed. So I’m not so sure that this virtual [presentation] will not continue to be some component of what we do moving forward. I just hope that it doesn’t have to be all of what we do.”
DC Shorts 2020 streams online September 10-23. An all-access pass is $75, or use promo code MW20 to receive a $20-off discount. Please visit www.dcshorts.com.
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