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The D.C. Independent Film Festival has been “keeping the independent spirit alive in Washington, D.C.” for over 20 years, and in that spirit, the organization is ready for a revolution in how it connects filmmakers to their audience.
“We’re calling ourselves an experimental festival this year,” says Deirdre Evans-Pritchard, DCIFF’s executive director. She’s only half-joking as she highlights new developments for DCIFF 2021, a 10-day slate of online and in-person screenings, discussions, and seminars that concludes April 8.
One of the ways DCIFF is doing things differently is “building activities around the films,” says Evans-Pritchard. “We’ve cut the number of films we show by under half. Normally we show up to about 80. We’re showing 30 this year. And in that process, we are going to give as much attention as we can to each of those films and the filmmakers, and go deeper into what’s in the film, deeper into filmmaking — which is no longer just for a few, but it’s for everybody — and have more conversations and more free-for-all and involvement of the audience.”
For the documentary Sapelo, about the last remaining enclave of the Saltwater Geechee people, Evans-Pritchard will lead an online discussion with the film’s director Nick Brandestini, joining from his home in Switzerland. “We also are trying to pull together a group of the Gullah Geechee community to have a conversation,” says Evans-Pritchard. “And we have another film, also a documentary, The Bears on Pine Ridge, which is from the Oglala Sioux community up in the Pine Ridge Reservation, where they have the highest rate of teenage suicide in the country. Someone’s coming to town with one of the young folk as well. We will take them around and knock on a few doors to see if they can get some help. And we will film it as we go.”
Serving as the festival director since 2012, Evans-Pritchard points out that simply seeing indie films is no longer the hard part for audiences. “Online streaming is amazing, it’s a great thing,” she says. “And it’s bad for film festivals and film festivals will die. And I’m gonna be honest, they should. There comes a time when certain things just aren’t necessary anymore. Online streaming is here to stay, and streaming whenever you want to watch a movie is here to stay. [So] we are reconceiving what we do around the film world, and deciding where we can be of help rather than simply hanging onto the sense of the awards night…that has been around for so long that people have got stuck on it.”
The organization’s not even stuck on calling its centerpiece event a festival. “We are changing ourselves to be a forum,” she says. “We are now the DC Independent Film Festival and Forum. [In 2023], it will become the DC Independent Forum. The festival will be gone, and our model is going to be to develop intensive experiences around each film.”
The name might change, but the spirit will remain the same. “Our mission as an organization is to support the filmmakers,” says Evans-Pritchard. “That is our role here. And what we would like to dispel in that process is that just because people haven’t got $20 million to go behind a film, it doesn’t mean that [the] film isn’t just as good and, excuse me, sometimes better than the ones who cost a lot of money.”
DCIFF 2021 runs online and in-person now through April 8. All films are available as part of the Virtual Festival, which can be accessed by purchasing a pass for $25.
To see the schedule for in-person screenings and events held at Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse, Arts Club of Washington, and the Tabard Inn, visit www.dciff-indie.org.
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