“Everybody should be in a parade…” notes from DC Shorts

DC Shorts Film Festival: Documentary Showcase

I was pretty jazzed to go to the DC Shorts Film Festival. Becky and I attended the seminars, read the publicity and were totally sold on the concept. I went to the DC Shorts Documentary Showcase on Thursday with high expectations. It’s an independent film festival – which usually means low budget filmmaking. On camera mics, DV camera, no money for professional color correct, stock music if any – I was ready for all of that. I’m a sophisticated indie viewer if I say so myself. But you gotta have a story worth telling and a point of view as a filmmaker – and I was a little disappointed in a certain lack of that in these docs.

My favorite film of the group was “Doggie Drill Team.” Low budget filmmaking, sure. But a fun story about an obedience training class that marches with their dogs in parades. They do “maneuvers.” And it’s everybody – old, young, all classes – hanging out dutifully marching with their dogs in complete earnestness. It’s hilarious in that way that “Best in Show” people are crazy about their dogs – but also pretty appealing. Everybody’s gotta be into something. As the trainer says, “Everybody ought to be in a parade once in their life.” Thumbs up. That was really fun. And doggone it I DO want to be in a parade!
(pun intended)

“Hillel’s Angels” gets my number two vote. Better production value too. It’s the story of Jews on Bikes. Jews in motorcycle clubs, and in organized yearly rides in remembrance of the Holocaust. As one childhood Holocaust survivor says, “What does the Holocaust and motorcycles have in common? Freedom. One is the complete lack of it, and one is the complete experience of it.” Nice. Second place for me because I think the “wow” factor was supposed to be “Jews on Bikes” but I didn’t find that particularly surprising. Who doesn’t want to be on a motorcycle?

What really irritated and bored me was the high-production value sentimental crap – some film about community farming with such reverence for “farming” as it was practically religious. And a father-son personal journey that used so many After Effects plug-ins and overly weighty “Deep Thoughts” narration I thought I was back in film class. At least it had funny home movies, but if I was just going to watch home videos, I’d go visit my parents.

Other than that there was a fun little ride through Adams Morgan’s fine late night eating establishments called Midnight Snack. Having taken that ride myself, it was certainly amusing, but I felt it was more appropriate as a youtube video than a “film” – sort of like if “Arlington Rap” had been presented in a film festival. Yeah, yeah, it’s funny as hell, but… it’s kind of missing a strong filmmaker’s point of view.

On the whole – looking forward to next year – and hopefully a stronger Doc showing at what was otherwise a pretty enjoyable festival.


Full circle ramble on docs & DC Shorts Docs

TONIGHT TONIGHT TONIGHT – DC Shorts Film Festival Documentary Showcase Can’t wait to see what the filmmakers brought.

The DC Shorts Film Festival has been pretty good to us.  As Becky mentioned below, we went to the free filmmaker seminars last week.  The one on fund-raising was probably most interesting to me.  I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that as a documentary filmmaker, we could apply for grants to make our own films, but seriously, it didn’t.

The Angry Filmmaker also gave a couple of talks – on how to make a film without a budget, and how to advertise and get noticed.  The film making on a budget stuff seemed a little more relevant to narrative film making than docs to me – but the marketing stuff was a real eye-opener.  He had some great ideas on marketing that I thought were not just applicable to our future films, but to the “Doc & a Drink” blog as well. I kept looking over at Becky every time I had a note – only to find that she had written down the same thought. Very exciting. Plans for the future!

What I thought was strange was the reaction to most of the people in the room when he was trying to encourage them to call and talk to people and ask for stuff.  “You have to ask, or you don’t get,” he said, and Becky and I just looked at each other – working in the doc world,  cold-calling is probably the easiest part of my job.  I’d never get experts in our films if I didn’t call and find out more about their work and ask them to participate.  I guess it’s different when it’s docs?  In a way, when you call as a doc filmmaker you are saying, “I’m interested in your work and I’d like to help you tell people about it.”  But for me, it’s kind of the reason I work in documentaries to begin with – is I’m interested in what people are doing and I love getting to know all about folks.  If I’m into something, my instinct is to call and find out more about it.  It’s kind of the BEST part of my job.  And it’s why I like watching docs – so I can see someone’s perspective on other stuff I didn’t know about.

Journalism is often necessarily impersonal, so it’s easy to dismiss what happens in the world as not having an effect.  Numbers and facts aren’t always the easiest thing to internalize.  I *knew* there was a war in Liberia, but I didn’t really *understand* it until I saw “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.”  I *knew* who Robert McNamara was, but I didn’t internalize past events and what we could learn from it until I watched “Fog of War.”  Film making is necessarily a personal journey – the filmmaker has a point of view, as do the participants in a film…there’s a lot of the world that can open up to you when you watch these films.  Film making has the power to make big and small events personal.  This can be skewed, so you have to keep your own sense when you watch docs, but you have to do that when you hear anyone’s personal story.

So I’m excited to see the Short Docs tonight and what the filmmakers are able to introduce in a few minutes.  I like short docs a lot.  It’s a good way to present stories that aren’t necessarily enough to fill a whole feature, but should still be told.

If you are interested in attending – go to: DC Shorts Film Festival.