The Future of Filmfest DC

Photo by PoPville flickr user Rukasu1

The following was written by ‘Going to the Movies’ contributor and Mount Vernon Triangle resident, Catherine Taegel.

Filmfest D.C. isn’t the area’s only international film festival, it was the first and it’s certainly the biggest. This year the festival is 27 years old and movie showings span over two weeks and eight venues. Last week Tony Gittens, the Director and founder of the DC International Film Festival, released a statement regarding the future of Filmfest D.C. Unfortunately, for D.C. and the surrounding metropolitan area, right now the future looks grim.

Even with 23,000 filmgoers attending in 2011, economic times are tough and ticket sales don’t cover even half of Filmfest D.C.’s budget. Around 60% of D.C. Filmfest’s budget is made up of donations. The big donors include the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) and the D.C. government. According to the statement, both donors provided less than expected funding and Mr. Gittens didn’t see it coming. Costs continue to rise and D.C. Filmfest had been diving into reserves even before the untimely cut in funds.

Continues after the jump.

D.C. natives are acutely aware that we are not L.A. and we are not New York, but it’s fair to say we hold our own. We have great theaters with shows that appeal to all styles and wallets (Woolly Mammoth’s deals can’t be beat); a diverse, interesting, and growing food scene (Daikaya is really good); and a weekend can’t go by without events at the Verizon and Convention Centers. And oh yea, DC has over a dozen free museums and countless monuments. Just take a ten minute walk downtown and you’re bound to find something interesting to see and do. D.C. may not be inherently known for film, but we hold our own there too. We all know E Street Cinema and AFI Silver Theater, but there’s also West End Cinema, Arlington Cinema ‘N’ Drafthouse, Avalon Theater, and, the historical landmark, the Uptown. Embassy’s and local cultural centers (Goethe Institut) often host film screenings as well.

Films are important not just because they entertain us, but because films are part of our historical record. They capture our times and not only help us escape from the every day, but can be powerful enough to teach us. Those of us in the D.C. metro area often take for granted the pure access we have to so much diverse cultural offerings. There’s just so much of it. With something like the D.C. Filmfest being around for 27 years, our expectation is to see it again next year.

However, this cultural cornerstone is actually in danger, and as active members of our community it’s on us to help the film scene continue to hold its own. With that being said, I’ll leave you with Mr. Gittens final plea:

“We call upon city officials and the Washington business community to consider the tremendous benefits the Washington, DC International Film Festival makes to our city. Contributions from individuals ( and supportive letters to government officials (copied to [email protected]) are also appreciated. The city will lose a great asset if the festival is unable to continue and we need your help to ensure that does not happen.”

4 Comment

  • April seems like the wrong time of year to hold this event. After a long, cold, dark winter, April brings nicer weather and my guess is that a lot of people (like me) don’t feel like sitting in a theater. Perhaps moving it to January or February might attract more attendees.

    • Cleveland’s Film Festival (older and larger; one of the most successful regional ones) is in April. Tribeca is this week in NYC. This doesn’t seem to be a bad time for film festivals. the problem may be a lack of focus. Silver Docs does well. the gay film festival has had management problems but historically was very strong. The Indie Film Festival last month seemed well attended. Niche festivals may work better here than generalist ones.

  • I had visitors in town who were really excited about going to see some of the DC Filmfest offerings. However, we were unable to buy tickets ahead of time or online. We were told that we would just have to show up before the movie and get in line.

    Another problem was that the website did not work well on mobile devices, and the paper guide listed the movies in alphabetical order rather than by date or theater which made it really difficult to figure out what was playing.

    I’m really disappointed that I was not able to attend any of the screenings, but, at least in my case, that was DC Filmfest’s own fault for making it as difficult as possible to attend their screenings. I hope they’re able to continue in the future, but get your act together before asking people for more money!

    • My friends and I were able to purchase tickets ahead of time online. It wasn’t that difficult. Although one of the movies we wanted to see was unable to be shown because of technical difficulties with the film…that seemed to throw the old people–perhaps the biggest group of film viewers into a tizzy.

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