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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Independents’ Day at local film festival

This past week The D.C. Independent Film Festival was conducted from March 4th through the 11th. The festival is a working reminder of how “independent film” is not a singular, well-defined genre such as the horror film or documentary. “Independent film” is technically just a shortened term for “film without a distribution deal to put it in multiplexes nationwide.” But it’s also a loose catch phrase for every movie that slips through the cracks of Hollywood, like those horror films that are documentaries.

“This is Our Slaughterhouse,” the by-turns gut-wrenching and heart-warming story of the Broerman Family Slaughterhouse, is just one example of the sort of hard-to-classify films that made a showing this year at the DCIFF. Some of these films had never been exhibited before and others may never get shown again (with good reason) but, for a moment, their directors get to see their creations living onscreen – they are no longer mere hobbyists; they are bona fide filmmakers.

“This is a wonderful opportunity. This is their time to shine, their moment in the sun. So many of these directors, they’ve worked all kinds of hours, put so much work into their films, and here it is now, on the second biggest screen in D.C. for everyone to watch, ” said Carol Bidault de l’Isle, founder and executive director of DCIFF.

The range of experience at the festival is astonishing. The gamut ranges from student films and local filmmakers just picking up a camera for the first time to people like Aaron E. Schneider, who after 13 years as a cinematographer had his directorial debut, “Two Soldiers,” screened at the festival – less than a week after winning an Academy Award for best short film.

Short films predominate. Most of them are independently financed, made on shoestring budgets with volunteer casts, although that does not mean they’re low quality. Every festival has a few clunkers, but more often than not the fiscal demands placed on the filmmakers force them to be creative and work around their financial limits.

Nowhere is that sense of poverty-spurred artistry more evident than in the festival’s two “48 Hour Films.” The 48 Hour Film Project, which has cells in two dozen cities all over the world, takes one weekend a year to challenge a dozen local filmmakers to draw a genre, a character, a prop and a line of dialogue out of a hat and then write, shoot and edit a film in just 48 hours. The festival first screened “Compromised,” a spy thriller directed by Joe Talbott. It is not a great film, perhaps even one of the weakest in the entire festival, if judged solely by what one sees on screen. But the fun of watching a 48 Hour Film is the knowledge that what is on the screen is pure, unedited inspiration. The 48 Hour Film Project doesn’t fund the filmmakers, either, so everything must be improvised. As Talbott puts it,

“We didn’t have a budget. There was no money,” Talbott explained. “Just friends with gear who weren’t using it that weekend.”

With that in mind, it’s a marvel “Compromised” exists at all.

Aside from time and energy, buying and processing film is usually the single greatest cost independent filmmakers face.

“I put about $4,000 into this over a number of years, almost all of it my own money. Chiefly, that went to film, processing the film, dubbing it over from Super 16. That was really the chief expense,” said filmmaker Gregg Watt. “That and feeding the crew.”

The rise of digital video, which eliminates film processing, is poised to redefine independent film by substantially lowering the financial bar, yet it was surprisingly under-represented at the DCIFF. Many filmmakers cited the grainy, washed out color of digital video as a primary reason for continuing to work with actual film.

“It’s worth it to spend the money and have it turn out, visually, the way I intended,” said indie director Brian Juergens.

The festival delves into the far reaches of film, looking to exonerate films by and about all manner of minorities and subcultures. Stick around long enough and someone from whatever group you identify with will most likely get a chance to speak.

Indie film is about the democratization of film, with experimental techniques and daunting storylines. It’s about challenging the audience, rather than shocking people for shock’s sake. Whereas the “indie” versions of many other artistic mediums often come off as obscure or set up other sets of conventions to mindlessly obey – indie film is meant for everyone who ever walked out of a blockbuster feeling empty and wished that cinema would try to be more engaging.

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