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D.C. Shorts kicks off ninth annual festival Thursday

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A scene from ‘Hatch,’ a 19-minute LGBT-themed drama directed by Christoph Kuschnig from Austria about two couples forced to make hard decisions on a wintry night. It’s part of ‘Showcase 10,’ a series of films that will be shown on Sept. 8 and 10 at E Street Cinema as part of the D.C. Shorts Film Festival. (Photo courtesy D.C. Shorts)

The D.C. Shorts Film Festival
September 6-16
Various venues
Ticket prices start at $12 and include an online only option

The numbers behind the ninth annual D.C. Shorts Film Festival are staggering: 140 films under 20 minutes long, 27 countries, four venues, eight chefs, 16 showcases, 11 days, five parties and six screenplays staged by local actors. Luckily, Jon Gann and his talented colleagues have it under control and their excellent website guides audience members easily through the festival.

Gann, the openly gay founder and director of the Festival, became interested in filmmaking when he became disenchanted with his work in media relations.

“I owned a graphic design firm for many, many years and I was tired of producing stuff that I thought was great that clients thought was schlock and stuff I thought was schlock that they thought was great, so I decided to go to film school,” he says.

His most notable film to date is the award-winning “Cyberslut,” a nine-minute confession of an unnamed man obsessed with finding sex on the Internet. In intimate and riveting detail, the film tracks his fascination of the online hunt, the frequent disappointment at the first meeting and the occasional ecstatic encounter that sends him back to the computer to hunt again. As the narrator wryly notes, “a computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any other invention in human history, with the possible exception of handguns and tequila.”

Gann’s experience with film festivals (“Cyberslut” has had 47 screenings worldwide, making it one of the most successful gay-themed short films) inspired him to create a different kind of film festival.

“I travelled to festivals all over the world and that’s when I realized that many festivals were about food and parties and sponsors but not necessarily about films or filmmakers,” Gann says. “That’s when I said I need to do something that’s different. The focus of my festival was going to be on filmmakers and if I did that right, then the food and the money and the parties would come.”

Gann has established a system to make the Festival a supportive environment for filmmakers.

“We give feedback to all the filmmakers who enter, whether they make it into the festival or not. We allow them to see their scores and the judges’ comments. That has helped some filmmakers recraft their final edit to make it tighter.”

Jon Gann (Photo courtesy the Festival)

Gann also realized he wanted to focus on short films (less than 20 minutes). He thinks that “there’s a hunger for really good short content. If Internet use is any indication, people like to see a story in a few minutes.” He adds that short films are also a great way for fledgling artists to learn their craft.

“As a filmmaker,” he says, “if you’re able to tell a succinct story that grabs the audience’s attention and is emotionally gripping in a few minutes, then you know what you’re doing as a storyteller. And that to me is impressive.”

So, in 2004, Gann started the D.C. Shorts Festival, financed largely with money from his own checking account. The first year, 75 films were submitted and 32 films were presented in three screenings for enthusiastic audiences. Looking back on the experience, he says, “It made me a nervous wreck but the whole thing was a big success. We sold out all the tickets and had to turn people away, which was amazing. And it’s grown from there.”

Today, D.C. Shorts is the largest short film festival on the East Coast.

There were more than 850 submissions for the 2012 Festival. After a rigorous selection process, 140 movies were chosen for screening. The films, with run times ranging from one to 20 minutes, are being presented in 16 showcases. Each showcase lasts around 90 minutes. An interactive online tool called “The Film Finder” helps audience members select the programs they’re most interested in seeing. Browsers can sort by showcase, country of origin, genre (documentary, animation, horror, comedy, drama and so on) and interest area (including LGBT, local films and celebrities).

The showcases will be presented at four venues throughout the D.C. region, including the E Street Cinema, the U.S. Navy Memorial, the Atlas Performing Arts Center and the new Angelika Film Center in Fairfax.

In addition to the showcases, there are a variety of other events for filmmakers and film fans to enjoy. For example, patrons can enjoy:

• Free lunch time screenings at the E Street Cinema in downtown D.C.

• Free family and teen screenings at the new Angelika Film Center in Virginia

• A screenplay competition where six scripts (selected from 185 submissions) are given a staged reading by local actors and directors. The winner will receive a cash prize ($1,000 when the award is made and $1,000 when the film is completed) and a slot in the 2013 Festival.

• Free seminars for aspiring and practicing filmmakers

• “The Best of DC Shorts” showcase which features movies selected by audiences during the festival’s opening weekend

• An Awards Brunch with accolades from the festival jury, the festival director, audience members, and a peer award from the filmmakers themselves

• And, a variety of legendary parties that offer “food and drink and DJs and dancing and lots of chances to meet filmmakers.”

Gann adds that that this year’s festival has an emphasis on films about food and includes partnerships with area restaurants.

“We have a big food-film program this year,” he says. “We’ve paired eight films with local chefs who’ve prepared special dishes based on those films. At those films, you can actually sample the food at the end of the screening.”

For example, “Murder Mouth” by first-time Australian filmmaker Madeleine Parry is a documentary showing how, “Madeleine decides that unless she kills it, she can’t eat it.” The film is paired with Ed Witt’s recipe for Crostini with Lamb Tartare, which will be served to audience members after select screenings. Like Maddie in the film, the chef from 701 argues that, “Modern day carnivores have become so disconnected from their food that they are unable to identify it without the labels from the grocery store.”

Queer themes
Several selections in this year’s Festival have LGBT storylines

The D.C. Shorts Film Festival includes 10 films with explicitly LGBT content. They are sprinkled throughout the showcases, often in interesting combinations with other films.

The most delightful, a modern day fairy tale called “The Maiden and the Princess,” is actually part of the free Family Showcase on Sept. 15 at the Angelika Film Center. Directed by American filmmaker Ali Scher, this charming film tells the story of Emmy, who is teased by her classmates and rebuked by her parents when she kisses another girl.

Luckily Hammond, a narrator with the Grand High Council of Fairy Tale Rules and Standards intervenes. He transports himself (in fairy godmother drag) and Emmy into a musical fairy tale that reassures Emmy that her feelings are perfectly normal and that convinces Hammond’s stodgy superior to let him put the “fairy” back in fairy tale.

Scher was very clear about her aim in making the film, saying “My goal with this project is to cut through the silence and facilitate honest communication between children and parents about sexual orientation.” She affirms that she made the movie so that “no kid ever has to feel ashamed of who they are. We as a society need to encourage individuality in children, even if it means exposing them to things we are afraid of.”

A much darker story is told in “Hatch” by Austrian director Christopher Kuschnig, who won a student Oscar for the film. “Hatch” tells the stories of two couples whose lives intersect on a wintry night in Vienna and the baby whose fate will be changed by the decisions they make. Kuschnig succeeds in using an innovative narrative and visual style to capture both the inner dynamics of each couple and the broader social implications of their desperate acts.

“‘Hatch’ is much more than the story of one couple’s wrenching decision and another’s criminal act,” he says. “I was particularly interested in each couple’s distinct dynamics and how these events on this particular night could challenge their assumptions of each other, and therefore alter their relationships and eventually their lives.”

Some of the other LGBT films in the Festival are “The Queen of My Dreams,” a Bollywood influenced take on a young lesbian’s coming-out story; “Cobra,” which takes a grieving father from the funeral of his estranged son to the bar where his son performed; and “The Gay Who Wasn’t Gay Enough,” a hard-hitting take on conformity in the gay community. — BRIAN T. CARNEY

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Photos

PHOTOS: Caroline County Pride

‘Carnival Adventure’ LGBTQ celebration held in Denton, Md.

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The 2023 Caroline County Pride Festival is held in downtown Denton, Md. on Saturday, May 27. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The third Caroline County Pride Festival, “A Carnival Adventure,” was held in downtown Denton, Md. on Saturday, May 27.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Photos

PHOTOS: Black Pride Opening Reception

Comedy show and resource fair held at Renaissance Washington

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From left, Kenya Hutton, Aiyi'nah Ford and Earl Fowlkes, Jr. at the 2023 Black Pride Opening Reception on May 26. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

DC Black Pride held its Opening Reception at the Renaissance Washington Hotel on Friday, May 26.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Movies

Summer brings major dose of new queer film, TV content

Dramas, comedies, Barbie, and the return of ‘Heartstopper’

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Taylor Zakhar Pérez and Nicholas Galitzine star in ‘Red, White & Royal Blue.’ (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

There’s no season quite like the summer when it comes to having fun outdoors, for obvious reasons – but unless you want a nasty sunburn, you need to spend time indoors, too. Luckily, the Blade is here for our readers with our picks for the most promising new movies and shows coming to our various screens over the coming season, so you’ll have something good to watch while you’re recovering from all that shiny Vitamin D.

JUNE

THE NEIGHBOR (Limited theaters 6/2, Digital & DVD 6/6) – From Italian director Pasquale Marrazzo comes this fresh-from-the-festivals LGBTQ drama about two young men who begin an intense romance after having a terrifying experience together, and the parental hate and homophobia that comes to light in the face of their newfound love. It sounds grim, but it comes with a string of strong reviews to recommend it and acclaimed performances from Michelle Costabile and Jacopo Costantini, plus a score by prizewinning composer Teho Teardo (“House of Gucci,” “Il Divo”). 

HORSEPLAY (Limited theaters 6/2, Digital & DVD 6/13) – Another queer LGBTQ film fest darling, this one a thriller from Argentina, about a group of friends at a summer get together; their hard-partying fun leads to horseplay (naturally), which (also naturally) stirs up other issues – and submerged secrets, feelings, and jealousies begin to push tensions toward a violent breaking point. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Marco Berger and described as “a boundary-pushing look at masculinity, homophobia and sexuality,” it stars Bruno Giganti, Agustín Machta, Franco De La Puente, and Ivan Masliah Taekwondo. It also looks very sexy, which makes us look forward to it that much more.

THE IDOL (HBO, 6/4) – “Euphoria” creator Dan Levinson is also behind this much-anticipated new series, which stars Lily-Rose Depp as a rising pop star who falls under the spell a Svengali-like self-help guru played by none other than The Weeknd (aka Abel Tesfaye). It also stars queer fan favorite and “Schitt’s Creek” co-creator Dan Levy, along with Jane Adams, Hari Nef, and Troye Sivan, among others. Already controversial thanks to a behind-the-scenes whistleblower who told Rolling Stone that it “borders on sexual torture porn,” you can bet there will be a lot of eyes – queer and otherwise – streaming this one.

ALL MAN: THE INTERNATIONAL MALE STORY (Digital, 6/6) – For a certain generation of gay men, the words “International Male” evoke memories of rushing home from high school to grab that precious sexy catalogue out of the mailbox before their parents got home. Now, this long-awaited documentary – which was an Official Selection at both the Tribeca and Outfest Film Festivals – finally arrives to bring the story of this iconic touchstone of queer history to light, by charting “the journey of an unlikely band of outsiders” who “designed one of the most sought-after mail-order catalogues of the ‘70s and ‘80s, forever changing the way men look at themselves, at each other, and how the world would look at them.” Matt Bomer, Simon Doonan, and Carson Kressley are among the participating talking heads, but the real attraction is the wealth of archival imagery showing some of the most outrageously gay (and irresistible) fashion ever created.

BLUE JEAN (In Theaters, 9/9) – UK filmmaker Georgia Oakley won high praise for this 2022 slice-of-history drama, now making its official U.S. debut. Set in 1988 England as the conservative Thatcher government is poised to pass stigmatizing legislation against gays and lesbians, it features a powerhouse performance from Rosy McEwen as a gym teacher whose closeted double life is threatened by the arrival of a new student. BAFTA-nominated, this one won the Venice Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award and four British Independent Film Awards, making it both a heavy-hitter and a must-see.

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (FX, 6/13) – The popular vampire mockumentary – along with its breakout star, queer fan favorite Harvey Guillén – returns for a fifth season.

JAGGED MIND (Hulu, 6/15) – Directed by Kelley Kali and inspired by her own short film “First Date”, this feature-length queer thriller follows a woman (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) who, plagued by blackouts and strange visions, finds herself stuck in a series of time loops that may or may not be connected to her mysterious new girlfriend (Shannon Woodward). This one will have its world premiere at the American Black Film Festival in Miami Beach the day ahead of its streaming drop.

AND JUST LIKE THAT… (Max, 6/22) – The Samantha-less reboot of “Sex and the City” brings back the rest of the scandalous cadre for a second season.

EVERY BODY (In theaters, 6/30) – Julie Cohen directed this revelatory doc, which investigates the lives of intersex people, telling the stories of three individuals who have risen above childhood shame, secrecy, and non-consensual surgeries to thrive as adults after coming out as their authentic selves; it also weaves in a “stranger-than-fiction” tale of medical abuse, told in exclusive footage from the NBC News archives, which helps shed some light on the modern-day treatment of intersex people. We are definitely on board for anything that brings visibility to one of the most invisible sectors of our community – especially when it also aims to reduce stigma.

JULY

THEATER CAMP (In theaters, 7/14) – Sure to be a big draw for film fans who also love musical theater, this new movie from co-directors Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman is an original comedy starring Tony-winner Ben Platt (“Dear Evan Hansen”) opposite Gordon as a BFF pair of instructors at the rundown titular institution, who join forces with their loyal production manager (Noah Galvin, Platt’s real-life boyfriend) to rescue it from the clueless tech-bro (Jimmy Tatro) that has been brought in to run it. How? Why, with a musical, of course! Written by Platt, Gordon, Galvin, and Leiberman, it also stars Patti Harrison, Nathan Lee Graham, Ayo Edebiri, Owen Thiele, Alan Kim, Alexander Bello, Bailee Bonick, Kyndra Sanchez, Donovan Colan, Vivienne Sachs, Quinn Titcomb, Caroline Aaron, and the always hilarious Amy Sedaris. Sign us up.

BARBIE (In theaters, 7/21) – Let’s face it, this wickedly campy-looking, over-the-top comedy from the brilliant Greta Gerwig is probably going to be the film of the year – at least for a solid percentage of the queer audience, who are certain to be passing the popcorn on opening weekend as they watch Margot Robbie’s Barbie and Ryan Gosling’s Ken visit the real world together. And since collections have always been part of the “Barbie” game, Gerwig’s satirical joyride offers an assortment of other Kens and Barbies, including Kingsley Ben-Adir, Simu Liu, Ncuti Gatwa, and Scott Evans as Ken, Hari Nef, Issa Rae, Kate McKinnon, Dua Lipa, Emma Mackey, Ana Cruz Kayne, Sharon Rooney, Alexandra Shipp, and Nicola Coughlan. Truthfully, if they throw in a Barbie camper set, we will be in heaven.

KOKOMO CITY (In theaters, 7/28) – Lena Waithe executive produced this “wildly entertaining and refreshingly unfiltered” documentary that follows the lives of four Black transgender sex workers in Atlanta and New York City. Winner of Sundance’s NEXT Innovator Award and NEXT Audience Awards, it gives its quartet of subjects ample opportunity to spill the tea on their profession, and they do not hold back. As a bonus, it’s the directorial debut of producer/singer/songwriter D. Smith, who made history as the first trans woman cast on a primetime unscripted TV show.

AUGUST

HEARTSTOPPER (Netflix, 8/3) – The eagerly awaited return of Nick and Charlie (Kit Connor and Joe Locke), the most irresistibly adorable pair of young teen boyfriends ever, for a second season of this beloved UK series that will likely have everyone immediately clamoring for a third.

ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING (Hulu, 8/8) – Another returning favorite, the third season of this deliciously charming confectionary blend of characters, comedy and crime podcasts comes with the addition of a new premium ingredient – Meryl Streep (real, not imitation) – for extra delectability. Who could resist?

RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE (Prime, 8/11) – “Heartstopper” fans who have binged through the new season in one sitting and are hungry for more might find a suitable fix when this Greg Berlanti-produced, Matthew Lopez-directed film adaptation of nonbinary author Casey McQuiston’s YA bestseller drops a week later. It’s an implausible but infectiously sweet rom-com that imagines a same-sex romance between America’s First Son and the heir to the British throne, with young newcomers Taylor Zakhar Pérez and Nicholas Galitzine taking on the leading roles; also starring are Clifton Collins Jr., Stephen Fry, Sarah Shahi, Rachel Hilson, Ellie Bamber, Aneesh Sheth, and Polo Morín, but we are frankly most excited to see Uma Thurman playing America’s first female president. Let’s hope that plot detail isn’t such an implausible premise.

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