Get to know D.C. with our daily newsletter
We dive deep on the day’s biggest story and share links to everything you need to know.
There’s an absolute glut of high-quality online film available right now, from the giants like Netflix and Hulu to the traditional networks’ ever-expanding bevy of on-demand streaming services to cinephile organizations across the globe. What makes Filmfest DC’s at-home programming most obviously different is one thing: price. For the next month, the organization is offering feature-length and short films on its website for free, with titles changing each week. But the festival’s curation will help push District residents outside of their comfort zones. Many films are international; half of them are shorts; they focus on diverse topics and include documentaries, animation, dramas, and comedies. City Paper previewed the titles that will be available to stream over the coming month.—Emma Sarappo
DC NoirWashington native George Pelecanos is a prolific author of crime novels depicting an old D.C. that can seem almost unrecognizable after gentrification. But while the University of Maryland graduate has worked on a number of high-profile TV series that capture gritty urban environments, like The Wire and The Deuce, this four-story film anthology marks the first time Pelecanos has put D.C. on screen. The area’s richness comes through in Pelecanos’ directorial debut, a tale of marital infidelity in Petworth called “The Lovers,” while his son Nick makes his directorial debut with “Miss Mary’s Room,” the affecting tale of youths involved in the drug game. Keeping it real D.C., Fugazi’s Brendan Canty contributes an atmospheric score, and Backyard Band’s Anwan Glover plays himself in a segment that echoes the go-go culture wars of 2019, which seems so very long ago. DC Noir reminds you what it was like to live outside in the sometimes volatile world of the nation’s capital. April 23–30. 93 minutes. —Pat Padua
Driving LessonAptly paired with DC Noir, this 2017 short tells the story of a young African American man navigating one of the milestones of growing up: His father is teaching him how to drive. Unfortunately, a police officer has a more disturbing lesson to offer. Mobile, Alabama-born director Leland Hall made this six-minute short as part of the MFA program at the University of Southern California, and the concise storytelling and tension-building promises a bright future to come. April 23–30. 6 minutes. —PP
Once Upon a LineThis animated short by Alicja Jasina is charming, innovative, and unexpectedly tragic in the age of COVID-19: A man (really just a set of lines hinting at the shape of a man, both metaphorically and literally) wakes up each day, wears the same clothes, drinks the same coffee, and heads out on the same commute to a pencil-pushing job. Oh, were it so for the rest of us today! He lives this monotonous life until he literally bumps into a beautiful stranger. They fall in love and cohabitate; life together turns out to not be all that great. In the end, what saves our main character isn’t another lady off the sidewalk: It’s the restorative power of the outdoors, where other citizens bike and bounce around joyfully. Certainly, those of us currently cooped up in our houses and apartments can testify to that fact. Once Upon a Line’s biggest strength, though, comes from its ambitious animation, using just a few lines to suggest the contours of much bigger places, faces, and lives. May 1–7. 7 minutes. —ES
Lion’s HeartThis 2013 Argentinian film has a strange hurdle to overcome: It’s an odd-couple rom-com starring Julieta Díaz as the beautiful but stressed out lawyer Ivana Cornejo and Argentinian star Guillermo Francella as her suave, funny, handsome suitor León Godoy—whose only shortcoming is that he’s, well, 4-and-a-half feet tall, and to play him, Francella is shrunk down by some often wonky CGI. If that premise sounds like the beginning of a thousand hacky jokes, those jokes are quickly overcome by something much more real. Francella is incredibly charming, even as Díaz overacts next to him just a touch. It’s easy to see why Ivana is quickly won over in this goofy movie with lots of heart. For every strange needle drop (Elvis Presley’s version of “Always on my Mind” features prominently twice) or split-screen effect, there’s a truly affecting emotional conversation between the leads. Ivana is open minded, but still has a lot to learn about overcoming her prejudices; León is gracious, but only up to a point. You root for Ivana to learn from her mistakes, dismiss her hurtful biases, and actually let love in. Somehow, if you lean back and let it, the film kind of works. May 1–7. 101 minutes. —ES
Ten Meter TowerLike a stylized episode of Candid Camera, this 16-minute short does double duty as both cinema and psychology experiment. Swedish directors Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck placed an online ad looking for participants who had never been on a diving tower 10 meters high (about 33 feet). Later, 67 people answered the ad and were promised the equivalent of $30, whether or not they actually jumped. We watch as the would-be divers, young and old, approach the end of the platform and ponder the watery void. If you miss people watching by the pool and long to catch a glimpse of fear in your fellow human, this strangely compelling piece of voyeurism is for you. May 8–14. 16 minutes. —PP
Sink or SwimBertrand is a square peg in a round hole. He sleeps through the days, he hasn’t had a job for two years, and his wife and children resent him. He’s not surprised—he resents himself. But when he’s drawn to a men’s synchronized swimming team on nothing more than a strange whim, he finds himself in the company of a group of other middle-aged misfits, all with their own familial, career, and life struggles, under the attentive and intelligent eye of their trainer, Delphine, once a champion in her own right. Sink or Swim’s jaunty tale of redemption loops in the middle, as the team breaks through self-delusion and their upward mobility stalls. In the end, the film is better for it: Bertrand, his teammates, and his coach aren’t immediately fixed by the noble sport of swimming; life and families are a bit more complicated than that, and perfect trajectories aren’t realistic. At two hours long, the film drags a bit, but the comic riffs and bright, splashy cinematography make Sink or Swim refreshing to dip your toes into. May 8–14. 122 minutes. —ES
Sweetheart DancersThe subjects of Ben-Alex Dupris’ documentary short Sweetheart Dancers, Sean Snyder and Adrian Stevens, look happiest when they’re dancing. Together, they seem to forget everyone else, in keeping with the philosophy Adrian espouses at the beginning: “You’re not dancing against dancers. You’re dancing against the drum.” The pair hope to compete in the sweetheart dance, an event for long-term couples, in New Mexico, where they’ll be representing not just their own love but their family and tribal legacies. In the compact short, Dupris, an enrolled member of the Colville Confederated Tribes, doesn’t take time to define terms, events, or cultural references for outsiders. He doesn’t need to, since the expert cinematography and editing make Adrian and Sean’s relationship and emotion immediately legible. When they’re first turned away from competition by organizers who insist that “a couple must consist of two people. One man. One woman,” you feel their devastation intimately. A year later, when they win third place at a sweetheart dance open to all partners, you feel their elation and their love just as keenly. May 15–21. 13 minutes. —ES
Tango GloriesThe 2014 Argentinian feature film Tango Glories centers around what seems, at first blush, to be a mawkish Glee-style premise: An old man, institutionalized and incoherent, can only communicate with his determined psychiatrist by quoting the titles and lyrics of tango songs. But what unfolds is an affecting look at how music manages to define and connect people. Viewers watch elderly Fermín’s life in flashbacks as his doctor, Ezequiel Kaufman, begins to understand his life—and fall in love with Fermín’s granddaughter, a talented and acclaimed tango dancer herself. Fittingly for a movie built around tango, the dance scenes are electric and some of the film’s highlights. Director Oliver Kolker is a longtime tango enthusiast and performer, and his love for the art comes through. Hundreds of others pledged their loyalty to the art form and project via a Kickstarter that raised more than $50,000 for post-production and distribution. Any D.C.-based tango lovers should thank them. May 15–21. 117 minutes. —ES
NO, A Flamenco TaleThis 2016 film from director José Luis Tirado shapes the bustling world of Seville, Spain, into an inventively choreographed tone poem. From a straightforward concert performance that looks much like a livestream from an intimate nightclub, the claustrophobic confines open up to a world in which everybody has a passionate song or dance to offer, from one woman bicycling up a busy street to cyclists pedaling in synchronized patterns. For anyone looking for a reminder of the world outside, in dance form, this is a welcome distraction. At one point, we get a view down a spiraling marble staircase as a solo dancer makes her way slowly into view, rising from several flights below. Curiously, this introduces a restriction that throws the art into a different light: Since we can only see the dancer from above, her expression is largely left to the rhythms she sounds out as hard shoes reverberate in space; when she has nearly completed her performance, we can hear her catch her breath. For a few moments, the movie plays as if Jacques Tati directed a Step Up movie, and when an elderly woman singer belts out, “It’s a mad, mad, mad world,” you’ll nod, sadly. There’s no conventional narrative, but in the varied images and musical approaches, there is structure. This is what I wish La La Land had been like. May 15–21. 75 minutes. —PP
All films are available to stream at filmfestdc.org.