Credit: Doug Boehm

Ballsy programming should be the essence of any film festival, but in its 22nd year, Filmfest DC seems to be playing it safe. For instance, don’t take its alleged focus on “Politics and Film” too seriously. Surely the festival’s decision-makers thought it appropriate to highlight political fare, given the zeitgeist—with an impending election and long-festering occupation on everyone’s mind, it could seem downright irresponsible not to include works speaking to urgent global issues. Then again, box-office returns over the past year have suggested that moviegoers have grown battle-weary, preferring the escapist to the educational in their trips to the multiplex.

The Filmfest solution? Gathering a mere six politically minded films—out of the festival’s 70-plus offerings—and touting it as a highlighted series. Worse, the selections seem to be most noteworthy for their good intentions. Out of the four our critics were able to view, only one—The Bread Winner, a 23-minute documentary about a 9-year-old Afghan boy who supports his family—is fully recommended, while the others are dragged down by polemic (The War on Democracy), poor storytelling (Mon Colonel), or simple dullness (Beyond the Call).

“New Latin American Cinema,” the festival’s other promoted theme, is a little more expansive—but considering that it includes films from Spain, the definition isn’t exactly strict. There are twice as many offerings under this umbrella, though, and of the four we were able to preview, three get passing marks: La Antena, Argentina’s black-and-white homage to silent film, Fiestapatria, a socio-political farce from Chile, and Timecrimes, a head-spinning Spanish thriller about time travel. Other good bets include La Zona, a Spanish-Mexican co-production, and the Uruguay-set The Pope’s Toilet, both of which will be competing for the fest’s juried Capital Focus Award.

Among the 30 films reviewed here, a more common—and successful—thread is strong female characters, such as in Iran’s intriguingly woven Unfinished Stories, China’s heartbreaking Tuya’s Marriage, and With Your Permission, a Danish-Swedish coproduction that doesn’t quite work as the comedy it purports to be but otherwise offers a galvanizing portrait of a woman who blossoms in spite of her controlling husband. As always, a handful of the featured films will return to Washington as commercial releases, including The Tracey Fragments, a Canadian production starring current It girl Ellen Page. Our critic found Bruce McDonald’s visual experiments exasperating, but the movie may interest filmgoers looking for something a little riskier than the latest diatribe on Iraq.

Our FilmFest roundup:

THURSDAY, APRIL 24

Two Ladies

FRIDAY, APRIL 25

Blood Brothers
Heavy Metal in Baghdad
Mon Colonel
The Tracey Fragments

SATURDAY, APRIL 26

AmericanEast
Beyond the Call
The Bread Winner
The Night James Brown Saved Boston
Tuya’s Marriage

SUNDAY, APRIL 27

Egg
The Home Song Stories
Jazz in the Diamond District
Ploy
The War on Democracy

MONDAY, APRIL 28

The Matador
Unfinished Stories

TUESDAY, APRIL 29

La Antena
Madrigal
You, The Living

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 30

FiestaPatria
Paloma Delight
Tell No One

THURSDAY, MAY 1

The Journey: The Greek-American Dream

FRIDAY, MAY 2

Chaos
King of Ping Pong
The Edge of Heaven
Timecrimes
With Your Permission

SUNDAY, MAY 4

Shall We Kiss?