Despite losing its main venue earlier this year, the Georgetown Independent Film Festival will go on as scheduled. But it will go on somewhere else—specifically, somewhere that’s not in Georgetown.
“The Georgetown Film Festival is no longer there—unable to afford to be there with little or no support and unwilling to compromise into an establishment venue,” event founder Eric Sommer announced last week.
Since its inception in 2001, the annual showcase of new and experimental cinema has drawn thousands of attendees each year and attracted such celebrity guests as director John Waters, porn-star-cum-actress Traci Lords, and actor-director Conrad Brooks—you know, the guy who played Patrolman Jamie in Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Each September, the event has taken place inside a 3,500-square-foot warehouse on Wisconsin Avenue NW, a space donated by the adjacent Blues Alley. But the club’s lease on the space expired at the end of 2003, leaving Sommer’s film festival without its free makeshift cineplex. In order to keep the festival in place, Sommer would have to drum up the $5,000 in monthly rent himself.
Not that he hasn’t tried—sort of. Sommer says he’s sought rent assistance from the Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID) and a host of other neighborhood organizations. “We sent letters, we sent proposals,” he says. “We never heard back from anybody.”
Heck, he even asked developer Douglas Jemal for money. “His answer,” Sommer says, “was no.” And Georgetown BID Director Ken Gray says his organization just doesn’t provide that kind of financial assistance: “We’ve never done that for anybody.”
Eventually, Sommer began pursuing other options. The most likely turns out to be moving the festival out of Georgetown altogether. Maybe even to Adams Morgan.
“We’ll gladly take what Georgetown doesn’t want in terms of culture,” says real-estate broker and community activist Pat Patrick, who’s volunteered to help Sommer find a new no-cost site for the flickfest somewhere near 18th Street NW. Patrick mentions Kalorama Park and the grounds of the Marie H. Reed Community Learning Center as possible locations.
But even if Adams Morgan does become the festival’s new home, Sommer says the event will still retain its Georgetown-specific moniker. “Just so they remember what they’ve lost,” he says.
THE TURNTABLES HAVE TURNED
Patrons pushing for their thing and managers pushing them out—at Air, it’s all about the pressure. And to think: It was supposed to be about folks coming together. Oh, and about the music—though that part keeps changing.
“People were upset from opening night,” says Al Flowers, whose Internet-based promotional outfit, Flow Entertainment Group, steered scores of predominantly African-American patrons to the open-air event, located outside the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
“Early on,” Flowers says, “people were complaining that there wasn’t enough hiphop being played.”
During Air’s inaugural run last year, the hiphop was tiptop, Flowers says. “Flow Fridays at Air,” as the weekly parties became known, featured a favorable mix of urban beats, from old-school jams to current club-bangin’ hits—favorable, at least, to Flow’s own. “We branded it to our clientele,” Flowers says, “and they came out in droves.”
But that was 2003, when Flow had some say over the playlist: “Last year, we used promoters in the traditional sense,” says Air boss Giles Beeker. “They offered input and helped guide the music to a large degree. Their financial stake was directly tied to the number of people they brought into the club.”
This summer, however, Air’s owners, Aria Management, seized tighter control over the turntables. In June, marketing manager Howard Kitrosser told the Washington Post that Air was changing its Friday format to “a mixture of retro, hip-hop and house.” Flow again partnered with the club, though merely in a marketing role, Flowers says. This time, the company was paid a flat rate of $500 per week strictly to help drum up attendance.
Beeker wanted to promote more “musical diversity,” he says, “and diversity in crowd.” Fridays, he believed, should be more like Saturdays at Air, which feature a mostly house and trance mix and a more racially mixed group of attendees—which, he says, racks up “profoundly” higher bar tabs.
Air’s June 18 opening featured DJ Enferno, a renowned D.C. turntablist who won the 2003 Dance Music Community (DMC) U.S. DJ Championship and later earned second-place at the world championships in London. “The initial plan was to have me there as resident on Friday nights,” explains the Tysons Corner, Va., resident, aka Eric Jao.
“For the most part, I played hiphop,” he says. “But I probably pushed it a little more than they’re used to, with some straight-up ’80s stuff….I’d even throw a little rock in there, like some Lenny Kravitz and White Stripes and shit like that.
“I don’t really do the whole hiphop all-night thing,” he adds.
Enferno was not invited back. According to Flowers, it was because the DJ didn’t play enough hiphop. But to Beeker, it was too much.
Friday’s pro-hiphop contingent, Beeker says, was standing in the way of his ideal of musical diversity. “The push by this small, vocal group within the club for more hiphop was pretty strong. They were demanding that the club go to an exclusively hiphop format on Fridays, which we were not prepared to do.”
On July 16, tensions came to a head. Air fired Flow, citing economic reasons. “I wasn’t getting the number in attendance,” says Beeker, “and I wasn’t getting the numbers in terms of revenue, either.”
Air then began advertising another change in musical format: a new “Friday House Party,” featuring “an original blend of funky house.”
Many Airgoers, informed about the change at the door, demanded refunds. Others fired off angry emails. And Air VIP coordinator Andrea Skarupski quit in protest, alleging a plot to oust the hiphoppers. “You might as well have started playing country music,” she says, “just to make it more obvious.”
Beeker, however, denies targeting anyone. “We weren’t telling people there’s no more hiphop,” he says. “It’s just that we weren’t going to be playing just hiphop.
“I can’t think of a night that we haven’t played at least some hiphop,” he adds.
Air’s first Friday night without Flow, July 30, was billed as a “St. Tropez House Party,” with DJ Georges spinning “the latest sounds from the beaches of The South of France”—sounds that, Beeker suggests, also included a little hiphop.
“I think if you look at who’s the most famous person in St. Tropez since Brigitte Bardot,” he says, “it’s P. Diddy.”
It’s probably the most flagrant display of anti-PandaMania sentiment yet this summer: vandals’ savage thrashing of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ own panda statue—located right in front of DCCAH headquarters downtown.
“Maybe it’s a statement against public art,” says artist Raphael Pantalone. “Or maybe they just didn’t like its French-style painter’s cap.”
Whatever the reason, perpetrators apparently pried the bristle end of a giant paintbrush out of the left paw of Pantalone’s PandArt! and then proceeded to use it—to bash the bear’s face in.
Pieces of the polyurethane sculpture’s shattered nose and jaw were found scattered along the 8th Street NW sidewalk on the morning of July 24. And so was the makeshift weapon.
“It’s very heavy,” says project manager Alexandra MacMaster, passing the hefty brush-turned-club over to the Washington City Paper for analysis. We’re guessing 20, maybe 25 pounds.
Sounds about right to Pantalone, who used about 40 pounds of polymer to construct the entire brush. “Most of the weight,” he says, “was in the top end of it.”
The artist says he “tried to design it so it’d be virtually impossible to pull off.” The brush was affixed in three places: to the paw, face, and ear. “So you have to give ’em credit,” Pantalone says. “Whoever did it was pretty strong.”
Counting the presumed July 25 pandanapping of Zora Janosova’s Climbing Pandas—all 900 pounds of it—and this week’s ear-severing incident (victim: Bearra Cotta Warrior by Melissa Shatto), the total number of bears that have been marked-up, mutilated, immolated, or otherwise victimized this summer now stands at 20. —Chris Shott
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