Of the many descriptors one could apply to Washington, prideful is not always one of them. Yachad, a Jewish group that develops low-income housing and neighborhoods around D.C., is certainly trying to fix things up where it can. But the group’s Our City Film Festival, however, is gushing with civic enthusiasm. And why not? There are a few nice stories—martial arts, community gardens, high-school rugby, cupcakes—to tell here. Those, and the haphazard-looking debut feature by Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation, but we’ll get to that later.
Festival director Kendra Rubinfeld said she founded it to show that Washington is “more than monuments, politics, and traffic,” and many of the festival’s short titles are much more intimate than our typical beltway milieu. The glaring exception is the festival’s closer: a screening of the second-season premiere of DC Cupcakes. Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis might be local, but their tony slice of Wisconsin Avenue is about as distant from Yachad’s charitable mission as possible.
About two-thirds of Our City Film Festival—of which the City Paper is a sponsor—shows heart-tugging documentaries celebrating city residents an organizations doing heart-tugging good works. First are a pair of uncompleted films. She’s a Sensei profiles Carol Middleton, a transplant from the Midwest with a seventh-degree black belt in tae kwon do who runs a martial arts school in Mt. Pleasant, and Letting in the Jungle looks at the wildlife running through our neighborhoods.
The intersection of concrete and nature is also at the center of Community Harvest, the festival’s pre-selected Best Documentary about the development of an urban public garden on a disused Columbia Heights lot.
Other short docs playing include Touch, Pause, Engage, showing off the rugby team at the Hyde Public Leadership Charter School, the country’s first all-black high-school squad; and Equilibrium City, which tells the development of Columbia, Md. through the memories of Michael Chabon and other natives of the planned community.
Of the four narrative shorts playing at Our City Film Festival, the organizers elected to name Audiofiles as their favorite. The romantic comedy about misplaced iPods features a soundtrack full of angsty ballads by Daddy Lion and those problematic Metrorail doors. Quicker laughs are found in Tiebreaker, in which a pair of roommates actively seek a third wheel to settle their disputes.
Mark Pagan, the director of the intimate, quiet Raymond and Lina, wants to grow his 11-minute drama in to a feature—the grandfather-granddaughter relationship of the title characters is easy to miss. But he novelty of Pagan’s film is in its near-silent first six minutes. The first half of the story cuts between scenes of Raymond milling about his neighborhood and Lina at a city playground, though the only sound comes from the background.
Our City’s feature presentation is Eric Hilton’s Babylon Central. The synopsis provided to critics includes mentions of a mail courier-cum-DJ, a Saudi prince, global currency markets, and an imperialistic vision of the U.S. government; the film is a hodgepodge of shaky camerawork and near-forgotten lines with a soundtrack of Thievery Corporation at its most exaggerated sense of political indignation. OK, Hilton, we get it. You didn’t like George W. Bush, but Babylon Central is insufferable and Tommy Wiseau’s The Room already has a standing appointment at midnight screenings.
Sunday, Feb. 13. Goethe-Institut, 812 7th Street NW. (202) 296-8563. $10/screening. Click here for tickets and times.