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Silverdocs is continuing all weekend, but today marks the premiere of another new player on the increasingly flush film-festival scene in Washington: the DMV International Film Festival, whose selections, both short and feature-length, come from local and international names and will screen at Goethe-Institut and other venues.
“If you can make it in D.C., I honestly believe you can make it anywhere,” says Tanecia Britt, director of the festival. Britt, a native of Laurel, Md., sees D.C. as a risky yet ultimately worthwhile town to make films in—-even with New York City such a short trip away. Britt, who during years of making films in East London still longed to make films back in her hometown, is adamant about the merits of D.C. as a cinematic incubator.
I met Britt at a Dunkin’ Doughnuts near her house in Hyattsville. She’s animated and self-assured and mentions, before she leaves, that she’s been taking on a few extra video gigs in order to help pay for the festival. She’s passionate for the event, and her end goal is clear: She wants to introduce an aspect of D.C. culture to a community that’s been pretty blind to it. In our interview, we talk about the D.C. filmmaking community and her festival favorites. The festival runs through June 30.
Washington City Paper: What’s the story behind you creating the DMV Film Festival, and your inspiration for creating it?
Tanecia Britt: Well, when I was living in the U.K., and I did my first feature film, I really wanted to market the film in Washington D.C., from the U.K., because I’m from here. There’s a school called School Without Walls here in D.C., and that’s kind of how I got the title for it. It had nothing to do with the school. When I was researching film festivals here, there were no festivals that really targeted the audience that I was targeting. We had an international, a foreign film in our hands, and it had a multicultural cast, so it wasn’t strictly a black cast, it wasn’t strictly a white cast. There was no film festival here that really nurtured foreign films. And for that, I was just like, I think I need to create my own path for foreign filmmaking, because there’s a lot of great filmmakers that I worked with while I was in London, a lot of great ones, who always heard about Washington D.C., I spoke about Washington D.C. to them, and when we researched it, they were like, ‘Oh yeah, we really got a handful,’ and it came as a surprise, because (…D.C.) it’s really not that big in film. And when that came apart, I decided to take it upon myself to make a platform for those filmmakers to meet filmmakers here.
WCP: How did you find the Goethe-Institut as a venue?
TB: Yeah, well with the Goethe, it was something that when we were researching venues, we wanted a theater that nurtured foreign films.That was a big thing to us. Because, we’re not like, we’re not like a certain film festival, we don’t target the Carribean, or just black film festivals, because, OK, it’s easy to say that this is just a black film festival. And when you see Goethe, it has a reputation of its own. When I presented them with the idea and the project, they were like, “Yeah, we’re definitely willing to help you out.” They’ve been really supportive so far. They’ve been really helpful. Especially since it’s a German theater, it already has its foreign-film base, they have their own film festival there as well, so I just thought it was great that we could have something there.
WCP: Right. So, are you excited about opening night at the Axum Lounge, and could you tell us more about it?
TB: Yeah! Opening night should be good. I’m expecting to see people that have, first of all, come to the fundraising events that we’ve had prior to the film festival, but most importantly, I’m looking forward to seeing the filmmakers, I’m looking forward to meeting different filmmakers. Even the ones that didn’t submit, or submitted, and did get in, I’m looking forward to meeting them. Filmmakers can be all over the place, and it’s definitely good to get them all in one area, in one room, to branch off. That’s why in our film festival we have different events that target different areas; we have a photo exhibit, we have art shows, we have nude photography.We do those certain events so filmmakers can branch off in those different areas, and have the same resources as they do at a gallery. What I’m doing here is trying to expand and build on that market. D.C. didn’t really have that. I think it had a larger film market, but it didn’t have an independent market. I think because it’s Washington, D.C, it’s automatically major. That being said, filmmakers move into D.C. and then they move out. So, we lose our filmmakers here in the city. We lose them.
WCP: So, as a D.C. filmmaker, what makes D.C. so unique of a filmmaking town? Especially compared to cities like L.A. and New York City? What are some of the cons and the challenges you guys face, and what are some of the strengths?
TB: You know, I think I will touch on this, and I’ve had this conversation a lot with other peers here, and I think the market here, it can be a bit lazy. And it can be a bit “I’m going to stick to my group, and I’m going to stick to what I know”, and it’s crazy, because I’ve worked on many fantastic music videos during my time here, and when people see them, they’re like, “Wow, where did this thing come from?” and it’s like, this production company has been here this entire time in D.C., and I’m surprised that you don’t know. It’s because in D.C., they lack the research, and what kind of puts me in that place is that I’m creating the market where they can all mesh. I think what makes it unique is that, one, it’s the nation’s capitol. Two, it’s multicultural. I mean, it’s the most diverse city. I also think D.C. has a certain class to it. I think it’s a very classy place. I think it has a certain taste, it’s like an acquired taste. And I think that, because it’s an acquired taste, too many people come into it and fear what could really happen here, and then they go away, they go to New York and L.A. and they’re just over it. D.C.’s a risky place, it’s a risky place. If you can make it in D.C., I honestly believe you can make it anywhere. With that being said, the D.C. Film Alliance is really working hard. Everybody’s kind of just moving along and moving as one unit. When we first start, a lot of people were coming at us like we were trying to compete. I stuck to the premise that, “Listen, we’re not here to compete, we’re here to add to. We’re not here to take over D.C. Short Films, or Washington Independent. We’re a foreign film festival. A lot of films that we show will be foreign films. And I’m not afraid to say that.
WCP: Can you tell us some of your personal favorites at this year’s festival, what should we look out for? Maybe some things that are particularly interesting to you? I know there’s a feature film called Comuna Under Construction?
TB: Comuna Under Construction…oh, my God. That film is about the gentrification in Venezuela. It’s a really—-it’s a film that—-it’s not hard to digest, but it’s a film that was chosen because we thought that the people here in D.C., especially the people in Washington, D.C., could understand the concept of gentrification. So I put that one in place. Because sometimes, people have to be taken outside of what they’re normally in in order to see the bigger picture. Like, “This is what’s going on in your home, too.” So, certain films were chosen, in fact, all of them, because they had their own feel and their own reign. There are only 25 projects, and we have like, five music videos. And I kept it that way, this year, especially, because it’s our first year and I wanted people to really focus on films. I don’t want them to focus on—-I mean, of course I want them to come out to the after-parties, but I want them to focus on coming to see the films, because I’m a filmmaker and I know what goes into making films. How much hard work there is. For me, it’s important that the general public sees that.
There’s a film called Three Blind Mice, that is about mistaken identity in Washington, D.C., It’s a really good story, about three different men. And they’re all connected. And it’s literally about mistaken identity. The filmmaker’s name is Jade Holmes.But the way Jade goes about the story, she doesn’t do all the fancy flash-cutting back and forth. She goes straight story, straight story, and you understand every line.Another good one would be Dust. Dust is a film that’s shot handheld, no lighting. It’s Dogme style, if you’re familiar with the Dogme 95 film movement. It’s strictly Dogme. The only thing they cheated on is that they have a soundtrack, and with Dogme-
WCP: You usually don’t have a soundtrack.
TB: Mhm. But they have a soundtrack. That’s the only part they cheated on. But I was intrigued with this film because the writer wrote it for Dogme, he wrote it for that purpose. When these filmmakers are selected, I want to know what thoughts you had. I want to know what’s behind your film when you screen your film. That’s how you keep your market close-knit, that’s when your filmmakers know you, and they feel comfortable enough to say, “I’m going to make this film this year for your film festival.”
WCP: And that kind of leads to my next question: What was the process like for selecting films for this festival? Was there a jury? What was the recruiting process like?
TB: Well, this year is completely different than what will be our other years. This year’s our first year, and I was very hands-on with the content. We got a lot of good submissions that came in. But a lot of them, like “Comuna under Construction”, with that one, I went and got that one. I went and I said, “This is my film festival, and that’s a film that I need people to see.” They were very happy to do it. And I went and researched films on gentrification, because I wanted people, I wanted D.C. to see that in a foreign land, the same things are happening to them that are happening right now.