A scene from the film Ghosts Don’t Exist.
For Carol Bidault, the founder and executive director of the D.C. Independent Film Festival, the last few years have been rough. Miramax and Warner Independent, major pipelines between small filmmakers and the mainstream, have been shut down by their corporate parents. They were both sponsors of her festival, as were NBC, Cablevision, JVC, and Avid—all of which balked this year, distancing themselves from the indie world they fought for a piece of a decade ago.
So cut, cut, cut. Cheaper printers. A cheaper venue than last year (the Naval Heritage Center instead of Union Station). And Bidault’s had to fill the sponsorship hole with private donations—the film-fest equivalent of a bake sale.
But those are the only ways the festival is downsizing. It’s still presenting lots of pictures—100 and change, with 27 foreign countries represented. This year’s themed sessions, meanwhile, cover a typical swath: You’ve got your Latin cinema, your comedies, and your horror—the latter noteworthy for one glorious absurdity in particular, Ghosts Don’t Exist. But there’s also Urban-omics, a slate of films on inner-city issues, and Senior Moments, a cluster that pokes fun at the elderly. Then there are individual joys: The Be All End All, in which a terminally ill teen looks to get laid; Poi Dogs, a genre exercise tracing a love affair between two plus-size Hawaiians; and Odysseus and the Cyclops, a two-minute cartoon by the festival’s youngest entrant, 7-year-old Emily Salva. It’s a testament to the inclusive vibe DCIFF maintains, even in straitened times.
“Filmmakers already get marginalized,” Bidault says. “Why should we for budgetary reasons or thematic reasons, or even age-related reasons, add to that?” —Ted Scheinman
The festival runs March 4 to 14; films show at the Naval Heritage Center, 701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. See dciff.org for times and Arts Desk for more reviews.
Dive! With an appropriately spare $200 budget, Dive! explores freeganism, a subculture of people who eat food others consider trash. Director Jeremy Seifert and his family live almost entirely on discarded goods. He grapples with the consumer culture that leads to widespread food waste, contacting stores to ask why so much usable food ends up in Dumpsters. —Ryan Little
Odysseus and the Cyclops Seven-year-old Emily Salva’s Odysseus and the Cyclops is a surprisingly watchable two-minute cartoon that retells the well-known Greek myth. Emily’s father, Mike Salva, animated her drawings, and her narration is adorable. —Ryan Little
Heartland Transport This documentary follows several queer couples as they rush to Iowa to get hitched while the law still allows it. Cody Stokes’ subjects are genuine, and the post-trip marital ceremonies are touching. Still, with only seven minutes of footage, the film leaves you wondering what happens next. —Ryan Little
Ghosts Don’t Exist If you’re a fan of so-bad-they’re-good flicks like The Room, the poorly executed horror that is Ghosts Don’t Exist might be up your alley. Eric Espejo’s directorial debut depicts a retiring ghost hunter who gets the call to go on one last job with the promise he’ll both make contact with his dead wife and finally have proof of the supernatural. The dialogue is corny enough to make George Lucas cringe, and the melodramatic score only reinforces the over-the-top acting. The awkwardly long shots and too-dark cinematography are like a CSI episode gone wrong, but the plot is unpredictable enough to keep you watching this train wreck until the end. —Ryan Little
I Am a Man: From Memphis, A Lesson in Life Elmore Nickleberry has a dirty job. A Memphis, Tenn., sanitation worker, he’s hauled the city’s trash for more than four decades. Nickleberry raised his family in the ’60s, amid the civil rights struggle. Fed up with discrimination and dangerous working conditions, he joined his fellow workers in Memphis’ 1968 sanitation strike—letting the trash pile up for 64 days until city officials acquiesced to sanitation workers’ demands for union membership and wage increases. Don’t call him a garbage man, though. He’s a man, plain and simple, and he fought hard to be known as such. —Aaron Leitko
The Be All End All Equal parts humorous and heartwarming, Bruce Webb’s The Be All End All is the story of Robbie, a terminally ill British 15-year-old desperately trying to jettison his virginity even though he can’t leave the hospital. But as his best friend, Ziggy, jumps through absurd hoops to find the right girl for the job, it’s their friendship, not Robbie’s goal, that’s a joy to watch. —Ryan Little
Poi Dogs In writer-director Joel Moffatt’s cutesy, slightly scattershot short, two heavyset Hawaiian teenagers—he a football player on a busted moped, she a tuba player with some engineering chops—flirt, kind of, following a game. The setting is spacious and post-industrial and shot from low angles in a high-gravity frame; the tone, meanwhile, is light, inhabiting that early moment of adolescence that’s lured by romance but defensively too cool for it. More tone-poem than narrative exercise, Poi Dogs angles for both the playfulness of Jacques Tati—hence a recurring, circuslike tuba vamp—and the harsh realism of, say, a David Gordon Green or Ramin Bahrani. The coda, though, is all Wes Anderson: hence that tuba theme set to the pop-punk gang vocals of “Hey Baby,” which send the vintage moped, shot in twee-dramatic slow-mo, riding toward its destiny. —Jonathan L. Fischer
Stryder Simms’ short is the sort of thing cinéastes describe as “impressionistic”: a series of starkly wrought images whose flimsy relation to one another audiences will forgive because the story, insofar as it is one, involves the death of a child. Witness here a pony-tailed priest blessing a jar of bees; cold breezes flitting through Southwestern fields; bare bedrooms lit by autumnal daylight; and wide-eyed twin siblings, around ages 7 or 8, who make for exquisitely cute mourner and corpse. The music, a ghostly chorale by Samuel Barber, suggests the kind of art-house exercise frequently satirized by smarter filmmakers working in comedy. I was reminded of another painfully overwrought film that said far too little to merit its masturbatory aesthetic, The Desert Within, a Mexican title from 2008 that took two hours to murder all but one of its many underage characters, all in the service of proving that God is dead. There’s a reason you haven’t heard of either film. —Jonathan L. Fischer