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Leave the Door Open
Leave the Door Open, a documentary in the 21st DC Independent Film Festival, addresses a fascinating piece of D.C. history that stretched from 1935 to 1944. In those years, Nesuhi and Ahmet Ertegun, two young sons of the Turkish ambassador who were in love with jazz music, regularly began attending the Howard Theatre for live performances by Duke Ellington and others. At that time, public education, housing, and restaurants in most of the city were segregated and openly discriminated against Black people, but the Howard Theatre and businesses on U Street NW served a largely Black clientele in a respectful way. The brothers began inviting musicians to their embassy mansion residence on 23rd Street NW to play in integrated jam sessions there; they also hosted a jazz concert with Black and White musicians and Black and White audience members at the Jewish Community Center on 16th Street NW. Nesuhi and Ahmet, who passed away in 1989 and 2006 respectively, subsequently became better known for running Atlantic Records, a label first known for promoting R&B and jazz and later rock bands like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones (but the Erteguns’ later history is not part of this movie). Without access to the brothers and others who have died, or live concert footage of any of the events described, Turkish filmmaker Ümran Safter’s telling of the brothers’ D.C. period uses standard documentary techniques like interviews with current musicians and scholars, performance clips from elsewhere, photos of the jam sessions, and audio of old interviews. The film overdoes segments of scholars repeating platitudes about the importance of the Ertegun’s D.C. functions, but includes enough specifics to be rewarding. The film festival also includes The Sons of Happiness, a Chinese family and pregnancy drama; Funeral of a Nation, a “musical essay” that collages archival footage of historic Black funerals and gospel, hip-hop, and spoken word audio, and Keeper of the Fire, a 33-minute film about San Francisco activist and poet laureate Alejandro Murguía. The films are available to stream through April 11 at festival2021.dcindiefilmfest.org. $16 with code IndieDC–$24.15 for the whole virtual festival.
This post has been updated with DCIFF’s new ending date.
A previous version of this post stated that public transportation was legally segregated during the period. It was not.