As a producer, I need to be very careful about which festivals to enter and, when accepted, travel to.
A festival can provide a variety of enticements—exceptional screening locations, travel provisions, accommodations, culinary adventures—but what I believe you really want is a festival that keeps moviemakers in mind.
My experience at DC Shorts Film Festival and Screenplay Competition was exceptional for this very reason. Staff planned for the filmmakers’ needs, offering housing upon availability, promotional parties and quality food options near D.C.’s Landmark E Street Cinema, our home base for the festival. Knowing that a festival has these elements handled makes for an easier decision to attend.
It was impossible not to notice festival venues filled to capacity with receptive audiences, a reflection of the high caliber of films at the fest. It made sense to me that the shorts blocks were standing-room only, when programmers Joe Bilancio and Derek Horne gave such care and attention to the curation. Having watched close to 40 films at DC Shorts, I can confidently note that there was no lack of talented storytelling. Each block felt composed, sewn together to facilitate each individual film while also showcasing the ensemble piece and fulfilling the programming team’s thematic intentions, which was no easy feat. When films are so distinct from each other in time and pacing, careful attention must be given to harmonizing them for an audience, while still giving the block its own voice.
My team and I have a saying: “We already won just being here. Let them compete,” which we toss out whenever we attend a festival. We believe meeting other filmmakers, staff and volunteers is equally as valuable as winning awards.
Finally, it goes without saying that Washington, D.C. is a gorgeous city with marvelous historical attractions. DC Shorts lives and breathes in the very heart of the city. The fest is situated within a five-minute walk to the White House’s front lawn, a short bike to the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall or Capitol Building. As a guest, you have your pick of amazing opportunities to hear about U.S. history or view some of the world’s finest art, all nestled in this powerful, poetic city. I felt like we hadn’t just exhibited our film, “Where We Begin,” at the festival in D.C. this year—we’d also fully experienced the nation’s capitol, with DC Shorts as an extraordinary host. MM
Peter Maestrey is a Los Angeles-based producer and DGA assistant director. Image courtesy of DC Shorts Film Festival and Screenplay Competition. For more information on the festival, visit its website here.