It's hard to believe that Filmfest DC: The Washington, D.C. International Film Festival is getting ready for its 26th year presenting films from around the world to local audiences beginning April 12 through April 22.
Many can remember its humble beginnings on the campus of the University of the District of Columbia. Now, Filmfest DC, as it has come to be known, has expanded to diverse venues throughout the District including the Goethe-Institut Washington, E Street Cinema, Regal Cinemas Gallery Place and the National Gallery of Art with special programs at Busboys & Poets at 5th and K Streets, NW., and the Embassy of France, which will host the closing night film, The Intouchables from France with a reception between two screenings of the film on April 22.
The Intouchables, a refreshing "buddy" flick in the manner of "The Odd Couple" surpassed box-office records in France, becoming the second most successful French film of all time. Inspired by real events, the two filmmakers Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano instill the docu-drama with "animated humor and life" to create a narrative of a friendship that develops between a white millionaire who was paralyzed in a paragliding accident, and his strong-willed, live-in Senegalese caretaker.
This year's festival also features "Caribbean Journeys," a series of films that focuses on new cinema coming out of the Caribbean islands and the Diaspora. Among the offerings is the D.C. premiere of the highly anticipated documentary, Marley, a fresh perspective on the life of the late Robert Nesta Marley, the internationally renowned reggae star. Marley's granddaughter, Doneisha Prendergast, is featured in an autobiographical documentary, RasTa: A Soul's Journey, which looks at Prendergast's global search to discover the spiritual legacy of her grandparents, Bob and Rita Marley.
The First Rasta, from Jamaica, documents the story of the man believed to be the founder of the Rastafari Movement, Leonard Percival "The Gong" Howell. Howell died in relative obscurity in 1981 just months before Marley died in May of that year, founded the first Rasta community of Pinnacle in 1939, which was later destroyed by the Jamaican government under Alexander Bustamante.
Calypso Rose [McCartha Lewis]: The Lioness of the Jungle highlights the life and legendary career of the first female Calypsonian in the dual island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, who at 71-years-old, still performs and is expected to make an appearance at the screening.
"Caribbean Journeys" also includes non-documentary feature films by directors from the region. Jamaican director Storm Saulter's Better Mus' Come, overlays a fictional plot – a love story between the main character, Ricky, and Kamala – against the backdrop of 1977 Jamaica, when political warfare gripped the island nation. It ends during the Green Bay Massacre, a covert operation carried out by Special Forces of the Jamaican government on January 5 1978, when five Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters were killed. The operation entailed the luring of the men into an ambush at the Green Bay Firing Range by members of the Military Intelligence Unit which was, and still is, a covert operational wing of the Jamaica Defense Force.
Jean Gentil from the Dominican Republic and Havana Eva from Cuba serve as testaments to the film industry in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. Unfinished Spaces, a collaborative film by Alysa Nahmias of Cuba and Benjamin Murray from the United States, examines the outcome of an initiative by Fidel Castro to build art schools in Cuba, which was ultimately sidelined by the philosophical underpinnings of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
"The festival's Caribbean Journeys series helps give voice to the vibrant people of a culture rarely appreciated beyond the sun and sand," said Tony Gittens, founder of Filmfest DC and longtime festival director. "We are pleased to present this groundbreaking new film series offering a comprehensive view of this historically artistic and culturally diverse region which remains relatively undiscovered on film by most American audiences."
D.C's oldest and largest film festival will also feature international comedies from various cultures in the series "The Lighter Side," and a selection of films specifically curated for Washington's unique population will explore social justice issues in the film series, "Justice Matters."
"We are also excited to explore how humor varies across cultures with our series of international comedies. But more important, we're hoping these films will showcase cinema's unique ability to bring people together to enjoy a shared experience," Gittens said.
Filmfest DC opens on April 12 with Canadian film Starbuck followed by an opening night party at Bar Louie in the Regal Cinemas Gallery Place complex in Northwest. Tickets for films can be purchased and information on other Filmfest DC programs can be found on the website, www.filmfestdc.org.