Highlights of the Alexandria Film Festival – By Kirsten Walsh

Beyond all of the hustle and bustle of Washington D.C., away from the craziness and horrendous traffic of the downtown area, the quaint city of Alexandria exists in a world lush with that small town feel and beautiful scenery. A great place for tourists who want to be close to the action, but not a part of it, the town has a long history- It was founded in 1749 and lies along the Potomac River, catching the chilling night breeze. For the past seven years, Alexandria has also been the home to the Alexandria Film Festival, held annually in November. This year, the festival was held in a handful of theaters spread out in between the carriage houses and small storefronts, showing over 60 films, ranging from factual documentary short films to dark macabre films, and everything in between. Priding itself on hosting everything from local films to international films, the festival also had an abundance of the filmmakers present to discuss their films and answer questions, as well as network.

The festival is a competition festival, but only hosts films- no screenplays. Over the years as the festival has grown in size, it has incorporated the use of historic and landmark venues, such as The Lyceum (Alexandria’s History Museum), The Old Town Theatre, and the Charles Beatley Jr. Central Library. This year’s theme was “Celebrating Independents”, and the fest did exactly that. With a Skype Q & A with Academy Award nominated director Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) and a presentation by author Mike Canning, the festival was a perfect example of a home grown, locally supported festival that was smart with its money and its films.

Alexandria itself is fairly easy to get to from anywhere in the Beltway area, with the exception of traffic. The festival promoted itself on the standard social media sites, and was featured in several D.C. newspapers. With a friendly volunteer staff that was knowledgeable about the films, the screenings were pleasant to enter. The Old Town Theatre has the age and feel of a theater from the early 1900’s, but is large enough to hold an audience exceeding 300. The Lyceum is not the standard place for a film screening, but the large room worked surprisingly well, giving the audience an intimate experience, up close and personal with the films, as well as the filmmakers.

All in all, the Alexandria Film Festival is a great festival for films looking to find a fan base, or experiencing the film festival circuit for the first time. However, this festival is ALL about the films, and only the films. While that may be a good aspect, as a filmmaker visiting a film festival, I personally would like to see workshops, or lectures by prominent filmmakers in the area. This would highlight the talent of the area and give insight as to profession. Also, this would allow the filmmakers to network outside of their film. Also, with no screenwriting competition- which is becoming more and more popular, there’s nothing for fans of film to do other than watch films. While this would allow the festival to have another source of income, and grow! While I believe this festival is an excellent one, and would strongly encourage it to both filmmakers and fans, there are definitely opportunities for growth, and I hope the friendly heads of the festival take advantage of it and become a “do-not-miss” festival for the East Coast!