Washington Stars in ‘Our City’ Film Festival

Howard University News Service

The Ballou Senior High School marching band’s resilience, hard work and strict discipline was not widely known in the Washington region until the band became the subject of a prize-winning, feature length documentary.

“Ballou,” is the Best Feature Length Documentary in this year’s Our City Film Festival. It shows how a high school marching band can raise a community’s spirit-and proves that “film is a very powerful way to showcase things,” says producer Casey Callister.

“Ballou” features appearances by Rev. Jesse Jackson, former secretary of state Colin Powell, and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty. They all recognize the role the band has played in the community.

After a screening of the movie, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee allocated $1.4 million for band and orchestra instruments to public schools.

“We had hoped the film would have this type of impact,” said Casey, “but when you have those hopes and dreams I don’t think you ever think they will come true.”Casey praises the film festival for giving local filmmakers a chance to draw attention to movies that might not otherwise be seen.

Tickets for the festival are $8.50 each and can be purchased online at www.yachad-dc.org. A limited number of tickets also will be available at the door. This year, ticket holders can attend a meet-and-greet with the winning filmmakers at Bar Louie at 701 7th St NW Saturday (Feb. 7) at 7 p.m. Film showings begin on Sunday (Feb. 8) and will be held at the 14th St. Busboys and Poets location from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The festival is presented by Yachad, Inc., a non-profit organization that provides affordable housing.

Our City showcases films by local filmmakers that explore Washington beyond the monuments, museums, and government agencies.

Among last year’s competition entries, “God of a Second Chance” a film produced by independent filmmaker, Paul Wagner, 60, was awarded Best Feature Length Documentary.

The film is set in Southeast Washington and tells the story of how a community changes the lives of two black men, one a drug addict, the other a young man facing the challenges of growing up in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

“I’m a big believer in people making films about their own communities and shining the spotlight on everyday people,” said Wagner. “Winning this particular film festival was very important to us.”

According to Wagner, there are now plans to develop the film into a three -hour series, which will be renamed “Faith in the Hood,” for public television.

Wagner said the Our City festival is a great starting ground for aspiring filmmakers.

“It’s easier to make your own films now than ever before,” said Wagner. Filmmakers] can make a film in their own community by thinking about what’s going on in their community, and making a film about those stories.”

For the film festival director and founder Kendra Rubinfeld, the festival is an opportunity, to bring people together and celebrate the rich history, culture, and subcultures in Washington.

Last year’s screening sold out 500 seats in just two days.

“After last year’s selling out we realized there’s an audience out there that really loves what we’re doing,” said Rubinfeld. There are nine films in this year’s festival. Including Best Feature Length Documentary Ballou, which can be purchased at http://www.balloumovie.com. Films were also honored in Best Narrative and Best Short Documentary categories.

Best Narrative was awarded to “U Street” a film that follows a young black man as he struggles to deal with the loss of his father and uncovers the history of the historic corridor also known as ‘Black Broadway.’

“Green Hair Grey Hair” won the category of Best Short Documentary. In 28 minutes, the film answers the question: What happens when you put punk rockers and African- American senior citizens in the same room?

The festival, now in its second year, was created to celebrate the growing local film industry and to offer lifelong residents the chance to learn something new Washington, according to Rubinfeld.

“You leave the festival with a really good feeling realizing that you live in a really cool city and that the people that surround you are your neighbors and not just people,” said Rubinfeld.

Films that will be screened:

1. Ballou(1 hour 20 min.)DocumentaryBest Feature Length DocumentaryDirector Michael Patrei

2. Redemption Stone(30 min.)DocumentaryDirector Tom Dziedzic

3. U Street(23 min.)NarrativeBest NarrativeDirector Kevin T. Simms

4. Making Mothers(25 min.)DocumentaryDirectors Ben Crosbie & Tessa Moran

5. Demand the Vote(4 min.)Music VideoDirector DC VOTE

6. Carousel of Memories(26 min.)DocumentaryDirector Cintia Cabib

7. Green Hair Grey Hair(28 min.)DocumentaryBest Short DocumentaryDirectors Katrina Taylor & Rachel Williams

8. Extreme Commuting(28 min.)DocumentaryDirector Andrea Bloom

9. The Game Comes Home(1 hour 26 min.)DocumentaryDirector Jeffrey Herberger

Festival Judges: Sowbhagyalakshmi Areke, served on Emmy panel of judges, filmmaker,film teacher.

Nichole Bardin, production manager, writer/producer, film teacher.

Todd Batt, fillmaker, screenwriter, stand-up comic.

Yi Chen, filmmaker, judge at DC Shorts Film Festival.

O.F. Makarah, filmmaker, judge for AFI , NEA.

Autumn Moran, advertising professional at Davis and Company.

April Riccio, Public Relations professional, filmmaker, Yachad board member.

Amy Saidman, filmmaker, Director of Speakeasy DC, a storytelling group.

Margaret Sclafani, filmmaker, post-production coordinator, Ciesla Foundation.