Jon Gann just wants to make people happy. Whether it’s through his own work as a short film director, or through that of what he says is his real strength, creating platforms for filmmakers to come together, his goal has always been a bit Doestoevskian. Beauty will save the world. And in his case, that beauty is found in short films, for which he organizes a festival each year. Appropriately entitled DC Shorts, this year’s festival kicked off last Thursday and will run through this Sunday.
If you haven’t attending a screening yet, well, get thee to the box office or buy them online because this festival is possibly the coolest one in the United States, and not because of the glitz and glamour of the A-list. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite. Not focusing solely on big names and high-publicity parties was a conscious decision made by Gann, who’d attended several dozen film festivals while touring with one of his own works about 10 years ago. “I was kind of disheartened at how festivals treated filmmakers. They seemed more about money and parties and sponsors, sometimes about film. But they were rarely about filmmakers unless you were a big name,” he said. “And if you made short films, you were more or less completely ignored. I just thought that was really horrible.” And so Gann took matters into his own hands to create DC Shorts in 2003, and yup, he couldn’t have made us happier.
SCOUT: Having had unpleasant times at film festivals across the world, what made you want to create your own?
JON: After all the other festivals, I went to a festival in Ashland, Oregon. It was their first year and they didn’t know what they were doing, which was perfect because it was all about growing a community. That’s when I came back to DC and said, “That’s what I want.” I wanted it to be about the community of filmmakers. I want have it be focused on filmmakers getting together and meeting one another, and breaking bread and hopefully collaborating in the future.
SCOUT: But why short films, opposed to feature-length?
JON: To be honest, when I graduated film school, that’s what I was able to afford to make. But I actually really love the format. If you can tell a story in 10 minutes, it might be a better use of your time and ability than to tell a story in 90 minutes. I think we’ve all seen 90-minute films with 10 minutes worth of plot… So why not just stick to what it really is? I mean, I think short stories and poetry are beautiful art forms within themselves, and if those don’t all have to be novels, then why should everything have to be a feature film?
SCOUT: I think I’ve seen movies that are three hours long and still don’t have a very good plot. I think that’s what personally excites me about the DC Shorts festival.
JON: I call it the tapas platter approach. At a typical screening you see a comedy, something hopefully, a drama, a documentary, experimental, maybe a music video. The good thing about short film is that if you hate what’s on the screen now, close your eyes and in three minutes there’ll be something new and different.
SCOUT: How’s this year’s festival going so far?
JON: It’s been going very well. It looks like we’re doing slightly better than we did last year, which is good considering [last] Thursday night with the torrential rains. The roads around Artisphere were closed…
SCOUT: Oh yeah, that was gross weather. I’m glad that didn’t seem to stop the audience though.
JON: I was really thrilled this year that the audience response has been as good as it has. And the filmmakers were commenting about how wonderful the Q&A’s have gone. Audiences were asking really intelligent questions this year. At a lot of festivals the questions are like, “How long did it take?”, “How much did it cost?” and people here were asking really great questions about content, and the thought-process behind the writing and filmmakers love that stuff.
Do you think that’s a benefit of being in DC, since, you know, we’re pretty much smarter than everyone?
JON: I think it is. We’re a very sophisticated audience. And we’re a little spoiled in DC. We have 87 film festivals this next year.
Uh, come again?
JON: Yeah, in the region between Richmond and Baltimore there are 87 festivals slated for 2012, of which a good 30-40 are within the city limits. That’s great because it means our audience is used to festivals and also being intelligent about film. It’s a weird irony that for a city so into film, we have so few independent theaters…
SCOUT: Is that your next project? To bring more independent theaters to DC?
Yeah. That’s the thing that the DC Film Alliance, the bigger non-profit that runs the festival, that’s our long-term goal – to create a DC film center.
Not surprising, Gann, the founder of the DC Film Alliance, is working on yet another beautiful idea that would make a ton of people happy. Follow his actions on Twitter at the Film Alliance or Facebook, as well as DC Shorts, which is also on Twitter and Facebook. Of course, the best way to run into Gann is hopefully at a screening, although the management of the festival doesn’t allow it as much as he’d like, or at the closing party this Saturday, which is nestled between the 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. screenings. Get your tickets now before they sell out!