Programmer Profile: Jon Gann, DC Shorts Film Festival

Jon GannMy name: Jon Gann My current festival: DC Shorts Film Festival and Screenplay Competition

My title: Festival Director (and creator)

Other fests and film-related organizations I've worked for: I started the DC Film Alliance, a non-profit organization which unifies the Washington, DC regional film and media arts community through the sharing of information, a monthly Film Salon, online resources, and a comprehensive calendar of every film event from Baltimore to Richmond. Before that, I ran a small production house which created short films, commercial and industrial works for hire.

Three movies that best represent my personal tastes: Sunset Boulevard, Big Night, Soapdish.

When I'm not watching movies I like to: Write new screenplays and theatrical pieces, knit, cook, meet with visiting filmmakers, travel.

A movie I recently programmed that I consider to be a great personal discovery: Every season, there is one film that touches me deeply to the point of tears. Last year, Marc Havener's And What Remains was that film. I must have seen it a dozen times before it hit the bigs screen during the festival -- and I still melted into a mess -- as did a large portion of the audience. I love short film's ability to move people and register some deep-seated emotion in only a few minutes. That is the power of good storytelling.

When filmmakers ask me "What's different about your film festival?" I say: We are one of the only festivals in the world which was designed from the ground-up as an event for filmmakers. Every entry (last year more than 800) received the judges' scores and feedback -- a huge undertaking, but an integral part of what we do. During the festival weekend, filmmakers have access to see all of the films, panels, classes and parties at no cost. If you come to Washington, we will house you, feed you, and make sure you can get around town.

Our festival audience has come to expect: As we have grown, our audiences have become more sophisticated. They expect the best short films from around the globe -- a challenge for our programmers, as we receive so many incredible films. I try to make sure that in a 2-hour screening, audiences see a solid cross-section of what is out there: drama, doc, comedy, experimental, local, foreign and animated. It's a challenge, but I know it's working when audience members leave the theater and head straight to the box office for tickets to another screening.

We program the following categories of films: DC Shorts programs in every category and from filmmakers of any skill level -- we have screened films from teenagers to major Hollywood directors. Last year, we screened 100 films from 16 nations, including 9 locally produced films (one which has been shortlisted for an Oscar).

A recent trend I have noticed in submissions of which I disapprove: I think that many new filmmakers are all about the equipment, effects and editing. Filmmaking has always been -- and will always be -- about storytelling. When we started in 2003, the films were produced on shoestrings using cheap VHS and Beta cameras or 8mm. The production values were low, but the stories and scripts were exceptional. Now the trend is for gorgeous hi-def films with all the extras -- but the stories are empty and leave the audience wondering, "what?"

We created the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition a few years ago to help counteract this trend. We select 6 scripts, bring in the writers, and have the screenplays performed in front of a live audience. The audience and our judges choose a winner, and the writer receives $2,000 -- $1,000 up front to shoot the film, and $1,000 on completion to help with post-costs and marketing. Plus the film will guaranteed a slot at DC Shorts. We have seen some amazing films created through this process -- some have gone on to do very well in the festival circuit.

If I could impart one thing to filmmakers about submitting to my festival, it would be: Research the festival and read the rules. Every festival should have a list of previously screened films and winners so you can see what they are all about. And every festival posts rules for a reason: they are gateway devices to see if you are paying attention to the festival and what they are offering. A little research will go along way in selecting festivals which are appropriate for your film.

The submissions period for our next festival is: The submission process is going on now. The final deadline for film submissions is April 30, and for scripts, May 30.

Filmmakers can contact me here:

Twitter account: @dcshorts

Facebook: DC Shorts Film Festival

Last words: I created DC Shorts out of frustration. As a filmmaker who traversed the globe a few times for my own films, I was often disappointed at how I and my fellow filmmakers were treated. You'd arrive, be handed a program and a cocktail, and that was all. I knew that a festival dedicated to filmmakers -- not money or parties -- would be something special. While I am glad to see the growing success of DC Shorts, I am overjoyed at how filmmakers clamor to return, recommend the festival to their friends, and help us with an international reputation as a filmmakers' favorite.