DC Shorts Mini-Review: Touch

A scene from Touch

Here’s another mini-review of one of the many great films that were a part of the DC Shorts Film Festival.

Despite our affluence, Americans suffer from record levels of depression. People feel disconnected from life, even in the midst of busy urban environments.

What’s missing? Jen McGowan examines this problem in her film, Touch. It’s a simple setup – two women on a train platform. Lily Knight’s performance in this short is amazing. The camera is close on her face for nearly the entire film and she communicates incredible suffering, nearly wordlessly.

We never learn why she is in pain. But, following a chance encounter with a stranger, we discover what she has come to the train platform to do.

In the Q&A session following the screening of Touch, director McGowan explained that finding her lead actor was the hardest part in making this movie. She looked for months until she saw Knight, who had a bit part in another film.

Touch is a beautiful short that demonstrates the power a simple act of kindness can have on someone’s life.

DC Shorts Mini-Review: Enter the Beard

By no means did I see all 97 films at the DC Shorts Film Festival. But I saw a lot and got to meet to some of the filmmakers as well.

I’ll be posting “mini-reviews” of what I liked, from what I saw.

One of my favorite films was Enter the Beard. Audiences enjoyed it too – this documentary won Filmmaker’s Favorite and Audience Choice awards.

Enter the Beard is a very funny look at an odd American subculture – men who grow elaborate and enormous beards and then compete against other men in the World Beard and Mustache Championships. (One of the few women in the film pointed out how odd it was that men would groom themselves and then walk down catwalks, like hirsute supermodels.)

It would be easy to just present these men and their oversized facial hair as freaks yet the documentary is empathetic and amusing. Much of this humor comes from Charles Parker Newton, our guide to this world of beards and mustaches. He’s engaging and funny, with the charisma of a cult leader.

I talked to him for a bit at DC Shorts, outlining my inability to grow the Grizzly Adams beard of my dreams. He faulted my lack of commitment and, with a roaring speech, convinced me that I should spend the next six months growing a kickass beard. It made sense at the time.

After all, what’s more American than following your dream? Even if your dream involves doing nothing, of just deciding not to shave anymore.

ENTER THE BEARD, THE TEASER from Matt Lawrence on Vimeo.

DC Shorts: Showcase 1 – My Review

Jenn Harris, Matthew Wilkas in Gayby
Jenn Harris, Matthew Wilkas in Gayby

I attended Showcase 1 of the DC Shorts Film Festival last night. For the festival, the films are divided into nine different showcases, including a ribald late-night collection of shorts as well as a family-appropriate slate. Each showcase contains around ten short films.

Here’s my take on the films in Showcase 1:

Sunday Punch – It’s a film noir that’s a little predictable but sexy and gorgeously shot.

Shovel Ready – A darkly comic 48 Hour Film about getting rid of the troublesome people in your life.

Prayers for Peace – Heartbreaking, beautiful and personal. Probably the film I’ll remember most.

Somewhere Never Traveled – One of those mysterious films that you’re entranced by, but don’t know what’s going on – like something by Sofia Coppola.

Hipster Job – A retelling of the story of Job, but with hipsters. Deliberately crude and stupid.

Quartering Act – A WWII drama that’s a little too long. Tries to get the historical details right but feels awfully American for a story set in France.

Just About Famous – A wry, funny and sympathetic look at the bizarre world of celebrity impersonators.

El Cortejo (The Cortege) – A Spanish film about finding love in the most unlikely of places.

Banana Bread – Hyper-violent and you can see the punchline coming from a mile away.

Gayby – My favorite. It’s like a modern Woody Allen movie, with a neurotic woman who wants to make a baby the old-fashioned way with her gay best friend.

They’re all interesting and entertaining films. See Showcase 1:

Saturday, September 11 @ 9:00pm @ U.S. Navy Memorial Heritage Center
(followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers)
Sunday, September 12 @ 1:00pm @ Landmark’s E Street Cinema
Tuesday, September 14 @ 9:00pm @ Landmark’s E Street Cinema

Chris Anderson on "Delivering on the Promise of Gov 2.0"

Chris Anderson, of Wired magazine and “The Long Tail” fame, was the keynote speaker at FOSE this morning. He spoke on “For the People and By the People: Delivering on the Promise of Gov 2.0”.

Anderson started off with an interesting example – the infamous Twitter fail whale. Countless users have bemoaned the unreliability of Twitter, though in fact, the service has been down only occasionally and it’s gotten dramatically better of late. He contrasted this with a couple of stories about government sites. In the first, he had to pay taxes in Delaware for his corporation but their web site was down for the entire weekend before his taxes were due. In another example, he wanted to pay a traffic ticket he received in Truckee, CA, but the town did not take credit cards online, something a teenager could’ve set up. These are much more critical tasks than updating your Twitter feed.

Four Web Rules of the Google Generation

In Anderson’s view, the Google Generation (those who grew up with the Internet) expects government sites to work as well as commercial sites. But I think any regular user of the web thinks this way, no matter the age. He listed four rules of the Google Generation. This is what they expect:

  1. Everything should work all the time. 
  2. If you can’t find it on Google, it doesn’t exist. 
  3. Meet us where we live (Facebook, Flickr, Twitter).
  4. We want to interact with your content.

Unfortunately, as Anderson listed in his Delaware example, not everything works all the time on .gov sites. Also, while optimizing your content for Google is a great idea, not all .gov sites do this and some government content is hidden in databases which Google has a hard time searching. There are just a few examples of government in Facebook or Flickr though this is a common practice in the .com and .org worlds. And the idea of people discussing, rating, ranking and remixing government content on a .gov site is something I’ve never seen before (but would love to). Continue reading “Chris Anderson on "Delivering on the Promise of Gov 2.0"”

Five Ways to Find an Agent

Paige Wheeler is a literary agent and founder of Folio Literary Management. On February 22, at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, she gave a wide-ranging talk about a host of topics pertinent to writers such as the publishing process, how the downturn has effected the book industry, the economics of writing, contract pitfalls and the advantages of having a literary agent on your side.

But how do you find an agent? She provided five really good tips:

  1. Attend writer’s conferences. No matter what genre you write in, or where you live, there’s bound to be a conference for you to attend. Conferences offer opportunities to network with writers, editors and agents. Fellow writers can be a good source of information on agents and what they like. Also, the writing business is based upon relationships and attending conferences are a way of making those connections. 
  2. Contests. Agents and editors judge writing contests. Winning a contest could lead to a book deal. Be sure to check out who’s judging the conference to make sure it’s reputable.
  3. Guides to agents. Your bookstore has several guides to literary agents, such as Writer’s Market and Jeff Herman’s Guide.
  4. Dedication pages of books. Does your favorite author thank their agent in their acknowledgements?
  5. Online sources. AgentQuery, AAR Online, Mediabistro and Publishers Marketplace were all cited by Wheeler or members of the audience as good resources.

Wheeler strongly suggested doing your research before querying an agent. Few things irritated her more than a query letter pitching a project (like a screenplay) that she doesn’t handle.

This is just a fraction of the valuable information she provided in a two-hour long session with a lot of questions and answers. Wheeler is a new member of the Writer’s Center faculty and will be conducting a workshop in the spring.

Pimp My Nonprofit: Student Movement for Real Change

Last night, I attended “Pimp My Nonprofit,” an event by NetSquared DC designed to help a worthy nonprofit better use technology. More than thirty people with a wide range of online marketing skills and interests took part in this meetup at the Affinity Lab in Adams Morgan. Drinks and snacks, key to any brainstorming session, were provided by GeniusRocket.

The nonprofit to be pimped was Student Movement for Real Change (SMRC), an organization that was founded to connect American college students with schools in Africa that need assistance. Students apply for internships that, “provide college students on-the-ground development experience, cultural immersion, and the necessary leadership skills to develop sustainable projects that address local needs through a 6 or 8 week internship (depending on the community) in developing communities” to quote the SMRC web site. Continue reading “Pimp My Nonprofit: Student Movement for Real Change”

One Writer's Day

my work environment
My work environment.

Now that I’m not working in an office, people are curious about what I do all day. I told a friend of mine that I was taking a couple of weeks off to go down to Florida. “Take off from what?” he retorted smartly.

But the truth of the matter is that I am busy. I’m writing a mystery called Murder in Ocean Hall.

The other question I get is, “What tools are you using?” There’s almost a fetishization of writing tools out there, as if creativity was a matter of getting the right notebook or pen set. Or, if you’re a geek, getting the right piece of software, one that will magically draw out your work of genius and put it on the page.

While I’ve certainly been guilty of this in the past, I’ve been tending toward simpler and simpler tools. And, with my time, I’ve really discovered the value of something I once despised – routine. Routine is like a healthy habit, one you can’t put down. Continue reading “One Writer's Day”

Friday's Links

I haven’t done this in a while but here’s what interested me this week:

SXSW Panel: Government Sites Try Not to Suck
Vote for me!  Using a provocative title, I’m trying to sneak some government web folks into hipster-laden SXSW. 

SmartBike DC
These “rent by the hour” bikes have started to appear on the streets of the District.  I’d love to try one but I already have two bikes I don’t ride.

GovLoop
It’s Facebook for feds!