Local Film “The Goblin Baby” Screens in Georgetown

So happy for Shoshana Rosenbaum and The Goblin Baby. This was a script I read last year for the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition – it was one of the finalists and had a live reading before an audience at the Atlas Theater.

Inspired by the DC Shorts experience, and with help from Women in Film and Video, Shoshana raised money through Indiegogo and made her movie, filming in the Palisades neighborhood of DC in the middle of our polar vortex winter.

This is what I love about DC Shorts – it nurtures filmmakers in Washington. You don’t need to be in Hollywood to make a film. With a little support, a little money and help from friends, you can make a short. We’re also lucky to have great local talent – several of the actors in The Goblin Baby also appeared in House of Cards.

The Goblin Baby posterA mix of archetypal fears and modern anxiety, The Goblin Baby is like an update of one of those Grimm fairy tales far too terrifying for children anymore. 

Over the years, I’ve read hundreds of scripts for DC Shorts. This is one of the few that stayed lodged in my brain. It’s spooky and works on an unconscious level, triggering age-old fears of darkness and abandonment. And with its smoky palette and things occurring just out of frame, the film captures the elemental dread that I enjoyed in the script.

Shoshana had a screening of her short film before a packed house at Ri Ra in Georgetown last night – they have a meeting room upstairs that was converted into a theater for friends and family. In addition to the baby crying on the screen, there was a baby crying in the back of the theater, which made the experience even spookier.

The Goblin Baby has been submitted to short film fests – good luck Shoshana!

Can sex sell Silver Spring apartments?

I Instagrammed this ad for a The Point at Silver Spring because it seemed so ridiculous. Silver Spring is not sexy. It’s where women in tennis shoes get on trains for downtown DC and where lanyard-wearing feds shuffle off to NOAA.

I know – I work there. The biggest claim to fame Silver Spring has is its failed transit center, a hundred million dollars of crumbling concrete destined to demolition. Compared to the rest of the DC area, highlights are few – except for the $5 gyros, which are awesome.

On my Instagram account, a couple of people commented on the photo. Their profile pics looked familiar… turns out, they’re the people pictured in the ad. They’re actors who were hired for a swingles-style photo shoot to promote the new high-rise.

Social media is a strange world that connects disparate people instantly, just through a casual photo taken on a Metro platform.

And sorry to disappoint you but the sexy singles in the ad don’t live at The Point. Your neighbors will probably be middle-aged government employees working at NIH. You won’t be invited over for champagne by fitness models in evening wear.

You’ll be there. But  she won’t for an apartment cannot give you a different life.

Full House at DC Shorts Screenplay Competition

Full house at DC Shorts Screenplay Competition

Actors read screenplays before a full house at the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition.

It was standing room only for Friday night’s DC Shorts Screenplay Competition! Actors did a table-read of six short screenplays before a packed house at the US Navy Memorial. As a judge for the competition, I helped pick the finalists so I was very familiar with these short screenplays. But seeing and hearing an audience react to them being read – that’s always a surprise. Will people laugh for the joke on page three? Only a live audience can answer that.

After all the scripts had been read aloud, we counted the votes. Everyone had to vote for their two favorites, so that people wouldn’t just vote for their friend’s screenplay.

While we tallied the results, the audience watched The Goblin Baby by local filmmaker Shoshana Rosenbaum. This script was a finalist in last year’s competition; she made it herself, raising money through Indiegogo. Shoshana joins the long tradition of DC Shorts alumni who go on to do interesting things, inspired by the DC Shorts experience.

The audience selected Breaking as the winner. Canadian filmmaker David Feehan received a check for $1000 – he’ll get $1000 more when he turns his script into a film, plus automatic admission to next year’s DC Shorts. I was proud to be part of such a unique event.

I’ve entered countless screenplay contests myself – I even won one. But unless you win, you never hear anything back from them. The DC Shorts Screenplay Competition is different in providing written feedback to all entrants. And by giving the winner automatic entry into next year’s festival, it turns screenwriters into filmmakers. That’s what makes it one of the most unique screenplay competitions in the country. So, write a short script and enter it next year!

Three great local films at DC Shorts

Retirement, a film by Rob Rafferty.

Retirement, a film by Rob Raffety.

For 11 years, the DC Shorts Film Festival and Screenplay Competition has screened the world’s top short films to audiences throughout the region. This year, the festival will showcase 135 films from 25 countries. It’s a great, local event that brings filmmakers and audiences together in the Penn Quarter in Washington. Not surprisingly, it’s been named the Best Film Festival by the Washington City Paper for three years in a row.

What makes DC Shorts great is that it’s a festival for filmmakers, providing new talent the opportunity to emerge – especially local talent. I’ve been glad to have been a part of DC Shorts as a judge, photo coordinator and other duties.

How do you decide what to see in this cinematic smorgasbord? How about some local films? Here are three that I like – plus a bonus flick!

Heal H Street
The transformation of H Street over the past decade has been astounding. But newcomers to the city may not be aware that H Street was not always yoga studios and taquerias. Documentarian Craig Corl uncovers the story of this neighborhood, from riot to renewal. Focusing on the accounts of the people who’ve lived through it all, he tells the real story of H Street. It’s a must for anyone interested in the urban history of Washington or just curious as to what the city was like in the 80s and 90s.

Voyage of Discovery
Nature has a perfection that art can never approach. Cells and viruses are not only beautiful under a microscope they are ideally suited for their functions. Three local female artists share how they’ve been inspired by the beauty of science. By showing how these women work, and the source of their creativity, this documentary by Carla Schaffer will inspire you to pick up a brush.

Retirement
If you work in downtown DC, you’ve seen Running Backwards Man. He’s the inspiration for this brilliantly edited comedy. Retirement by director Rob Raffety is like Office Space but set in Washington. If you’re stuck in a cubicle, you will relate – maybe a little too much.

Bonus: Come to the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition on Sept 19. Watch a live screenplay reading and select the winner of $2000. While I’m counting the votes, you can watch The Goblin Baby by local filmmaker Shoshana Rosenbaum. Her dark tale of motherhood was a runner up in the 2013 Screenplay Competition.

 

Faith by the Strata Collective at Leica DC

Gotta have faith

What is faith? Is it believing in a God that you cannot see? Is it blind trust in unreliable narratives passed down over the centuries? Or is it the simple belief in the goodness of our communities and ourselves?

The members of the STRATA Collective examine what it means to believe in”Faith,” their photography exhibition now on display at Leica DC. From the backroads of Texas to the crowded urban streets, their photos demonstrate the complex and occasionally absurd ways Americans believe.

The photos are presented in the gallery without comment, explanation or even titles. STRATA believes that it’s up to the viewer to decide what a photo means. It’s up to you to decide what the photo is all about, whether it’s a picture of Divine towering over anti-gay protesters or the simple portrait of a nun. They provide no clue as to what you’re supposed to “get” from the picture.

Instead, you examine the photo. You create meaning from it. You decide what to believe.

“Faith” will be on display at Leica DC (977 F St NW) through October.

Don’t Bike on H Street

G St night biking

Biking west on G St NE after the WABA happy hour. Note the contraflow bike lane on the left.

Do not bike on H Street NE under any circumstances! That was the consensus opinion at the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA) summer happy hour at Vendetta on H Street. Everyone present seemed to have a story of injury and woe.

The reason? Streetcar tracks, which are dangerous to cyclists and impossible to avoid on H Street. There’s a small gap between rail and pavement that’s the perfect size to ensnare a bike tire.

I speak from experience. Two summers ago, I was cruising down H Street, in between the tracks. I had heard of the danger but thought I was being safe – I knew I needed to cross the tracks at a right angle to avoid peril. What I didn’t count on was the tracks veering off to the right as they approached Hopscotch Bridge. The front tire of my Specialized Sirrus got caught in the gap between track and pavement and I flew sideways off the bike, scraping along the pavement for ten feet or so. The tracks left me a bloody mess, with road rash all along my right side.

To add insult to injury, the streetcar isn’t even running yet. The tracks have been there for more than two years. But not a single passenger has been delivered. All the tracks have done is upend cyclists.

So, don’t bike down H Street! Take G or I instead. They’re pleasant neighborhood streets and free of the streetcar menace.

The Cynic’s Guide to Government Contracting

There’s an interesting post by Ben Balter on why government doesn’t use open source. It’s a good read, in which Balter presents all the reasons why government doesn’t use open-source software for its web sites, from the demand for enterprise solutions to a desire to avoid transparency (really).

Why is government so bad at building web sites? Why do they frequently build nonfunctional monstrosities like healthcare.gov, with its price of $840 million (and growing)?

Because there is no Web Department in government. There is no Web Development Corps of dedicated usability specialists, designers and editors. There is no government-wide web strategy.

Instead, government web sites are built ad hoc, created by individual agencies with wildly varying degrees of competence. Some are good. Others look straight out of the 90s. There is no standard design nor is there a standard platform. Instead, every agency builds what they want, with only a cursory nod toward the needs of the public.

These web sites are largely built by contractors, with names that sound vaguely Greek, like Synergos, or sound high-tech, like Advanced TechnoData Inc (ATDI, for short). These companies exist solely to win government contracts. They’re experts at it, and form and reform, based upon government requirements. If there’s a contract that asks for a small, disadvantaged business with a transgendered Intuit at the helm, then that company will come into being.

In their protean stage, these companies are little more than a sign on an office door and a web site filled with stock photos of happy tech workers. To succeed, they have to win contracts. For that, they have specialists in responding to Requests for Proposals (RFPs). These specialists are expert at analyzing RFPs and then parroting back the requirements in the most convoluted and voluminous manner possible. These responses go back to government, which analyzes them, and then selects the lowest bidder.

Congratulations – your company has won an RFP. You promised you’d build a web site. Now you have to hire the people to do the work. Why don’t you have them on staff? Because you have no money to pay anyone until you win a contract. So, you go out and hire them – quickly. You want them on site and billing, so that you can get your money.

But it’s hard to get good help, especially when it comes to developers. You do the best you can, optimizing for speed and price over skills and experience. Better to get a cheap developer today then spend six months trying to woo top talent.

You created a beautiful Gantt chart, one with different colors for every week of the web development process – and it’s all gone to hell. Recruiting takes longer than anticipated – people have families, other jobs and they can’t start immediately, as much as you want them too. And just getting them into a government building is a chore – you need a person just handling the paperwork. Getting your staff computers and software from unresponsive government IT departments takes even longer.

Along the way, you decide on a Content Management System (CMS). Maybe you were strongly encouraged by the government CIO. He goes to big conferences sponsored by big software companies, ones that he hopes to join. He has a preferred CMS.

So, you ask your developers, “Can this CMS do what we want?” Of course they say yes – what else are they going to say? Their jobs depend on it.

You spend months in the planning stage. Wireframes are presented to rooms full of feds. Designs are revised endlessly. Everyone offers opinions but authority is elusive.

You move forward, months late. The build phase is a trainwreck. It’s where plans collide with reality. You find out you can’t put a button there and that the slideshow isn’t Sec. 508 compliant and that it’s not clear who’s going to write all this content anyway.

But the money is flowing. Your people, though they may be frustrated, are billing 40 hours a week. The COTR (Contracting Officers Technical Representative) is happy. His job is to make sure that the money is being spent. It’s a game where you don’t want to have any funds left at the end of the year.

Dog and pony shows are put on for senior management. You don’t show them the actual site (which doesn’t work) but you show mockups to people working on Blackberries.

Developers work late into the night hacking the thing together. It’s a big mess of ugly code, workarounds around workarounds, but it should hold up, provided you don’t get too many visitors.

You launch. It doesn’t suck. It works, kinda. You have a pizza party in the break room. The developers are surly, as if they hate the site, the process, you, everything. The feds hardly seem to notice their new site. And the public, well, their emails of complaint go into an unmonitored inbox.

While the web site may not be perfect, and it may be impossible to update (thanks to your CMS choice), the important thing is that the money was spent. It’s good enough for government work. The thought cheers you, as you pull into the driveway of your McMansion, paid for with taxpayer dollars.

Friday Photo: DC Shorts Edition

In the audience for DC Shorts at the Navy Memorial #dcshorts

Ten years of the DC Shorts Film Festival.

The DC Shorts Film Festival returns in September! This year’s festival is truly SPECTACULAR: 135 films from 25 countries screened in 17 unique 90-minute showcases. Each show screens 7-9 films: comedies, animation, dramas, documentaries — and by filmmakers around the corner to across the globe.

MovieMaker magazine calls DC Shorts one of the coolest film festivals in the world. What makes it special is the opportunity to see a smorgasbord of cinema and meet interesting filmmakers.

It’s one of my favorite events of the year and something I’ve been a part of almost since the beginning. This year, I helped select the finalists for the Screenplay Competition, a live reading in which the audience gets to pick the winner.

You can be there too! The 11th DC Shorts Film Festival is kicking off ticket sales with a special offer: $2 off EVERY screening, party and special event ticket. Use the special code FIRSTLOOK14 — but hurry: this offer expires Saturday at midnight!