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Last year I watched all of the DC Shorts. I reviewed over 150 short films. I loved some, I hated some. I’m glad I did it.

The DC Shorts festival, now in its 10th year, has become a filmmaking institution. Each year the festival attracts big name talent (Dame Judi Dench!) alongside first time actors, directors and writers. The programs are designed to give the audience member a taste of every genre presented (drama, comedy, animation, thriller, experimental and documentaries). Taste is the key idea. Since each program features nearly 10 works and runs about 90-minutes, you’re never stuck watching something that isn’t connecting (good thing) and are instantly in love with the works that ended too soon (great thing).

We spoke to festival director and founder Jon Gann about some of the reasons why DC Shorts is entering its 10th year bigger and better than ever before. If you’ve ever met Gann you’ll instantly realize he’s passionate about this stuff, all of this stuff, whether it’s the wide array of countries of origin (this year’s focus is on Russia), large variety of styles or quality of products. When I found out that the man watches over 1,000 (ONE THOUSAND) of these films each year and brings it down to 153 presented and still likes what he does, it became clear why the festival has been getting better each year.

There’s something for everyone

Gann programs for the audience, not just for himself:

“I like films for very different reasons than my audience. It’s why one of the awards we give is the Festival Director’s Choice and it’s rarely the audience’s favorite. I like films that are sentimental. If it’s about a really dysfunctional Spanish family, I’m going to like the film.”

What was that film about?

“We have over 115 filmmakers from around the world. You can meet the people that made the film. You can ask the filmmakers what they were trying to do with their film. You can’t do that watching a film at home.”

Story matters

When asked for advice for young filmmakers, Gann was quick to respond:

“Story. It’s all about story. It’s the first line of our criteria when we judge. Is the story meaningful? Is there a reason for an audience to watch this film? Is the story appropriate for its time limit? I think we’ve all sat through a lot of 90-minute features that should have been 10-minutes. Is the 7-minute film using all 7-minutes or should it be 3 and you just need to edit? It’s about story more than anything else.”

Technology isn’t everything

“Ten years ago when I started this thing no one really had access to good equipment. The stories were really compelling but the technology wasn’t that great. Ten years later you can make a really high quality film on an iPhone, if you know what you’re doing, but do you know how to tell a story? I think that what we’ve seen is technology doesn’t mean you can tell a story. It’s about a great script, it’s about a really good concept, it’s about really great acting.”

Like tapas?

When asked about programming:

“The way we program, I call it the tapas platter approach, so in a 90-minute show you see a little bit of everything. There’s a taste of everything: there’s a comedy, there’s a documentary, there’s something local, there’s something foreign, there’s something challenging, there’s something easily accessible and we try to string those together in an emotional ride. You’re going to laugh, you’re going to cry, you’re going to learn. We choose films that are going to work well together.”

If you can’t fathom leaving your couch, you can still enjoy the fest

The DC Shorts Online Film Festival also runs September 19-29 and includes free access to Indieflix for 30 days. More than 120 shorts will be available to watch at your leisure. The pass is $40 online (the price of seeing four programs or about 38 films) and $20 at any DC Shorts box office.

It may not be the ideal viewing experience for most filmmakers, but having to leave your house on a day off may not be the ideal thing for you. It’s much better to see comedies with an audience, but it’s better to see a comedy than nothing at all.

Remember that one short you saw at the festival a few years ago and can’t remember it and can’t begin to figure out how to find it?

Now you can watch it on the DC Shorts site. They’re showcasing over 250 films from the last 9 years of the fest. Do this, especially if you work in an office.

The DC Shorts Festival runs September 19-29 at six very different theaters: E Street Cinema, U.S. Navy Memorial, Atlas Arts Center and Anacostia Arts Center in Washington, the Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax and Visarts in Rockville. Most days offer at least one free screening. If you’re interested but want to do a little more research on a particular film or showcase, we recoomend checking out the DC Shorts Tumblr or downloading the festival catalog.