Highlights of the Festival’s Two-Decade Run
1987: Filmfest DC, also called the Washington, DC International Film Festival, opens with a screening of Elem Klimov’s moody Russian film “Farewell” and closes with Lasse Halstrom’s “My Life as a Dog.” 5,000 people attend the festival. 1990: Founders Marcia Zalbowitz and Tony Gittens part company; Gittens assumes control of festival. 1992: “Global Rhythms,” a music-onfilm series, is introduced as a regular fest tradition. 1993: Morgan Freeman is honored, as well as Oscar-winning sound technician Russell Williams II. Shirin Ghareeb becomes the festival’s assistant director. 1996: Mayor Marion Barry appoints Gittens executive director of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Gittens hires Ghareeb as his executive assistant. The Embassy of China asks Filmfest DC not to screen “The Gate of Heavenly Peace,” a documentary about the post-Tiananmen Square protest movement; the film is shown as planned. Ghareeb founds the annual Arabian Sights Film Festival, funded by the Arts and Humanities Commission. 2007: Olivier Dahan presents his film about the life of chanteuse Edith Piaf, “La Vie en Rose,” to open the festival; the closing night film is “Paris, Je T’aime,” in which 20 prominent filmmakers, from Alexander Payne to Alfonso Cuaron, created short works about love. 2001: 37,000 people attend the festival. 2002: Peter Bogdanovich attends the opening night screening of “The Cat’s Meow,” his first feature film in nearly a decade. 2005: Guest curators Chi-hui Yang, director of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, and Smithsonian programmer Manjula Kumar curate the Indian and Chinese language series. 2003: Sydney Pollack participates in panel discussion; John Malkovich brings his directorial debut, “The Dancer Upstairs.” 2004: Morgan Spurlock comes for the screening of his closing-night film, “Super Size Me.”
2006: Charlize Theron appears to introduce “East of Havana,” a documentary the actress produced about hip-hop in Cuba. 34,000 people attend.
— Desson Thomson
In its first year, the festival drew 5,000 moviegoers. In 2006, 34,000 attended.