Exclusive Interview with DCIFF Director Deirdre Evans-Pritchard

Deirdre Evans-Pritchard, DCIFF Executive Director

Film festivals involve many moving parts: from reviewing submissions and communicating with filmmakers to attracting press and hosting screenings and awards. Arguably, DCIFF offers more than most festivals through its workshops, seminars, and masterclasses, as well as the high-school film competition and Congressional summit (“On the Hill”). Behind every successful organization, of course, is a dedicated team and visionary leadership.

In this post, we meet that leadership, DCIFF Executive Director Deirdre Evans-Pritchard and learn a little bit about her background and vision for the festival. Deirdre leads DCIFF through her expertise in programming, fundraising, and building partnerships.

Join our recent conversation, get to know Deirdre, and through her, DCIFF!

How did you initially get involved with DCIFF?

Many years ago, I was involved in setting up the Anthropos Documentary Festival in LA, the forerunner of AFI Docs, so when I moved to DC I kept linked into film activities. When I met Carol Bidaut, DCIFF’s founder, I felt that I shared her sense of the importance of assuring non-conformist, non-aligned and non-mainstream creative film programming in DC. Several years later, I volunteered to keep the festival alive when Carol left the city. I hope that over the last seven years I have made the festival internationally recognized and respected without sacrificing her original vision.

You’ve helped select several years of screenings, so can you help frame the type of content that attendees should expect to see at DCIFF?

DCIFF is independent not just because the films are indie (and the definition of what is an indie film is murky nowadays as production expands worldwide and Hollywood’s production power dilutes) but because it is not stuck on any one one theme, style or format. Each year will be different but always inclusive, energetic, educational and a chance to meet many filmmakers. Our aim is to be fresh, risk-taking, cutting-edge and willing to turn on a dime. We hope our audiences get caught up in that energy and join our community for the ride. 2018 will, of course, see parties, seminars, and screenings, with a chance to talk to filmmakers. We’ll also celebrate animation and filmmaking by getting everyone involved in making things. This year, we plan to dig into issues of fake news and how to make films in dangerous circumstances.

You’ve spent considerable time in the film industry, shaping film festivals on both coasts and teaching at USC’s Cinema School. Why do film festivals need to happen?

That’s simple: people are making amazing work, but there are limited avenues to see it. DCIFF programs events and holds screenings that highlight and frame great film art in ways that benefit everyone. The impact of watching films together in a big theater and then talking about it or hearing from the artist is still powerful. In fact, now that watching moving images is so mundane, a festival like DCIFF really is a temple to great talent because we select finalists from such a large number of submissions.

Filmmaking is one form of storytelling, set apart from literature, theatre, and television series. What does a concise, on-screen story give us that these other forms of storytelling don’t?

I am a trained anthropologist and folklorist and in all cultures storytelling has always been both visual and aural. To me, film is the way this has continued into the modern world, and it is much more clearly linked to traditional storytelling than the written word. Why do children’s books have illustrations? …because before we are trained to prioritize reading, we link what we see to what we hear. So I think of film as an invention that was just waiting to happen and one that—the complexities of editing and production aside—plugs into our natural way of experiencing the world.

Washington, DC’s film scene includes a long list of film festivals devoted to showcasing work that is specific to one genre, culture, or topic. Yet, we review thousands of submissions from around the world in several categories! How is DCIFF set apart from other area festivals and what do we offer that’s valuable to filmmakers? 

Yes indeed, DC is awash in film festivals, a testament to how many films are out there worth watching. DCIFF is proud to be part of this regional film festival community but we have a very clear mission different from many festivals around us. We are a competitive festival with the mission of forwarding the careers of emerging and established filmmakers of exceptional talent who work locally, nationally and internationally. So we do not curate films (except for our retrospectives or films shown in honor of specific filmmakers). We honestly do not know the lineup of the festival until a couple of months beforehand. It is a surprise for us ourselves, how the programming lines up each year! But, we do always have an educational section—workshops, masterclasses and seminars—and now that so many people are making movies, we find that people interested in getting acquainted with filmmaking attend, not just the film professionals.

We work hard to offer a festival experience that honors filmmakers for their work and rewards them with networking opportunities. For a filmmaker, what are the most valuable and enjoyable aspects of attending?

When filmmakers attend DCIFF they often end up building new networks and sometimes go on to work together after they leave. Also, we pride ourselves on looking after filmmakers as best we can when they attend. But the main thing is always the pleasure of watching your film screened in a big theater with an engaged audience and then answering their questions afterwards. And then of course, this year, it looks as if we will have some cash awards as prizes…and that’s always a draw!

Thanks, Deirdre, for sharing with blog readers—what a pleasure!

Thanks, Daniel, for talking to me about DCIFF and welcome as the festival’s new blogger. We look forward to learning about things filmic of interest to those in DC, other filmmakers and lovers of film.