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Washington West showcases student films

Students in the film and video program at George Mason University will gain some real-world experience on the festival circuit through a new program with the Washington West Film Festival.

For the first time this year, the growing festival is screening student films.

Eight films, selected from an applicant pool of 20, will screen Saturday morning, Oct. 26, at Bow Tie Cinemas in Reston, where most of the festival’s films are scheduled this weekend.

Students show their films on campus at the end of each semester, but this will be a chance to also share them with the general public.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to reach a different, more general audience,” said Ben Steger, assistant professor for Film and Video Studies at George Mason University.

Festivals are a chance to network with people in the business locally and nationally, Steger said. Students also benefit from not having to pay an entry fee, and the festival benefits from having them in the audiences.

Victor Santos, who graduated in 2012, said his film “Electio” (which means “choice” in Latin) is about a young man who once wanted to be an artist who now is working as an accounting adviser for a law firm.

Playing the accountant is fellow GMU student Richard Chancellor.

“He finds out a co-worker is embezzling money out of clients,” Santos said.

On the surface, the accountant has to decide whether or not to report it, Santos said.

“The film is also more of a metaphor about pursuing what he really wants to do,” Santos said. “It’s about what you want to do versus what other people want you to do.”

Graduate Jim Van Meer said his film “Mittens,” which he described as a “dark comedy,” also was a senior class project.

Played by his roommate Greg Johnson, Mittens is a hit man who has “the unexplained ability that anyone he touches ends up dead,” he said.

He dispatches a loan shark as ordered, but after meeting a woman on a bus, he has to choose between being loyal to his boss or to himself, Van Meer said.

“I was kind of surprised when the professor asked to submit it on my behalf — it’s such an oddball film,” he said. “It’s good to see other peers showing their films.”

Other GMU films screening Saturday are “A Long Time Lost,” by Ashley Blue; “Like Father, Like Sun,” by Tony Marquez; “To See and Understand,” by Corwin Roncace; “The Pedal Collective,” by Hadi Dimachkieh; “Due for Love,” by Kwanza Gooden and “The Pieces and the Peace,” by Henry Smith.

— Virginia Terhune

Actor Ed Asner and actor/director Mark Rydell have been good friends since the 1960s, when they worked together on an episode of television’s “The Virginian.”

But in their latest joint effort, a 12-minute short called “Good Men” written and directed by Brian Connors, the two get into a heated argument about the Holocaust, conspiracy theories and the Sept. 11 attack on New York City.

Washington West Film Festival

When: Wednesday through Sunday, Oct. 27

Where: Bow Tie Cinemas, Reston Town Center, 11940 Market St., Reston. (Preview concert Wednesday at Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington)

Tickets: $10-$12 for most screenings; $40-$50 for Saturday, Oct. 26, award night and party; $20 for music concert

For information:

“I don’t believe in the utterances of government,” said Asner, who is skeptical about the official government version of the events surrounding the attack on the World Trade Center.

Asner takes the liberal left view in the film and Rydell takes the conservative right stance.

“It was something after my own heart — I felt like I had to do it,” Asner said.

Asner, Rydell and Connors will head east from California to talk about the film on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 26, during the third annual Washington West Film Festival, based in Reston.

Both in their 80s, the two actors also will do a stage reading of “Oxymorons,” a short comedy by Connors featuring an interchange between two brothers talking on a park bench.

“It’s got some black humor,” Asner said about the piece.

Perhaps best known for playing Lou Grant on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in the 1970s, Asner continues to act in TV, movies and on stage and is currently touring in the one-man play “FDR,” about Franklin Roosevelt.

Rydell directed “Cinderella Liberty,” “The Rose,” “On Golden Pond” and the made-for-television film “James Dean,” among many others.

Their visit highlights the fast-growing festival, which features 41 films to be shown in several locations, with most of them at the Bow Tie Cinemas in Reston Town Center. A full schedule with times, descriptions and trailers is available at

The number of entries is nearly double that of last year, said Washington West founder Russell, who sees the festival continuing to grow.

“Our goal is to do a 200-film event every October,” he said. “We want to draw film lovers from around the country.”

Russell, who has a passion for movies, also is pastor of Dulles Community Church, a church he founded 15 years ago in South Riding, Va.

Washington West is not a religious film festival, he said, but looks for films with a socially conscious bent. The festival’s recurring theme — “Story Can Change the World” — is about the belief that films can inspire people to help others.

“We do something nobody else in the film world does,” Russell said.

The festival uses box office proceeds to work on a charitable project, such as building a theater and community center in Haiti. Participation by Washington West volunteers then is filmed and edited into a two-minute short detailing the work.

The following year, the two-minute project runs before each of the festival’s films as a way to involve the audience and let them know how their support was put to use.

“The box office profit goes toward solving a problem related to hunger, disease, displacement or poor education,” Russell said.

Proceeds from the 2012 festival went toward helping two families on Breezy Point, Long Island, where Russell led a team of volunteers to help two families reclaim their houses after Hurricane Sandy.

“It’s a way for festival-goers to be part of a story,” Russell said. “It’s visually showing our audiences what they make possible.”

Russell said box office profits from this year’s festival will go toward reducing homelessness in Fairfax County.

The festival begins with a preview concert on Wednesday featuring Emmy-winning composer W.G. Snuffy Walden, who will join local musicians to perform favorite songs from popular movies at the Artisphere in Rosslyn.

“Living On a Dollar” officially kicks off the festival on Thursday, screening at noon at George Mason University in Fairfax, then again at the Bow Tie Cinemas in Reston, followed by a Q&A session and reception at the theater. The film follows four young friends who experience what it’s like to live on $1 a day for two months in rural Guatemala.

On Friday afternoon, Oct. 25, the festival will present its first Nation Spotlight, screening films from a single foreign country. This year the films are from Lithuania, a Baltic country that gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

“It has a really great, robust film industry, including some tremendous short films,” Russell said.

The five films are about Lithuanian immigrants in California, a swimmer training for the Olympics, two boys who find an unexploded grenade in the woods, and a fox consumed by guilt.

Following the Nation Spotlight, there will be a reception at the Midtown condominium building a few blocks from the theater featuring “The Other Dream Team,” a documentary about the national pride of Lithuanian basketball players during the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. It was the year the U.S. sent its first “Dream Team” of NBA players.

The Lithuanian ambassador to the United States is expected to attend, as well as U.S. State Department officials and a representative of the Vilnius International Film Festival.

Also on Friday, following a screening of “The Genius of Marian,” there will be a panel discussion about Alzheimer’s disease with experts in the field.

On Saturday, Oct. 26, there will be a showing for children of the 1995 Halloween ghost story “Casper,” starring Bill Pullman, at the Sherwood Community Center in Fairfax, with treats and a costume contest.

Screening during Saturday’s festival awards night will be “My Neighborhood,” a documentary directed by Julia Bacha and Reston resident Rebekah Wingert-Jabi. A Peabody Award-winning story about Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, the film is about Jewish neighbors who support Palestinians in East Jerusalem who have been ordered to leave their homes.

On Sunday there will be two films about perseverance, “Grape” by Virginian director Daniel Stine and “Running Blind.” Also showing is the documentary “Barnstorming” by Silver Spring filmmakers Bryan Reichhardt and Paul Glenshaw about an unplanned landing of two antique biplanes in an Indiana alfalfa field in 1999 that has become an annual tradition.

Most of the films also will feature Q&As or discussions with the filmmakers, including Connors, who said “Good Men” began as one of his “Plays in the Park” pieces for two actors. He was inspired to write it after getting into a contentious discussion with his brother about politics.

“Of all my plays, this is the most political,” Connors said.

A longtime skeptic of governments, Asner, among others, is not satisfied with the official explanation of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Questions persist about “building 7,” a 47-story office building near the twin towers that was not hit by planes but collapsed later in the day, say skeptics, as if it were a planned demolition.

“Governments control the electorate by many different means,” Asner said.

In 2004, Asner narrated a 90-minute film called “The Oil Factor” (also known as “Behind the War on Terror”), which analyzes the link between the war and the need for oil.

“Getting involved in conflicts overseas is a way to boost the economy,” Asner said. “Wars get the wheels of industry moving.”

For “Good Men,” the actors and Connors rehearsed at Asner’s kitchen table and shot the film the next day, sticking to the script, but also including some improvisation by the actors.

“[I] set the two guys free, and they went at each other with humor, warmth and love,” Connors said.

Connors said he likes doing short, two-person plays, because he can get first-rate actors who can sandwich in the plays between other engagements without too much rehearsal time.

He said he hopes an outlet like TMC or HBO will pick it up for distribution, because he wants more people to see it.

“It’s entertaining, fun and provocative, and it has two great actors,” he said.