Fourteen years ago, before there was a movie theater in the community, the Kentlands Film Society was born out of ideas from a group of like-minded residents who enjoyed independent film and wanted to see it locally. With the support of the Kentlands Community Foundation, they brought this idea to fruition with a fall to spring mini film festival. “Because we are part of the Foundation, we pay non-profit rental rates and we get a break on the rental of the Arts Barn, which is a terrific venue,” said founding member and membership chair Elly Shaw-Belblidia.
This affiliation also allows the Society to pull off a unique cultural and social benefit for the community at a reasonable cost. In fact, they cover their costs and usually bring in extra, which goes back to the Foundation. A fair number of subscribers live outside of the Kentlands; in this way, the Society helps to attract others to the features of the neighborhood.
Founding member Betty Hafner explained, “The impetus for creating a local film society was that the northern Montgomery County area had no theaters that showed quality art house and foreign films.”
The group was guided by the desire to provide “added value” to the viewing experience. A member introduces each film and provides backstory on its making. Following the showing, attendees can meet for a “Critics Corner,” joining a Society facilitator to discuss the film.
Hafner, chair of the selection committee, said that committee members share film ideas throughout the year and meet twice in the wintertime to discuss about 20 films that the committee views in order to select the five to be shown the following season. This year’s films are “Leave No Trace” (US), “The Divine Order” (Switzerland), “The Guilty” (Denmark), “Shoplifters” (Japan) and “Faces Places” (France).
Shaw-Belblidia commented that everyone on the selection committee keeps an eye out for interesting films year-round. “Sometimes it’s obvious ones that show at places like Landmark in Bethesda. We watch for movie reviews, may go to programs like the DC Filmfest and EU film fest at AFI Silver Theatre. Sometimes it’s something that pops up on previews when you watch a movie. The challenge is that interesting independent movies don’t always become available for distribution. And we don’t want something that’s too well known to our audience already. We also strive for variety in types of movies and country of origin. And we’ve learned that it can’t be too depressing for our audience as they favor challenging movies!”
The Society is also responsible for bringing the international Manhattan Short Film Festival (MSFF) to the Arts Barn. Manhattan Short is not a touring festival; rather, it is an instantaneous celebration that occurs around the globe, bringing intense and unusual short films (many of which go on to become a county’s submission to the Oscars) to great venues where audiences vote on their favorites. Shaw-Belblidia said it was at Hafner’s urging that the Society explored holding the festival at the Arts Barn. They built a strong audience for the MSFF, she said, and eventually the Arts Barn took it over and it has sold out each year.
A large group gathered for this season’s opening wine and sushi reception and screening of “Leave No Trace” by American director Debra Granik (who also directed “Winter’s Bone”). The sensitive and intense story of an Iraqi war veteran who suffers from PTSD and his 13-year-old daughter who live a simple life off the grid in an enormous forest in the Pacific Northwest had the audience silently enthralled as it unfolded. When they are discovered by authorities, the pair are forced to leave their cocoon and enter a well-intentioned society. We watched them grapple with their love for one another as it comes into conflict with their individual needs. The story is subtle and poignant, its overriding themes ones of fragility and independence.
There are five films in the series shown from October to May at the Arts Barn on Sunday evenings at 7 p.m. with a 45-minute social prior. Subscriptions are $40 annually and a small number of walk-in tickets are available for $10 each.
If interested, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.