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The Philanthropic Power of the Washington West Film Festival

This year's event, kicking off Wednesday, gives back to the community.
The Washington West Film Festival includes “Transcend,” a documentary about Kenyan runner turned politician Wesley Korir. This production shot shows codirector Tad Munnings (with camera). Photograph courtesy of the Kennedy Marshall Company.

The motto of the Washington West Film Festival is “Story can change the world.”

From October 22 to 26, the fest, now in its fourth year, brings some 40 independent narrative and documentary films to Reston’s Bow Tie Cinemas, the Angelika Film Center and Cafe in Fairfax, and other Northern Virginia venues. Though fast-growing, Washington West is still a local, intimate affair, so you can interact with filmmakers at Q&As and special events.

All box-office proceeds go to a philanthropic organization or project, and the festival’s work with that group becomes the subject of a short film that opens every screening the next year; this year’s short is about Washington West’s involvement with Shelter House, a facility for homeless families in Fairfax County.

With supporters including Veep’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus—who grew up in Washington—the festival has also helped fund a new school and theater in Haiti as well as relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy victims. Attendees are encouraged to carry forward the festival’s message by volunteering at a featured nonprofit afterward.“The idea is that we’re attaching our audience to the creation of a story that gives hope, that cares or shows compassion for a community in need,” says founder Brad Russell.

Louis-Dreyfus coproduced a documentary in this year’s festival, Generosity of Eye. Directed by her husband and fellow Saturday Night Live alum Brad Hall—who is expected to attend with her—the film explores the decision by the actress’s father, William Louis-Dreyfus, to sell off his extensive art collection to benefit the Harlem Children’s Zone. Other highlights are Alive Inside, a Sundance Film Festival Audience Award winner about music therapy for Alzheimer’s patients; Revenge of the Green Dragons, a gangster film starring Ray Liotta and executive-produced by Martin Scorsese, among others; and a film-and-TV-scoring event featuring W.G. Snuffy Walden, who composed the music for Friday Night Lights and The West Wing.

Russell’s objective is for audiences to walk away motivated to be a “contributor, not just a consumer.” A community with as much affluence as Washington “can make sizable differences in the world, and in the area, if we come together for good.”

Find more information at filmfest.com.

This article appears in our October 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

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