Best Film Festival

Best: AFI Silverdocs

Since 2002, the American Film Institute-hosted documentary festival has consistently shown highly engaging and often soon-to-be-high-profile films such as 2008 Oscar-winners Man on Wire and Smile Pinki. Plus, actual movie stars stop by (Scorsese! Spike!). Pretend you’re in Hollywood June 15–22.

Second-best: DC Shorts

A movie’s coming out. It looks like it’s going to be great. You’re excited. You buy your tickets in advance. Then you find out the running time stretches past the two-hour mark. Be honest: Who among you doesn’t groan? Therein lies the beauty of DC Shorts, the incredibly well-executed brainchild of Washington native Jon Gann. The annual festival debuted in 2003 when Gann, himself a filmmaker, became disgruntled after his fest experiences proved to be more about socializing than art and were largely unhelpful to newcomers. DC Shorts, then, is anything but: All entries receive detailed feedback, and this year’s festival will feature a series of free seminars on subjects including screenwriting and low-budget shooting. What does that mean for audiences? Well, it seems that thoughtful planning yields thoughtful product, because every fest thus far has offered a parade of highly entertaining screenings that just whiz by (festival staff whittles the entries down to approximately 100 short films). Best part: If there’s a clunker in the mix, it’s over before you get the urge to toss your Skittles at the screen. (Catch this year’s festival from Sept. 10–17.)

Third-best: Reel Affirmations

Reel Affirmations, the area’s GLBT festival, still has a way to go as far as high-quality feature films. But it took a huge step forward in 2008 with—surprise!—skillful documentaries that instructed, inspired, and broke your heart. Filmfest DC may be bigger, but Reel Affirmations wins points for organization—and for furthering the argument that gay cinema isn’t merely niche. Its 19th festival rolls this October.