DC Shorts film festival aims to surprise

D.C.-based actor and filmmaker Mauricio Pita was tossing round ideas for a brand new venture two years in the past when his collaborator, author Eva von Schweinitz, lobbed three pitches his method.

One was a superhero story. Another was a job-interview-centric comedy. But the third — a bondage-driven psychological drama about overcoming unfavorable self-talk — compelled him for an uncommon motive.

“I was terrified of that one,” says Pita, 38. “This is stuff that I’ve been ashamed of, secretly, and would expose me and create a structure for me to navigate multiple shames that I’ve been dealing with — one as an artist, one as a gay person.”

That concept ultimately developed into “Safe Word,” a brief film starring Pita as Cesar, an emotionally stunted masochist, and Jonathan Adriel as Bear, his dominant companion. Directed by Christopher Cunetto and written by von Schweinitz and Cunetto, the semi-biographical brief film unpacks Pita’s anxieties over what he perceived as a stagnant profession within the arts, in addition to broader societal biases towards queer individuals.

“I said, ‘I’m going to go with the idea that I’m most scared of and put myself at the center of it, so I can process all of this publicly, in a way,’” Pita says. “I had nothing left to lose.”

After premiering final November with a screening at GALA Hispanic Theatre and incomes picks from greater than a dozen film festivals, “Safe Word” is returning to the realm for the twentieth DC Shorts International Film Festival. The occasion runs Sept. 20-24, with the “Safe Word” screening set for Sept. 23 at 2:30 p.m. on the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema DC, as a part of the fest’s “Out and About” showcase, which focuses on LGBTQ+ storytelling.

Joe Carabeo, programming director for DC Shorts, says the 14-minute film’s surprisingly delicate tone made it not only a putting choice in its personal proper however a becoming alternative for a festival he curated with an emphasis on the sudden. Viewers will go in “thinking it’s one thing,” he says, “but it flips you on [your] head.”

Shot over 4 days in August 2022 at a South Dakota Avenue condominium, “Safe Word” makes use of a submissive relationship as a metaphor for Pita’s struggles with shallowness. While the character Cesar is a stand-in for Pita, Bear represents the voice inside his head encouraging him to embrace his self-worth.

“The dom-sub relationship that these characters have is just a really beautiful way to externalize the kind of torture that we put ourselves through,” says Cunetto, the director. “We all struggle to love ourselves. We get a lot of messages about what is perfect and what is good and how smooth your life should be. I think people just resonate with the imperfection that Cesar and Bear represent on-screen.”

For Pita, the sensual scenes required him to expose himself bodily and mentally in difficult methods. But the expertise of constructing the film, and the nice and cozy reactions from festival audiences over the previous yr, helped put him on a life-imitates-art path of self-acceptance.

“Shame is always saying because you are gay, because you are into this, you are not worthy of being loved, so keep it to yourself,” Pita says. “I still struggle. It’s not, like, overnight. But going through the process has made me love myself more, for sure.”

This yr’s festival is damaged into every day themes: worldwide movies and documentaries on Wednesday, tales pushed by music and performing arts on Thursday, style films on Friday, dramas on Saturday and native highlights on Sunday.

Each day is then additional separated into packages, which function six to 12 movies every and vary from 1½ to 2½ hours. Among these showcases: “The Worlds Beyond” for fantasy and sci-fi (Sept. 22 at midday), “Date Night” for love (Sept. 22 at 7 p.m.), “Laugh Medicine” for comedies (Sept. 23 at 6 p.m.) and “We Make Movies Here” (Sept. 24 at 4 p.m.) for regionally produced narrative movies — a program, Carabeo factors out with delight, that “Safe Word” additionally would have match below.

“We make awesome movies in our area,” Carabeo says, “and I think the world should know about this.”

DC Shorts Film Festival: Sept. 20-24 at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema D.C., 630 Rhode Island Ave. NE, and Edlavitch D.C. Jewish Community Center, 1529 sixteenth St. NW. $15 per program or $150 for an all-access go. dcshorts.filmbot.com/2023.

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