Doing Art While Doing Good

For movie lovers, a film festival is a great way to binge on multiple films over many days. Yet attending one of the well-known festivals (e.g., Aspen, New York City, Sundance, Telluride, Toronto) might be inconvenient or too costly for many of us. The good news? The growing number of smaller festivals making films of diverse genres accessible to more people.

I can speak from first-hand experience having recently attended part of the Washington West Film Festival (WWFilmFest). And by doing so, I and the other attendees helped WWFilmFest fulfill its unique goal of --- what I call --- doing art while doing good.

WWFilmFest began in 2011 in Reston, Virginia (still its home base). During its just finished fifth festival, WWFilmFest presented 56 films from 13 countries in Reston and various venues in downtown Washington, D.C. and throughout Virginia.

I learned of WWFilmFest when I attended its preview showing of the documentary "Deep Web" in Arlington, Virginia.

There I heard Brad Russell, WWFilmFest Founder and President, talk about WWFilmFest's founding vision. That vision is captured by its motto Story Can Change the World. Full disclosure: after hearing about WWFilmFest's vision, I volunteered on the festival's last day.

So what is it that makes WWFilmFest unique? Its guiding philosophy is that
"[i]ntelligent story not only entertains, but it truly can change the world." (wwfilmfest.com). A lofty goal but how is this done? By turning WWFilmFest audiences "...into producers of amazing stories and films by giving 100 percent of our box office net proceeds to a project of hope each year." (wwfilmfest.com).

WWFilmFest is translating those proceeds into concrete results. The following is a list of its current and prior local, national and international project partners (details can be found on the WWFilmFest website):

2015: The Robert Duvall Children's Fund: a non-profit that works around the world with charities providing a range of basic needs (e.g., medical assistance, food, clothing) for children and their families who are poor, distressed or underprivileged.

2014: One Voice: a non-profit based in Fairfax County, Virginia whose mission is "to unite children through song, art and story."

2013: Shelter House, Inc.: a non-profit serving homeless families in Fairfax County, Virginia.

2012: Hurricane Sandy Relief: proceeds allocated to helping with the clean-up and reconstruction of Breezy Point, New York.

2011: Haiti Community Center: partnered with a team of emergency relief workers to construct this feeding center that also functions as a school and cinema house.

Finally, it seemed to me that WWFilmFest's underlying spirit extended to everyone ---staff, volunteers and the artists who created the films. I know I'm basing this impression on my brief participation. Yet one example nicely captures what I saw and experienced.

The 2015 festival's theme was "birthdays" with the 30th anniversary of the "Back to the Future" (BTTF) films a central focus. At Bow Tie Cinemas in Reston, I saw the documentary "Back in Time" made about the lasting reach and impact of the "BTTF" movies. A Q & A session followed with Jason Aron, the Director, other key members of the creative team and a surprise guest ---Bob Gale, the co-creator with Robert Zemeckis of the "BTTF" trilogy. The audience erupted in applause when he was announced.

Mr. Gale stayed for the entire Q & A session and then went out to the plaza. Amidst a dozen or so DeLorean cars, he graciously met fans who told him what the "BTTF" movies meant to them. He never rushed anyone, posed for photos, autographed whatever a fan gave him, answered any and all questions --- and did so in a truly genuine way (yes, I got a photo with him).

Would Mr. Gale act this way wherever the venue? No question. However, seeing him give his time so generously at a film festival that helps attendees be part of the story while contributing to a project of hope --- well, it just seemed like a natural result.

So I'm already "looking back to the future" and have marked my calendar for WWFilmFest's October 2016 festival. Another chance to conveniently get to see interesting films while being part of stories that can help change the world.