WASHINGTON -- You don't have to travel all the way to Sundance or Tribeca to enjoy several days of international, independent film.
The first ever Washington West Film Festival takes place next week in the Reston and Herndon areas. For three days, 23 feature length and short films will be screened, including an HBO-produced documentary that kicks off the event Thursday evening.
Executive director Brad Russell conceived of Washington West after noticing a lack of film culture in his native Northern Virginia. It seemed that the interest was there, but not an avenue to showcase emerging works. He wanted to create something that not only celebrated the power of storytelling, but also educated and enlightened moviegoers with the ability to effect change.
Russell teamed up another cinephile, Samantha Dols, after meeting at the Sundance Film Festival, where Dols had been working for the past three years. She eventually became senior director of festival operations and a unique vision was born -- to donate 100 percent of the festival's net proceeds to a charity.
"This was the first time I had heard of a vision like this," Dols says. "That's a pretty big and bold commitment."
The inaugural charity is Operation Blessing International, a Virginia-based nonprofit dedicated to providing disaster relief.
Picking this particular organization was no coincidence -- it is directly tied to the festival's closing night movie, "Sun City Picture House."
Directed by David Darg, who also happens to be the director of international disaster relief for Operation Blessing, the documentary tells the story of a young boy who builds a movie theater in Haiti following last year's devastating earthquake. All the proceeds from this year's festival will go toward building another theater in Port-au-Prince.
"We saw it as the perfect charity for our first year as a festival whose mandate is basically to introduce new audiences to new films, which is what this movie theater in Haiti is going to do," Dols says. "It will also restore the art culture and the power of story" to that country.
Another festival highlight is "The Loving Story," a true tale of interracial marriage at the height of segregation. Virginia couple Richard -- a white man -- and Mildred -- a black woman -- Loving were convicted in 1958 of violating anti-miscegenation laws meant to prevent races from mixing. They took their case to the Supreme Court, which eventually overturned the original ruling and effectively legalized interracial marriage for the first time in the nation's history.
One of the attorneys from the case will be on hand during an audience question and answer session.
The festival opens with a showing of "The Loving Story" on Nov. 3 at Bow Tie Cinemas in the Reston Town Center. It runs until Nov. 5.
(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)