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D.C. has a robust film industry, especially for independent filmmakers. The DC Independent Film Forum (DCIFF) recently held its 2023 festival, where four local filmmakers premiered their short films. A short film in the motion picture industry is less than 40 minutes, including credits. For DCIFF’s festival, films were recognized in 12 categories. Two films directed by DMV filmmakers were award-winners. 

“Amor” documents the life of an eight-month pregnant woman managing life after her 26-year-old husband Tyrelle is murdered in Baltimore. Amor, the lead character, uses her music compositions to heal and move forward while instilling courage and compassion in her toddler daughter Ari’a. The film won DCIFF’S Best Metro DC award.

“Amor’s story and song show us that our past is not a stone that weighs us down, it’s a comet that will take us to the stars – so we better hold on tight,” said director David Rochkind.

“East of the River” chronicles the horrible waste tragedy that existed for years in DC’s Mayfair Mansions community in Ward 7. Fires were regularly used to dispose of waste that was dumped in what has been called an “environmental Bermuda Triangle” in that section of the DC. When a child died in one of those fires, city and community leaders worked toward making changes. The former environmental hazard site is where Kenilworth Park is now located. Film co-directors Amin El Siwi and Phil Bouknight, who produced “East of the River,” were educated in the Film and Media Production Program at American University.

“Our hope for this film is that it will empower community members to continue in their fight against forces of social injustice and highlight the work that these activists do,” Bouknight said.

“Working with the participants of this film gave us new insight into issues of environmental justice and a new appreciation for the people who have fought to keep this history from being forgotten,” continued El Siwi.

“544: A Civil Rights Story” shows the evolution of 92-year-old George Sallie’s social justice mission. Every day, his routine is the same. He forgives the man who beat him in 1965 on Bloody Sunday. The title of the film “544: A Civil Rights Story” references Matthew 5:44, the Bible passage that keeps Sallie focused on his vision of equality. The filmmaker was Loki Mulholland, son of civil rights icon Joan Trumpauer Mulholland.

“The stories of the past should not be hidden away from the present. There is inspiration even in the darkest moments of our collective history,” said filmmaker Mulholland. “Thousands of people had the courage to do what was right even when it wasn’t easy, and Mr. George Sallie was one of them. I just felt it needed to be told.”

“Freetown” is the history of a community in Anne Arundel County, Md. Black residents of that area are determined to keep alive the importance of the community founded by a Black man, James Spencer.  Kendall Outing from Forest Hills, Md., is completing his BFA at Florida State’s College of Motion Picture Arts.

“Being raised in rural Maryland, I realized that many people live in a cultural bubble,” said Outing about his work. “To see a person’s experience on screen, completely different from my own, and still empathize and connect with them always intrigues me.”

These four films are now being shown at various film festivals around the country. Screened at DCIFF’s competitive festival, these films were Washington, DC premieres, and many were US and world premieres.

Since 1999, DCIFF has been a place where filmmakers are supported in producing creative stories. In addition to its festival for veteran and bourgeoning filmmakers, DCIFF conducts filmmaking events for high school students. This year’s Summer Intensive High School Filmmaking Course will be held from July 10 to Aug. 11.

For more information on DCIFF’s program for seasoned and student filmmakers, go to

Brenda Siler photo

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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