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D.C. on Film: Kevin Sampson on the Area’s Billion-Dollar Duo

You’re likely unaware of the fact that, at present, Washington, D.C., is a burgeoning film industry hub able to support the growth of local, national and global movie businesses. How so? Since 1985, there has been a roughly 1000% growth in gross revenue from mainstream big-budget films featuring content shot in the nation’s capitol. The soon-to-be-released sequel to the film version of DC Comics’ Wonder Woman — which earned nearly $1 billion in 2017 — was shot in multiple locations in D.C.’s metropolitan area. This is just three years after “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” a film that earned just over $700 million, and was filmed in the nation’s capital. Three decades prior to that, legendary 80s film St. Elmo’s Fire was largely shot near Georgetown University and earned (adjusted for inflation) $100 million at the box office. There may be nobody more excited about where the future heads for D.C.’s film industry than area resident Kevin Sampson, a noted film critic, producer, and founder of the three-year-old DC Black Film Festival.

“D.C. has always had a film industry, whether its political-based films to Discovery Channel reenactments,” Sampson notes, then adds, “[h]owever, on an independent film level, the city is currently truly flourishing. Though data points regarding the number of film-makers, behind the scenes professionals, and actors are difficult to entirely ascertain, Sampson quickly lists a series of industry players and events that maintain sustainability for the scene. “Organizations like Women in Film and Video, the Washington Area Film Critics Association, and numerous others do a great job of keeping filmmakers and industry professionals talking to each other, plus keeping people aware of opportunities to get on different [film] crews. The D.C. government’s Office of Cable Television, Film, Music, and Entertainment (OCTFME), they’re doing their part insofar as raising the status of filmmaking in D.C., too.”

Sampson highlights storytelling and cinematography as strengths of the film industry professionals in Washington, D.C. Furthermore, he ties this into a point about how D.C. as a city itself is vibrant with classic and modern architecture that rivals other notable and large cities worldwide. Plus, he continues, the geographic proximity of picturesque mountain ranges to the north, west, and south of the city, and stellar seascapes to the east are ideal for premium filming opportunities. The Metropolitan area is not at a loss for unique, panoramic scenery with which to accentuate a well-crafted cinematic tale.

As far as how Sampson himself is giving back to an area that has done so much for his professional aspirations, he relates the creation of 2017 founded DC Black Film Festival to apropos enough, a film review that offered him the opportunity to make what has become an ever-growing mark on the city, its residents, and the film industry.

Sampson felt that the 2014 African-American directed film featuring largely black actors “Think Like A Man Too,” was underwhelming. Wanting to create a platform to showcase the work of more black film creatives, he first attempted to create a documentary highlighting Hollywood’s lack of diversity. Though that initiative failed, he looked not too deep into his professional history and discovered a solution. While working at longtime local media institution Arlington Independent Media from 2012-2017, he had helmed the Rosebud Film Festival, which has spotlighted locally made films since 1990. That was his impetus for creating the DC Black Film Festival, where he’s highlighting directors, producers, screenwriters, and actors of African descent.

“The city has responded well to the festival and it’s growing much faster than I ever expected,” he says. Continuing, he closes, “when [people of African descent] see ourselves onscreen, we’re able to learn more about ourselves, and gain the belief in self to think that we can be on screen more often, too.”

For what the nation’s capital lacks in big studio lots, it can now claim, on one level, billions of dollars of gross earnings from Hollywood features filmed in the city. Even further, Sampson seems much more excited about the talent the area is incubating via events like the D.C. Black Film Festival. He highlights talent like D.C.-born screenwriter Fredrica Bailey, whose Spike Lee-produced “See You Yesterday” was screened at the festival and is now available on Netflix. As well, there’s director Morgan Cooper, who will soon be directing “Black Coffee,” a TV series executive produced by Gabrielle Union.

“D.C. is not New York or LA, but for what we are and what we do, we’re thriving,” says Kevin Sampson. “There are people being very creative right now in how and where they’re shooting all over D.C. Also, a lot of our filmmakers work nine-to-five, then shoot on the nights and weekends, making it happen.” What’s transpiring in the nation’s capital’s film industry is unquestionably impressive. Billions of dollars of global film revenue are currently being generated in the city’s streets. Moreover, likely dozens of superstars on the rise supported by a vibrant, active and engaged community. Though we’re not New York or LA, one should be excited to contemplate what is continuing to happen here. As the number of lights and cameras grow in Washington, the potential for the action possible could eclipse and evolve national and international standards for top-tier movie locales.

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