By: Jamie Penn

Washington West Film Festival (WWFF) is…surprising. When you first commit to attending, you’re keenly aware that it’s not technically in D.C., it’s in Reston, VA, a suburb of D.C. When you look closer, you realize that, not only is it in a suburb of D.C., but that it’s, essentially, in a shopping center in a suburb of D.C. And, just before you buy tickets, you remember getting a few blank stares when you mentioned it to your filmy friends.

But, you’ve heard great things from the person you’re going with, it’s a film-for-good kind of thing, and you’re a filmmaker, so you’ll go, and it will be fine.

Then, you get there. And, everything changes.

The films are so good you’re scared to tell people. There are no lines, the theatres aren’t insanely packed and the staff members and volunteers running the festival make you feel like the most important person in the room. And, the “shopping center” you expected is actually nothing of the sort, but instead this posh, award-winning city center that attracts professionals and tourists from all over the world.

At the end of your first full day, ten or so films later (films you’d only otherwise get to read about – Body Team 12, Rosa: These Storms, Happy Those Who CryFrame by Frame, even The Patels), you’re thinking: If any story could change the world, it’s one of these.

They’ve already changed yours. And, there aren’t many film festivals that can deliver that.

Screenshot 2016-01-11 17.02.19

First Take

This was founder, Brad Russell’s intention when held the first Washington West Film Festival six years ago: to create impact far beyond the momentary affect of film plot and resolution.

Russell and fellow filmmakers designed the festival to affect positive change at every level, from the films submitted to the proceeds from the box office, whether through financial contribution, hands-on volunteering, raising awareness, or calling viewers to action.

WWFF is all about the ripple effect.

“The idea is that we’re attaching our audience to the creation of a story that gives hope, that cares or shows compassion for a community in need,” Russell told the Washingtonian.

And, what better place to do it, thought Russell, a northern Virginia native, than in his own back yard, just thirty miles from the place that draws the loudest, proudest, most impactful change-makers…from everywhere.

Give a Lot

Washington West’s model stands apart, bordering on way out there.

They don’t just give it all away, meaning 100% of the box office proceeds goes to a charitable organization or organizations chosen by the board each year, but every facet of the festival is geared toward impact, including the time between festivals. Festival organizers, volunteers, and board members partner, intimately, with the charitable organization or project chosen throughout the year. They contribute, hands on, to the organization’s work, and the effort culminates in the production of a documentary short telling this story, slated to air at WWFF. In 2013, 81 audience members jumped on board with Shelter House Renovation to reconstruct and renovate houses for the homeless of Fairfax county.

When you become a part of Washington West Film Festival, you don’t just watch stories, you become part of a story – a story-changing world. – WWFF’s ‘Annual Project Short Film’

This past year, certain events went beyond your average “story of hope”. Something kind of big happened in the small-ish town of Reston. A story of hope turned into a story from the future – Christopher Lloyd-style. Reston was obliged to change it’s name to Hill Valley for the weekend, in anticipation of the return of the DeLorean and the “Doc” himself, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of “Back to the Future”. All proceeds of the subsequent Back to the Future trilogy screening went to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

“Beyond celebrating the iconic movie experience the trilogy has been for millions of people, ‘Back to the Future’ represents for us the idea of dreaming what could be, and the potential personal impact every individual can have on the future,” said Russell.

The remainder of the festival proceeds went to the Robert Duvall Children’s Fund.

Films and Filmmakers

It’s kind of well-known among the WWFF crowd, that filmmakers are treated like rockstars at Washington West. But, filmmakers don’t act like it. There’s a visceral connection between the filmmaker and the audience in most Q and A’s, because the film they just made was made with the intention to sell the audience on changing the world for the better in one way or another. They’re inviting them to the conversation, so they’re wide-open and generally super-humble.

You can see the winners here, but among our personal favorites (please note that we missed several on the winners’ list) were: Meet the Patels (long-form doc); Birthday (short film); Rosa: These Storms (short doc); The Important Places (short film); and Body Team 12 (short doc).

All invite new perspectives, new attitudes, and adequately shake things up just enough to challenge and stretch beliefs.


So, in case you haven’t noticed, we’re huge Washington West fans. And, the great news is, it will be back this year, the weekend of October 20th through the 23rd.

We, too, believe that story can change the world – it’s why we do what we do. Join us at Washington West Film Festival this year to become part of the story.


Jamie Penn is a purposeful marketing strategist, mother of three, a writer, and a social media junkie. She was an environmentalist before it was cool; loves mothering, writing, travel and food; refuses to follow recipes; and voraciously researches, writes about, and assists in video production for the companies consumers trust.

Leave a reply

Go top