‘Valentin’ day at D.C. film fest

Politics in the air with 'Al Jazeera,' 'Comandante'

WASHINGTON — D.C.’s annual international film festival kicked off Tuesday night with “Valentin,” an Argentinian coming-of-age tale directed by Alejandro Agresti. Fest’s 18th edition closes May 2 with “Super Size Me,” Morgan Spurlock’s now-notorious documentary about his monthlong diet of Big Macs and fries.

In between, the 12-day festival will offer more than 80 features, documentaries and short films from around the world with a heavy focus on this year’s theme of cinema from Argentina.

“What impressed us about Argentine cinema is that it’s a country facing deep financial challenges, but it’s still able to produce and release very interesting films,” said fest director Tony Gittens.

Gittens selects nearly 70% of the films from various international festivals, including Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, Montreal and Rotterdam. The rest are culled from submissions by filmmakers around the world.

Two provocative films will make their U.S. premieres during the festival: docu “Al Jazeera Exclusive,” Ben Anthony’s behind-the-scenes look at the controversial Arab satellite network in the days leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and “A Soul’s Haven,” an Italian film about how local laborers respond when the American-owned CarAir tire factory is shut down in a small town.

The 13 entries in the fest’s Politics in Film sidebar include Oliver Stone’s “Comandante,” a doc involving 30 hours of interviews with Fidel Castro, as well “Looking for Fidel,” the follow-up HBO required after criticism that Stone’s first pic was too easy on the Communist leader.

“Dance Cuba: Dreams of Flight” is the first movie to be filmed with the Cuban government’s permission and all the bureaucratic red tape that involves. It chronicles the Washington Ballet’s travel to the island and the struggles of Cuba’s world-renowned ballet company.

French film “What Jackie Knew” concerns former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s knowledge of her husband’s power and personal peccadilloes and how she dealt with the pressure.

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