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City Spotlight: Washington DC

By Michael Messina

The DC LaborFest recently wrapped up in Washington, D.C. where, for the 16th year, folks from  around the world gathered for film and cultural presentations that centered on the world and history of labor. Labor 411 sat down with the event’s creator, Chris Garlock, who gave us the latest on this year’s showing and what DC LaborFest means for the labor movement.

Tell us about the DC LaborFest. What are some of the components?

We’ve got this great labor film festival, which has somewhere around 70 events. One of the cool things about it is that we’ll say, “Hey, if you have art or something that has to do with labor, we’ll plug you in.” Someone last year did a play on Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” and thought there was a labor angle on it. He pitched me on it, and it worked.

How far do you stretch those boundaries? What do you include, thematically?

From our point of view, [we like films that have] something to do with work, workers, worker issues and … something to do with culture. We show a lot of mainstream stuff. It’s not just documentaries. We show pretty much anything by Ramin Bahrani, who did “99 Homes” [starring Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield]. This particular one is about the housing bubble and its effect on working people. It was very clearly a film for us.

What was your favorite film this year?

Every time we’d have a showing, my favorite film was whatever was showing that night. The favorite one at this moment was a really weird little film called “Sing Faster.” It’s about Wagner’s “The Ring Cycle” opera, but it’s from the perspective of the stagehands. And the audience was full of stagehands, so it was great to see their reaction. That was really a lot of fun.

It seems like you guys aren’t too strict about having a pure labor element throughout the event.

From the very beginning, we were very conscious about not being one of these festivals that just focuses on the 100 percent issue documentaries. The film festival is for people who come and have not thought about the labor movement or don’t even like the labor movement, but came to see an interesting film and the film got them to think, to open up their minds a little bit. To me, that is much more how in the long run we’re going to affect change.

What about outside of the film element? What other sorts of events take place?

We do a labor night now with the DC United soccer team. There’s a thing called Busboys and Poets here in town where we do a talk, a book event, a film and music. When we did our music events, we would do a live show at the venue that would be broadcast on WPFW and after that, we would have a regular concert. That was really exciting and WPFW has a lot of fans out there.

There are a lot of film festivals out there. How does yours compare?

You know, gay and lesbian film festivals, which are practically mainstream now, 30 or 40 years ago were exactly where we are. They were very small and nobody paid attention to them. Now they’re a huge business. There are people who make films because if they know they can get on the gay and lesbian film circuit, they’re going to be successful. So that’s part of our vision for the labor film festival.

What should an organization do if it wants to start a film festival in its own city?

It’s easy. Everybody likes movies, so start with a film festival. You talk to the local theater and work out a deal, and you’re off and running. San Francisco has been doing one for years, and they have one in New York. We’re trying to inspire other people, like in Los Angeles or Chicago, to say, “Hey, we can do this.” And it’s fun, too!

Great! When can we start getting ready for next year’s event?

The 2017 DC LaborFest & DC Labor Film Festival will run May 1-31, details to come. Anyone who wants to get involved or start their own labor arts festival can contact me.

Chris Garlock
Director, DC LaborFest & DC Labor FilmFest
202-974-8153 office
202-230-1133 cell
Twitter: @dclabor
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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