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Garden Party

DC Filmmakers Chris Keener and Rob Shore create a mini masterpiece.

From left: Rob Shore and Chris Keener live in DC, but traveled to Guatemala to shoot their new film now playing at DC Shorts.

It was 5 o’clock in the morning, and mammoth clouds shrouded the Guatemalan volcano where DC filmmakers Chris Keener and Rob Shore were shooting the last scene of their new movie, The Garden of Steven. Some members of their 14-member film crew had altitude sickness. A helicopter documenting the penultimate shot hovered and wailed, trying to find a cloud break.

“We began to have our doubts about what, exactly, we were doing,” says Keener, who runs a boutique filmmaking firm in Adams Morgan. He and Shore needn’t have worried, since their 22-minute film has been selected for several national film festivals, including Breckenridge and, this month, DC Shorts.

Keener, 34, and Shore, 30, wrote and directed the $55,000 film (locals Nick Fitzhugh, Ian Fay and Matt Tanski co-produced) about an American missionary who has a single day to convert locals before his preacher father ships him back to the States for a life of penury service. “The script went through various phases of being slapstick, dark, vulgar and dramatic,” says Shore, who, by day, is a creative director for the Frameworks Institute, a DC think tank. “Chris plays the lead role, and 14 years ago, he actually spent time working at an orphanage near Antigua, Guatemala, where we filmed. His character informed the soul of the movie.”

Everything was shot in 11 days, and Keener scouted locations and cast extras before his DC brethren arrived. Shore admits the film’s tone, one of self-discovery, is influenced by their sense of aging. “The stakes are higher now,” he says of personal growth. “There’s a risk of never getting out there and seeing the world. It’s the condition of our time—there’s a growing mythology of failure to launch.”

On that last day, the sun breached the horizon, the clouds shuffled off and a nearby volcano erupted. In the vernacular of surfers and filmmakers everywhere, Keener says it was epic. “In the end, it was the doing that mattered most,” he says. “If you’re not possessed by art, it’s not going to happen.” DC Shorts Film Festival, Sept. 19-29, dcshorts.‌com