For fourteen years, the Maryland Film Festival (MFF) has been chugging along as the little festival that could – steadily churning out a mind-widening combination of gritty features, provocative documentaries and imaginative shorts for an audience hungry for debate and inspiration. This year’s festival was a resounding success, with roughly 50 feature films playing alongside 75 experimental shorts and documentaries.
Centrally located in the arts and entertainment district of downtown Baltimore and buoyed by a fleet of passionate volunteers, the MFF team goes out of their way to make the four-day festival an exciting – and accessible – weekend for filmmakers and the public. Free food and victuals were offered to filmmakers all weekend long from New Mexican outpost Golden West Café and Maryland-based Flying Dog Brewery. The historic Charles Theater welcomed attendees and their local brews from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. in century-old screening rooms that originally functioned as cable car barns.
And the films. The films! John Waters himself kicked the weekend off with a special screening of Barbara Loden’s restored and reissued, Wanda. Other notable directors in residence were Heidi Ewing who unflinchingly captured the eradication of Detroit in her goose-bump raising documentary Detropia. The Sunday screening of Athina Rachel Tsangari’s delectable feature Attenburg sold out to a public of newcomers to Greek avant-garde cinema and fans who lapped up Tsangari’s signature mix of slow realism, lush cinematography, choreographed dance scenes and musical comedy.
At the Formal, 2010, Directed by Andrew Kavanagh.
The ninety-minute series, WTF Shorts quite literally provided something for everyone with a selection of eleven films so startlingly original, we couldn’t help but share the standouts:
- Andrew Kavanagh’s At the Formal turned a high school prom into a sadistic ritual in one harrowing long take.
- Ryo Hirano’s animated Hietsuki Bushi paired a simple story of first love against a hallucinatory backdrop of futurist farms, quantum physics and Martian picnics.
- In Crown, director AG Rojas blends the resin prowess of Matthew Barney with the nightmarish cinematography of David Lynch to paint a portrait of a Mephistophelian drug den in an unnamed suburb.
- The one-minute wonder, I Am Your Grandma shared director Jillian Mayer’s disturbing video diary for her future unborn children.
- Former 2 Live Crew member Luther Campbell brought down the house in a neon remake of the 1962 French cult short, La Jetée, The Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke.
- French director Laurence Arcadias was on hand after her screening of Tempest in a Bedroom to describe how she combined stop-motion animation, green-screen compositing and puppets superimposed with actor’s lips and eyes in her vibrant portrait of an upper class couple on a sex-cation.
Hietsuki Bushi, 2011, Directed by Ryo Hirano. 4 minutes
Stimulating for the eyes and mind, film festivals also offer ear treats with original soundtracks from an eclectic range of musicians. Several fave new finds were The Octopus Project (featured in Kid Thing); The Dirty Marmaduke Flute Squad (from Come On Down and Pick Me Up); and the North Dakotian folk musician, Tom Brosseau, who made his acting debut in Wonder Valley.
Submissions open for next year’s festival in June. Find out more about submission guidelines and the yearlong, community-orientated Friends of the Festival program at the MFF’s website. Thanks for the good times, Bmore! We’ll be back.
Maryland Film Festival
May 3 – 6, 2012
107 East Read Street
Baltimore – Downtown Arts & Entertainment District